How to have productive arguments in public

In a democracy, controversy is healthy, and public interest is well served by robust public argument.

However, when people disagree, the result can be more heat than enlightenment, with neither side actually taking the time to listen to the other.

The question then becomes, how do we build a culture of debate that allows for meaningful engagement in the realm of ideas even when we do not agree?

University of Cape Town (UCT) philosophy lecturer, Jacques Rousseau, talks to Eusebius McKaiser about productive disagreements.

Rousseau says people need to learn to detach their ideas from their self-worth.

We should talk to each other to discover our own errors rather than to persuade people of their own errors.

Jacques Rousseau, UCT philosophy lecturer

Your mindset should not be one of destruction and criticism but rather self-interrogation, self-reflection and self-improvement.

Jacques Rousseau, UCT philosophy lecturer

We do aim to improve the world. And that means detecting and eliminating errors where we can. When you do detect errors worth considering or debating, one should be willing and engage, but not in a way that demeans and trivialises that person's belief.

Jacques Rousseau, UCT philosophy lecturer

Rousseau emphasises that there is a lot to take from a dialogue, even when people disagree.

There is a different way of understanding productive. One can learn how people think about things. One can learn about their arguments, blind spots and biases.

Jacques Rousseau, UCT philosophy lecturer

Rousseau also has a few tips for those who debate and engage in heated conversations on social media.

You must remember that you are not only talking to the person you talking to. It's the same as talk radio. There is an audience that may never call in, but they are listening. They are hearing your tone, strategy and arguments, and learning how to debate and argue reasonable.

Jacques Rousseau, UCT philosophy lecturer

Listen to the full interview with Jacques Rousseau below...


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