Rules of Intellectual Conversation

One of my greatest joys in life is rigorous intellectual dialogue. Experience has shown that very few people are capable of playing this sport well, and I choose to only play with those people. 50% of humans think they are capable of playing at a high level, though I think only 1% or fewer are capable. I choose not to have intellectual conversations with the other 99%, though I am excited to be their friend.

I have discovered that some relationships ought to stick to what they are. Sometimes we ought to simply be vendors, kinfolk, employees, neighbors, biking friends or otherwise be of mutual benefit to each other without engaging in intellectual conversations.

If I have declined to have an intellectual conversation with you, or if you decline to dialogue with me, please know that it is not necessarily a “bad” thing, and we can still have an awesome relationship!

I have developed a set of subjective preferences, standards and rules of intellectual conversation, and if you will agree to them, let’s dialogue!

  1. Be intelligent. Nature has made this difficult for many, and if you are among the lower 80% of people, there are many awesome things we can do to enjoy each other’s company, but I decline to waste my time with those who are better suited for other activities. I got lucky in the brain department, and unlucky in the athletic, musical, painting and charisma departments. If you don’t have the ability to play on a high-level intellectual field, please don’t. I promise not to sing or ask to be on your sportsball team. Some people are in the top 20% but choose to be ignorant, obtuse or dogmatic. No thanks.
  2. Adhere to the rules of reason and logic. These are not synonymous with “common sense” or “what everybody knows.” As with many topics in life, less than 10 hours or self-directed study can place the smart person in the top 20% of the most knowledgeable people in this subject matter. One need not be able to name and define 30 logical fallacies, however we ought to be able to recognize fallacious arguments. To learn more, start by researching the following and follow the fun rabbit holes! “Logic” “Logical fallacies” “Inductive versus deductive reasoning” “anecdotal evidence”
  3. Agree to define words and concepts and to remain intellectually honest and consistent. For example, if you say that “Taxation is robbery” be prepared for me to challenge you on the definition of robbery versus extortion, fraud and burglary.
  4. Agree to seek truth. Be willing to accept that your previously held beliefs might be wrong. Do not be dogmatic and stick with the status quo without reexamining it. We both should be excited and happy when our conversation partners help us shed bad stuff and add new high-quality stuff. I am not interested in being preached at, especially with regurgitated simplistic ideas your favorite news outlet has been saying over the last week.
  5. Scientific method. While many people who have the label “scientist” do not follow this methodology, it is the one I most trust. When it applies to a conversation, we will use it.
  6. Agree to start at the foundation. Many failed amateur “thinkers” only want to argue about the micro aspects of things rather that the macro. For example, if you propose the rule of thumb, please know that I will ask that we go back to the foundation. If we don’t first hash out whether or not it is cool to beat one’s wife, we can not smartly discuss the thickness a beating stick ought to be. Even more foundational, the word cool is a moral judgement, is morality objective or subjective?
  7. Of mutual interest. There are many things that I don’t care about, for example; photosynthesis. I am not opposed to it, nor do I hate it, it is simply not on my list of “Top 100 Things I Give a Hoot About.” There are probably many lovely, important and wonderful things that don’t make MY list, and I think it is great that people who are interested in those things chat about them.
  8. Be civil unless you have a good reason not to be. I am really OK with you making points by saying things that are a bit rude but add nuanced or witty awesomeness to our conversation. Just don’t be a dumb mean idiot who tosses out tired old cliche ad hominem attacks, ok?

These things I require to engage in intellectual arguments. Again, they are my subjective preferences, standards and rules. These are not objective rules that I think all people should always obey lest they wind up burning in fire and brimstone. These are simply MY boundaries that I have chosen for my life after many years of frustration. I trust you will also be forthright and sometimes say, “Thanks but no thanks.”

*If you are developing your own boundaries, my friend Patrick Smith also has a great resource in what he calls Meat and Potatoes Purpose and Rules