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Anatol Rapoport’s rules: a tough ask

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Rapoport, Anatol copy

‘Anatol Rapoport…..once promulgated a list of rules for how to write a successful critical commentary on an opponent’s work. First, he said, you must attempt to re-express your opponent’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your opponent says “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” Then, you should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement), and third, you should mention anything you have learned from your opponent. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.’

These rules are useful for everyday spoken arguments too, of the more or less intellectual sort. They can be adapted for the spoken, to keep your interlocutor onside, (along with smiles, nods, effective impressions of interest, appropriate turn-taking and the suppression of irritated grimaces). I think I’m reasonably good at following Rapoport’s rules in writing – or trying to keep to them. In conversation it’s much harder, especially after a few drinks!

I once watched former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, whom I already greatly admired, in a television exchange with a Pauline Hanson supporter. He listened politely to the man’s bluster, then spent some time painstakingly and seemingly sympathetically presenting the Hanson view on immigration, and then he described in details its flaws while defending its validity as a position, at least on an emotional level. It was an extraordinary performance, full of discipline, grace and poise. I use the memory to punish myself when I perform disappointingly in an argument – sometimes ‘winning’ the argument, or at least seeming to, but losing the respect or interest of the opponent.

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Written by stewart henderson

June 16, 2013 at 9:28 pm

One Response

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  1. […] Jako jedną z “pomp” Dennett przywołuje zasady Rapoporta, na które gdzieś się wcześniej natknąłem, ale o których całkiem zapomniałem. Zmarły przed kilkoma laty Anatol Rapoport, amerykański psycholog-matematyk rosyjskiego pochodzenia, opracował między innymi te proste rady pisania konstruktywnej krytyki. Mimo że są one dedykowane głównie pracy akademickiej, okazują się całkiem przydatne również w codziennych konfilktach. A oto one (źródło): […]


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