Flowchart for a Rational Discourse

The aim of this flowchart is to provide a conversational context that encourages effective reasoning. Whilst ever conversation is flowing smoothly it will remain latent in the background but can be called upon by any participant at any time to safeguard the coherence of the discussion. Think of it as a game board upon which we can play the game of rational truth seeker. The structure of the board is not set in stone and is open to discussion and revision, but it serves as a basic guide to help us create an impersonal, detached and rational conversation. Note that because this is a 'game' that does not make it meaningless and trivial. It may become very important and involve intense clashes of ideas, but it will remain within the scope of rational truth seeking and will not devolve into ego battles and propaganda war.

The flow-chart also serves as a common contract. By entering the conversation you agree abide by this contract and you can also expect other participants to abide by it as well. Hence it is a guarantee of rational discourse and that there aren't ego maniacs or propagandists lurking in the forum that will try to bite your head off as soon as you say something controversial.

Definition of 'uncivil' behaviour: It is applied in both an interpersonal context as well as an intellectual context. If a person is abusive, cynical, defensive to the point of interpreting any critique as an attack, a victim of their own ego defence mechanisms to a degree that makes them unable to engage in a rational dialogue or is otherwise disruptive and recalcitrant in a manner that creates a serious obstacle to open, direct, impersonal, detached, rational debate, then their behaviour will be considered uncivil. Other more subtle manifestations of uncivil behaviour are twisting other peoples words in order to misrepresent them, ignoring key arguments that one finds challenging whilst obsessing over others in order to avoid the key arguments, heaping irrelevant issues into the conversation in an attempt to complicate and confuse the issue and so on. If the charge of uncivil behaviour is made against someone they have every right to defend themselves in the meta-conversation but only in a civil manner.

Definition of 'civil' behaviour: It is any behaviour that is conducive to open, direct, impersonal, detached, rational debate. It involves being reasonably polite, willing to give other's space in which to formulate their arguments, encouraging collective enquiry rather than factional dispute, willingness to enquire into arguments, flexibility in overcoming one's own memory associations to terms in order to comprehend meanings that other people imply, and actually thinking about what is being said.

The core features of a rational discourse, according to the above 'game' are:

All participants make a commitment to the rational testing of ideas without personal attachment. They agree to abide by scepticism (open-minded enquiry), to mutual respect, to clear rational discourse and to a common agreement to avoid disruptive ego defence mechanisms such as cynicism, denial, personal attacks, etc.

All participants in the discourse must also commit to engage in a primary-conversation as well as a meta-conversation about the primary-conversation, when necessary, to help clarify the primary-conversation and resolve issues that arise, not as part of the subject of the primary-conversation, but due to its form or conduct.

If any participant perceives that another participant is engaging in cynicism or disruptive ego defence mechanisms within the primary-conversation then it is their duty to raise this in the meta-conversation where it can be clarified. Of course, if a person feels that they have been wrongly accused of such behaviour this can be addressed in the meta-conversation.

If the disruptions continue in the meta-conversation the disruptive participant will be barred from the conversation until they calm down enough to re-engage with it. Any disruptive behaviour will NOT be tolerated and will be brought up in a meta-conversation to be dealt with.

These are core requirements but it is also desirable that people have some understanding of what knowledge is (epistemology), what logic is, what a rational argument is, what naïve realism is and also some understanding of facts, evidence, proof, etc. (see What is Knowledge, Science and Reasoning? for some more information)

A rational forum is not a place to vent anger and frustration; all such comments will be brought up in a meta-conversation and if the participant does not revise their comments into an appropriate form they will be deleted.

If you simply wish to ask a question or provide some information then you will be met with an appropriate response.

The structure of the game will reside in the background whilst ever the conversation is flowing in a rational manner. However its structure can be called upon by any participant whenever required. For example, someone enters the conversation presenting clearly false arguments and is defensive toward any clarification. Another participant can declare that the conversation should now move from state (4 to 14), I.e. an argument that is either incoherent, irrational or irrelevant that should be dealt with in a meta-conversation. This will either result in the statements being deleted (14 to 16) or being revised into a more coherent, rational or relevant form (14 to 13), which is then reconsidered (13 to 4).

Another aspect, not obvious from the flow-chart, is that if a conversational stream gets locked into a loop there is a mechanism for breaking the loop. For example, say that the argument presented in the previous example is modified (14 to 13) and then reconsidered (13 to 4). This may need to loop several times, but if the person is simply unable or unwilling to present a coherent, rational and relevant argument but they keep persisting, then we could potentially get locked into the loop. Hence when we pass through a loop several times without any meaningful gain it will be questioned whether or not the loop is to continue. This can result in the exclusion of the person because they are not able to participate effectively in the discussion.

Particpants will manage the game play in an autonomous manner, however the 'moderator' has final judgement in cases where this does not occur.

In this game feel free to be open and direct, there is no need for “veiled discussions and guarded comments”, indeed such things would result in a meta-discussion and be enquired into until they were openly and directly understood. You can play casually or play hard-ball, but only about the ideas. Be civil to the other participants! Enjoy the game!