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How To Have Productive Philosophical Conversations

Posted: January 22nd, 2008, 2:01 pm
by Scott
How To Have Productive Philosophical Conversations
by Scott Hughes

When discussing complex topics such as philosophy, skillful conversation becomes even more important. If conversationalists fail to use good technique, then they will not communicate with each other effectively, and the conversation will become unproductive. Let me suggest some ways to make and keep a conversation productive when discussing philosophy.

Listen - Most importantly, you need to listen as well as you can to the other people in the discussion. Many people talk too much and listen too little. Ironically, if you talk too much, you will have a lot of trouble expressing yourself. If you listen well, you can express yourself better because you can tailor your response to what the person has already said. Additionally, if you listen to others intently, they will likely return the favor. If you do not listen to them and just try to talk over them, then they will likely do the same to you.

Ask Questions - Plato's dialogues show how Socrates used questions to have productive philosophical conversations with others. The Socratic Method can come in great use in discussions of philosophy. Asking questions will help you better understand the other speakers, and it will cause them to express their contentions more clearly to you. That will greatly reduce misunderstandings. Additionally, asking questions makes you seem genuinely interested in the other person's ideas. Making disagreeing statements, instead of asking questions, may make the other person feel attacked and may make you seem preachy, both of which will make the discussion less productive.

Speak Clearly - This may seem obvious, but many people instead try to show off or make their ideas seem stronger by using more complex language. However, you will have most productive conversation by having the least misunderstandings, which you can do by expressing yourself as clearly as possible. Using concise, simple, and specific phrasing will usually help you express yourself clearly. Rambling, over-elaboration and the unnecessary use of "big words" will make you less clear. Additionally, you can express yourself most clearly when you match the formality of your speech or writing to the formality of the situation. In other words, use formal phrasing in a formal situation and more informal phrasing in a more informal setting.

Speak Nicely and Politely - If the conversation turns into a contest, or if any of the speakers feel angry or offended, it will greatly reduce the philosophical productivity of the discussion. A discussion about philosophy can quickly degenerate into a name-calling, insult-throwing fight. The other person will listen to you more if they feel more comfortable and respected. Do not just speak as nicely as you must in order to keep the conversation philosophical; instead, speak as nicely, respectfully, and politely as you can. Avoid insults, name-calling, or offensiveness as much as possible. Also, especially if you disagree, try thanking the other person for discussing the topic with you.

If you genuinely try to have a productive conversation, you almost always will. Most people do philosophy for fun out of interest, so why not try to have a productive conversation when discussing philosophy?

Whatever you do, good luck and have fun!

About the author: Scott Hughes maintains an internet-based philosophy club at You can discuss philosophy at the Philosophy Forums.

Please post comments on this article.

Posted: January 22nd, 2008, 3:42 pm
by theessentialform
very nice, I think if everyone obeys these rules, we can truly explore the tough subjects withour fear of being cussed our or anything. and a side note too, there seem to be alot of fallacies floating around. make sure you'll well aquantied with the laws of logic.

Posted: January 23rd, 2008, 10:06 am
by Marcus Clayman
good stuff, thanks


Posted: January 25th, 2008, 5:07 am
by coffeeprincess
How right you are.

I remember when I was in a class on the Nicomachean ethics and my teacher formally explained to us why we should not attack even a non-present scholar through our scathing reader responses papers. He explained how this person is considered an important voice on one subject or another, so we should not discount his ideas or unnecessarily attack a "straw man" i.e. rudely dismantle an argument similar, but not exactly like, the argument presented.

Posted: January 25th, 2008, 6:44 pm
by nu2dis
These points you make are good ideas to keep in mind when replying to others posts. But is it also a forum where one can come and read a variety of views/opinions/beliefs that may not actually converse with each other so much as reply to the original topic statement/question? I enjoy the variety of opinions expressed even if they are not actually discussing the topic between each opinion posted.If I am at the wrong forum for this kind of expression please let me know.

Posted: January 25th, 2008, 7:09 pm
by Scott
nu2dis wrote:But is it also a forum where one can come and read a variety of views/opinions/beliefs that may not actually converse with each other so much as reply to the original topic statement/question?
You can respond to the original topic or to the replies already present. Either way is fine.

I think you are in the right place.


Posted: April 24th, 2008, 9:01 pm
by Samhains
There should not be 'rules' persay for philosophy.

As rules bungle and phooy everything up.

Total freedom of thought, behaviour and will must be had in order to obtain the true essence of the schooling.

Each school in it's own office of course, no rowdies in the library type thing.

it is not the shell that we want, but the tender meat inside, nor the shell of the nut, it is the cernal inside that we seek....

Posted: April 30th, 2008, 2:18 am
by froud
you are in right place.but it isnot complete

Posted: April 30th, 2008, 4:30 pm
by Samhains
froud wrote:you are in right place.but it isnot complete
I suppose there are "rules of ingagment" involving the 'cracking of the shell' to obtain the cernal...
but other than that, one must be free to decide just how they obtain that cernal...or whether of not they want the shell or the cernal, as in the case of the hermit crab who merly wants the empty shell and not the crab meat inside,

or the snake who wants the badgers hole, but not the badger.

Almond shell is used in skin care products, the cernal is eaten, however both parts are used.

Sometimes it is the office of thought that is desired, and not the 'teachings' of it. As they can change, grow, wither, whichever. Like reusing a container, a wine bottle may contain other liquids than wine, perhaps philosophy can contain more things than the narrow confinments of mens thoughts and doctrines.

Posted: May 8th, 2008, 6:36 pm
by Abiathar
I find that often, those who enjoy ruleless and guideless philosophy are those with no way or care to demonstrate what they say.

Posted: May 16th, 2008, 7:27 pm
by Nom de Plume
Interest in Philosophy comes from all walks of life.

Yesterday, I was in discussion with a young man, raised his whole life as a ward of the state, currently under a parol order and about to enter rehab for the umpteenth time. He is reading The Prince :shock: He's developed an historical facination. His love of reading has given him a shy articulation and interlect. It is shy because of the drug induced and aggressive life that has trapped him for so long.

So my question is this... Should we be excluding people through the application of stale, Middle Class Ettiquette as described in preceeding posts? I don't think so!

As a Hedonist, I'm going to recommend the guiding, principles of encouraging pleasure and avoiding pain; coupled with tollerance. In this way, people can really experiment with ideas and truth.

Logic, Reason, Intuition, Passion, Faith, Mishchief, Wisdom, Creativity, Directness etc.... belong in philosophical discussions.

That young man I spoke of, possessed all the qualities of a great thinker, but because his path in life is not the steriotypical middle class upbringing (cause the state mostly offers **** misery) he could not pass muster and would have been banned. Under the principles of Hedonism, because he would have been identified more for the pleasure he brings, would have been guided and influenced by the forum.

Posted: July 1st, 2008, 6:35 am
by fishfool
entertainingly enough, those guidelines may be applied to all debates of all topics. It is good that you posted them in order to bring them to light for this forum, especially because people discussing philosophy can tend to get heated if their egos are involved - -Fishfool @ The Reef Tank


Posted: November 23rd, 2008, 7:47 am
by celebritydiscodave
I totally agree - what you speak is absolute philosophy,for it is truth. Sayings are part of what goes to make-up our programming, but truth owes nothing to them and neither indeed to our programming.

Posted: December 28th, 2008, 2:52 am
by Gabe
Samhains wrote:it is not the shell that we want, but the tender meat inside, nor the shell of the nut, it is the cernal inside that we seek....
The desireability of the "shell" notwithstanding, that "meat" that you crave would not have had the capability of developing into that which it is without the protective structure that ensures the thorough exchange of nutrients (or ideas, as it were). It's not about the structure, I'm sure we all agree on that, rather the importance lies in that which the structure provides. Enter Chesterton: "Let's be openminded, but not so open that our brains fall out."

Posted: April 3rd, 2009, 1:36 pm
by ontologic_conceptualist
It is my belief that from what I've seen not just here but many other philosophy sites, remember not to confuse philosophy with psycology, believe it or not, it can get close, but remember no matter what, never judge, just because your personal philosophy sucks does not mean the other persons does & be open minded with an immagination and a great sense of humor, this is philosophy, "What is being", I love listening to others & looking into their souls, even though I feel I am complete on many levels, I always end up learning more about myself & that is fun !!! :lol: