Paul Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement

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But though it’s not anger that’s driving the increase in disagreement, there’s a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it’s easy to say things you’d never say face to face.

Paul Graham – How to Disagree (2008)

The way we communicate during disagreements defines the quality of the outcome. Since disagreements are inevitable, why not disagree well?  In his 2008 essay, How to Disagree, Paul Graham classifies the various forms of dispute and assembles them into a hierarchy, as shown below.

Source: Wikimedia

The ranking is based on the form of the argument itself, not the correctness.  Even a level six argument can still be incorrect or unconvincing.  Each form is cleaner, more respectful, and more convincing the higher you move up the hierarchy.  At the lowest level, a person uses harsh or cruel dialogue to try and ‘win’ through fear or intimidation.  These level zero arguments are the weakest, but unfortunately, are the most common.

Disagreement is part of our daily lives, and it’s healthy for people to debate and discuss various issues, which is how society progresses.  Graham’s hierarchy shows that there is a way for people to disagree well, and doing so will lead to better, more enjoyable, and more productive conversations for everyone.