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LessWrong Curated Podcast

Jul 24, 2022

I often object to claims like "charity/steelmanning is an argumentative virtue". This post collects a few things I and others have said on this topic over the last few years.

My current view is:

  • Steelmanning ("the art of addressing the best form of the other person’s argument, even if it’s not the one they presented") is a useful niche skill, but I don't think it should be a standard thing you bring out in most arguments, even if it's an argument with someone you strongly disagree with.
  • Instead, arguments should mostly be organized around things like:
    • Object-level learning and truth-seeking, with the conversation as a convenient excuse to improve your own model of something you're curious about.
    • Trying to pass each other's Ideological Turing Test (ITT), or some generalization thereof. The ability to pass ITTs is the ability "to state opposing views as clearly and persuasively as their proponents".
      • The version of "ITT" I care about is one where you understand the substance of someone's view well enough to be able to correctly describe their beliefs and reasoning; I don't care about whether you can imitate their speech patterns, jargon, etc.
    • Trying to identify and resolve cruxes: things that would make one or the other of you (or both) change your mind about the topic under discussion.
  • Argumentative charity is a complete mess of a concept⁠—people use it to mean a wide variety of things, and many of those things are actively bad, or liable to cause severe epistemic distortion and miscommunication.
  • Some version of civility and/or friendliness and/or a spirit of camaraderie and goodwill seems like a useful ingredient in many discussions. I'm not sure how best to achieve this in ways that are emotionally honest ("pretending to be cheerful and warm when you don't feel that way" sounds like the wrong move to me), or how to achieve this without steering away from candor, openness, "realness", etc.