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Face-to-face Discussion

(Text as at 12/08/2007 10:17:46)


What’s wrong with face-to-face discussions? They are certainly fun, but I can think of at least three impediments to their being efficient methods of arriving at the truth.

  1. Firstly, there is a general problem with all face-to-face discussions. While they may be of psychological impact, and are useful in resolving clearly-defined problems, in general where matters are complex they are too unstructured for either side to be satisfied that the argument was prosecuted properly. It is my view that any issue of any complexity can only be prosecuted successfully when written down, so that the lines of argument can be clearly followed up after the event and replayed to test for errors. Face to face, you often find yourselves energetically discussing some point the relevance of which to the fundamental topic (whatever than was) is hard to establish. Whereas a causal chain of the discussion can sometimes be reconstructed, a logical chain is more difficult to discover because it often does not exist.
  2. Secondly, memories of face to face discussions fade so quickly. Yesterday, I had a good idea of what was said; today, on Tuesday, much less so. This may, of course, infect any subsequent write-up. Being the partly-remembered record of a ramble, it may betray all the problems of the original event; which is why I don’t think we should proceed this way, but should start from a structured argument that can then be interrogated for errors.
  3. Finally, when we next meet, we’ll have the same discussion again, or a variant thereof, or some other random tangent. It would be so much better if such discussions were cumulative so that progress could be made. Of course, it may be that on such fundamental issues no progress can be made. We just agree to disagree. Even if the foundational structure of belief is revealed, it still comes down to a choice of whether to accept or reject the pivotal propositions on which a world-view rests. But at least the points of decision would be clear1.
A few of further points.
  1. I’m assuming that the discussion is about a matter of fact rather than of opinion, so that it is worth debating. Of course, extempore debates can be had just for the thrill of it all, as a test of skill or rhetorical flourish. In such cases the last thing the successful debater wants is for the debate to be picked over and all the fallacies exposed. I don’t think we have such a situation here.
  2. Of course, a write-up has to start from a certain perspective, which may unfairly represent the points at issue, but this can be pointed out and corrected in the next round.
  3. In the case where the participants to the debate have at one time held virtually identical opinions, the possibility of continually talking past one another ought to be slim.




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12/08/2007 10:17:46 283 (Face-to-face Discussion) Sylvia

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