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How to Criticize with Kindness

May 8th, 2014 by

How to Give Critical Commentary

Philosopher Daniel Dennett, one of our best current philosophers, was an inspiration to me in college as a philosophy major.  I latched onto an article written by Maria Popova called “How to Criticize with Kindness” that’s inspired by Daniel Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.

How “charitable” should you be when you offer criticism?  Daniel Dennett offers a list of rules formulated decades ago by the legendary social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport best known for the famous tit-for-tat strategy of game theory.

How to Compose a Critical Commentary

  1. You should attempt to re-express your targets 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.
  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.

Imagine, for a moment, if all the critical noise posted online followed this set of rules. Opponents would be more receptive, open and understanding. Conversations would advance toward betterment in remarkable ways.  The two opponents would find enjoyment perhaps in differing opinions.  Debates would be welcome, and intellectual challenges more enjoyed.

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