David Ernst A personal site

How to criticize effectively

One of my favorite blogs, Brainpickings, posted an article “How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently”. It featured an excerpt from Mr. Dannett that I want to remember, so I’ll share it here:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

And if that sounds too good to be true, Brainpickings’ editor Maria Popova adds another advantage:

But rather than a naively utopian, Pollyannaish approach to debate, Dennett points out this is actually a sound psychological strategy that accomplishes one key thing: It transforms your opponent into a more receptive audience for your criticism or dissent, which in turn helps advance the discussion.

Here’s the original post on Brainpickings, from their Best of 2014 Roundup.