When to Consider Reconsidering: A Quiz

In this Better Arguing Series, I have argued that one of the ways that we can exercise due diligence in argument with others, is by acknowledging that counterarguments to our position exist and taking them seriously. But what does taking them seriously really mean? We aren’t going to agree with those counterarguments, right? Otherwise we’d be on the other side of the argument! How sure are we allowed to be that we can dismiss the counter argument? More broadly, what does taking counterarguments seriously really entail?

I’m so glad you asked! For this express purpose, I’ve made a quiz!

The Better Arguing Quiz: What To Do When You Encounter a Counter(argument)

Step 1: We start with a number. It could be your birthdate, 6 times your favorite number from 1-10, or the number of windows in New York. It’ll be most helpful, though, if it’s the probability you put on your belief being true. What do I mean by that? Well, what odds would you put money on if someone was betting on this belief? Or how biased would a roulette wheel have to be before you felt more comfortable spinning it than betting on the belief being true?

Put your number here ___

Step 2: Mark all that apply:
__ The person disagreeing with you is or appears intelligent/rational
__ The people agreeing with you…don’t
__ The argument is one you’ve never heard before
__ You learn of any evidence that doesn’t agree with your point, from the argument or elsewhere
__ You realize that in order to maintain your current position and confidence, you’re avoiding thinking about the weak parts of your argument
__ You realize that in order to maintain your current position and confidence, you’re avoiding thinking about certain arguments or facts
__ The person disagreeing with you agrees with one or more of your core values
__ The person disagreeing with you agrees with you on related issues
__ You forgot why you believe the thing you currently believe (don’t laugh, it happens to me all the time)

Step 3: How many did you get?
0 marks: You’re good! Keep your position as is, and remember to keep arguing well!
1-3 marks: You should consider restructuring your position so it takes these things into account.
4-6 marks: You should consider spending some significant time with websites or books or other places with arguments against your position so you can see if you can come up with defenses to them.
7-9 marks: You should consider re-evaulating your position from scratch. Go back through all the arguments, facts and research you can find, and see where you land.

I’m a little bit kidding, but mostly not. If someone who is as smart as us and who shares our premises disagrees with us on something, probability theory really does say that we should have a higher expectation of being wrong than we did before. And if we hear an argument that we haven’t heard before that sounds similar to one we have heard and don’t like, then we’re more likely to dismiss it (something called the inoculation effect). So we should be extra sure to remember that that behavior is a red flag, and that for every argument, if we haven’t heard it before, it counts on its own.

As a result, these red flags end up being really informative about how sure we should be about our positions. For example, they don’t tend to come up when I argue with Flat Earthers (not that I do that much) or Creationists. They occasionally come up when I talk about feminism. And they come up a lot when I talk about politics or economics. Wonderfully, that’s precisely the decreasing order of sureness with which I hold positions in those areas.

When we argue, we shouldn’t just be able to change our minds, we should also be able to change our confidence. So let’s use this checklist (and any expansions if people want to suggest things in comments) as a way to remind ourselves to always be questioning our sureness in our positions, so that we can be sure we’re getting as much truth out of every argument as possible.

Previous Better Arguing Posts

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6 thoughts on “When to Consider Reconsidering: A Quiz

  1. Gilbert says:

    So step 1 is only for annoying us frequentists? It doesn’t seem to influence steps 2&3.

    Also, Sturgeon’s law makes “The people agreeing with you…don’t” a freebie, and if there is a controversial issue and you can’t find anyone on the other side inducing at least 2 more marks, that should be worth a 7 mark bonus.

    • Gilbert says:

      Looking at it again, this is not what I wanted to say tone-wise, so please read it about three degrees less aggressive.

    • Chana says:

      In an earlier draft, Step 1 was more closely related to the other two, and you’re right it looks out of place. It’s still an important place to start, because you should know where you’re adjusting your confidence down from, and it should tell you something about how informative those marks are. If I have a lowish probability, the fact that smart people disagree with me isn’t as shocking and therefore not as informative as if it were higher. I’ll see if there’s a place I can easily put in a sentence to clarify.

      By “the people agreeing with you…don’t”, I didn’t mean, there exist people being irrational in your defense. “The people” was intended to evoke a “side” wherein the general set of people on “your side” aren’t the kind of people you can trust to come up with good conclusions. And I think that’s actually a pretty difficult mark to come up with.

      • Gilbert says:

        Then I guess you’re a lot more optimist about average human rationality than I am.

        I think for nearly every social polarization you will have clearly wrong beliefs diehard adherents of either camp will be more likely to hold. Basically we are tribalist beings and arguments are soldiers. You might look for your side being epistemologically even less trustworthy than the other one, but I think that’s basically just a sign of you being in the majority, which always inherits the idiots. Or you might look for even the best people on your side being untrustworthy, but that’s basically equivalent to there being no good arguments for your side at all.

        So, if you think people are largely rational, and given your Bayesian assumptions (which I don’t grant, but still get to use against you), how come the Aumann stuff doesn’t work in practice and people mostly don’t come to agreement?

  2. […] When to Consider Reconsidering Your Position by Chana Messinger […]

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