Learning to Disagree: Paul Graham and the Hierarchy of Argumentative Quality

Disagreement and disagreement are two aspects that are as inherent in human beings as the urge to eat. Simply being rational animals predisposes us to doubt and disagree with any opinion with which we do not feel fully identified.

However, not everyone has the ability to do it right. Paul Graham warned against this fact and he created a “hierarchy of disagreements” that orders the way people express their disagreement.

    Who is Paul Graham?

    Paul Graham is a British-born computer programmer and essayist who later rose to prominence for his work with Lisp, a family of programming languages. In addition, he co-founded what was the first Application Service Provider (ASP).

    After gaining a remarkable reputation in the computer and programming world, Graham began his career as an essayist. From his own website he published essays on various topics which contained everything from texts about programming languages ​​to reasons why “cheesy” people never reach popularity. These writings are collected in the publication Hackers and Painters, which was published in 2004, although he has previously published books on programming.

    However, one of his most acclaimed and widely used essays around the world is his How to Disagree study written in 2008. Graham graphically represents the “hierarchy of discordance”, Which shows the different levels at which a person can disagree or disagree on any topic.

    However, before explaining what this hierarchy consists of and how it is organized, it is necessary to know what the gap consists of and how its dynamics work.

    What’s the difference and how does it work?

    The Royal Academy of Spanish Language defines “divergence” with two different meanings:

    1. “Difference, inequality that results from the comparison of things.”
    2. “Personal dissent of opinions or conduct.”

    Therefore, and by this very definition, a person who does not agree is that beliefs, thoughts or behaviors are not those of any other person or group.

    However, the gap is a social fact. That is, in order to be able to disagree on something, there must be the presence of another person or group of people with whom to compare opinions and not to agree; and more a group of followers who support our point of view.

    So at the social level, the gap follows a path. A series of guidelines ranging from the origin of the disagreement to the disagreements generated within this first divergence. Although complex, this process is much easier to understand if we follow each of the steps:

    1. Existence of an ideology or a thought supported by many followers.
    2. Within this same group of people, someone generates a gap, propagate a belief or opinion of its own and create a separation within the first group.
    3. Both parties gain an audience large enough to maintain these views over time.
    4. Gaps continue to appear within the groups themselves that generate new groups of people, thus ending the original groups. This dynamic is repeated successively.

    Because the tendency to disagree is a natural thing for human beings, simply by possessing the ability to reason, these dynamics are maintained over time and appear in all areas of life.

      Graham’s hierarchy of deviations

      Once we know how discrepancies work, we can proceed by describing how these disagreements can manifest in each of the people who experience them. Because it is not the same thing to express a disagreement by means of an insult, as to resort to a solid and rational argumentation.

      To do this, Graham creates a triangular-shaped graphical representation in which these levels of divergence are ordered. According to this triangular graph, the higher a person’s position in the pyramid, the more powerful the position or own argument, while those at the lowest levels use weak and mundane arguments to justify.

      However, a person is able to evolve or move between different levels. This way the higher the people are in the levels, the exchange of views will be more stimulating and profitable.

      Wikipedia Commons.

      Below we explain the different levels of the deviation hierarchy, from lowest to highest of all.

      7. Insult

      The lowest level of argument this is where all these people settle who resort to insult as a form of opposition, because they are unable to present any argument, however unreasonable it may be.

      Graham illustrates this with the phrase “you are an idiot”.

      6. To the person

      The author places on this rung all those who “attack the characteristics or the authority against them must consider the merits of the argument”.

      This means that the person can refute another only by attacks or negative statements about himself, with the intention of discrediting him but without providing a valid argument which shows the weakness of the reasoning and the affirmations of the other. In other words, he attacks the person, not what he says.

      An example of this gap would be: “What will you know if you don’t even have a degree?”

        5. Respond to tone

        In these cases, the person is concentrating or uses the tone of your opponent’s message to try to rebut or refute, Regardless of the basis or essence of what is being debated.

        A typical statement in these cases would be, “Shouting so nobody will take you seriously.”

        4. Contradiction

        The person who uses contradiction to refute an opinion tends to express the opposite idea but with very little content or no evidence.

        In these cases, the arguments used they express themselves in forms of universal truths which, according to this same person, do not need explanation.

        So the example would be: “Everyone knows that is not the case”.

        3. Counter-argument

        From this level, the reasoning begins to present a greater richness and quality. However, in the counter-argument, the person presents evidence or evidence that supports their opinion, but which has been said or written by others before.

        The ideas used to discuss a topic are not the result of the person’s own reasoning, but use third-party approaches and explanations to support their beliefs.

        For example: “You are not right, because as Socrates said …”

        2. Rebuttal

        In this second level of discussion, the person is able to reason and disagree with their own ideas and beliefs, but without worrying too much about the basis of the argument or the beliefs of the other. On the contrary, he is based on very concrete details or ideas of the other’s speech, and is not able to refute the central idea.

        1. Refute the central point

        We have finally reached the top level, so more constructive when it comes to having a discussion. At this point, the person he has the resources to explicitly and directly refute the central topic or basis of the discussion, Using their own experiences and arguments and being able to incorporate the ideas of others into their discussion.

        Leave a Comment