Discussion Group Guidelines

Things to Keep in Mind When Thinking about & Discussing Philosophical Topics & Issues

1. When responding to an issue, try to contain comments within a reasonable time frame and limit responses and points to allow others a voice in the discussion.

2. Extend to your fellow interlocutors the courtesy of allowing them to complete a statement before responding to the issue at hand. I will try to allow people to monitor themselves, but if this is not possible, I will ask members of the group for a signal that will allow them to be recognized in order to respond to a statement or issue.

3. Observe the direction of the moderator.

4. Try to understand what is being said in a discussion, that is, before responding to a point that has been made since any response made without understanding what has been stated will more likely miss its mark (unless by a fluke it happens to engage the controversy, which would disqualify it as being, “rationally based”). Even though it is difficult not to immediately—react—to something we do not agree with, if we constantly question why I think X is the case, and not Y, during what is being said then this will tend to run interference in understanding of the issue; of course, critical faculties need not be shut down entirely since that is in all likelihood, not possible.

5. Clarification should be sought for anything stated in a discussion, or argument, which is not clearly understood. Ambiguities and vagueness are among the reasons why discussions often stray, and are misunderstood. If we observe the second guideline listed above, this will occur less, and what is initially unclear will become clear(er) if we allow each other the courtesy of finishing out our thoughts. Disrupting a speaker engaged in expressing a thought is to effectively rob others of their time. A good philosophical (and there are several online that I could suggest) dictionary, and glossary, would be very handy indeed, since it would help alleviate some of these kinds of issues.

6. Think about understanding what is at issue instead of judging what is being said, since “judging” should ideally come after an understanding of the issue has taken place, to the degree possible.

7. If notes are taken in the course of a discussion, they can help you to remember things that were not asked while the speaker had expressed his, or her, thoughts since we are trying to allow a speaker to complete their statements (or complex of related thoughts that would be contextually significant to other ideas within that context, in order to obtain a complete and clear understanding of an issue before us).

8. Don’t think any question is “foolish,” we are trying to maintain a certain level of formality so the discussion can proceed in a philosophical way that has a progressive character to it (i.e., positive), but we just ain’t gonna be that formal, for the most part.

9. Let other speakers speak for themselves. To elaborate a speakers’ position, in your own language, as a kind of question put to the person expressing their views can be a good clarifying tactic which allows you to understand another’s position; but, to tell a third person what the first person means, while in the presence of that first person, could be interpreted as presumptuous (but usually not by me, I know how tempting this can be, truly).

10. Depending on context, there are no hard and fast “rules,” except to civil discourse. Intimidation, and overtly discourteous acts of an aggressive nature cannot be allowed. This is the one and only real, and inflexible, rule (you’ll notice no quotation marks around the term, rule). Of course, that really goes without saying, but I felt responsible to say it nonetheless. This could, in addition to producing harm to individuals, undo a group.

11. Try to stay current with the conversation that is taking place. That is not always possible even if we try; I will try to keep the main points to a discussion that were made during a meeting on the web, somewhere, when I become more familiar with the meetup software. I will try to be as consistent as I can about this; we ought to try our best to be genuinely philosophical, please refrain from emotional outbursts when you disagree with what you may find to be an offensive position, or statement.

12. Religion, politics, and sex have to be allowed into some (significant) discussions since the parameters of any real philosophical treatment sometimes demand certain considerations being made; which disallows the barring of such topics. However, a courteous discretion has to be maintained when dealing with sensitive issues and topics. Due consideration with respect to how a subject is addressed should be tailored to, to the best of our abilities, the sensitivities of those in attendance. Simply stated, let’s be nice to each other, O.K.?

13. Real philosophical discussions engage in critical thinking and the sharing of that critical thought (i.e., “criticizing”) and hearing others’ critical thoughts (i.e., being “criticized”) with regard to our thinking on a given subject. Try to criticize the thought, and not the thinker. With some topics this is notoriously difficult to do, especially when it comes to politics, and religion, and sex. However, once an interlocutor knows the disposition of emotion (which is, I believe, inseparable from the way a person cognitively goes about considering an issue ) with which a speaker holds a view, it is questionable (to say the least) if any real strides can be made by foisting critical moral judgments on the others’ opinions and/or statements. Since we trying our

14. Keep to the Philosophically relevant. Everything is philosophical to a philosopher, so we have to do our best not to get caught up in what some philosophers consider “petty” concerns. Mind you, some of these “petty” concerns hold monumental consequences for all of us as individuals, but to talk about the problem that Jack is having with his Buick is not at the same level, philosophically considered, as are the issues involved in considering what a Buick is as the kind of thing it is—if we are assessing it on ontological grounds, as a “car,” “vehicle,” “mode of transport,” or as a “status of social well being” (i.e., status symbol)—if were are assessing it on a kind of social/ethical grounds, or as an endless array of other possible philosophical questions that could be considered with respect to things.

15. Try to engage in the reading before the next appointed meetup. I will try to make the readings short enough (this will be one of my tougher assignments) to get through fairly quickly, and even though I realize, “quickly,” to be a relative term. I would like to try and make them short enough wherein you could read the piece when you get it (of course, this is ideally), so that a kind of rumination could take place which would allow enough time for you to consider what is being set before us again before we meetup. Of course, if I suggest this it means I have a responsibility to get to what you find to be interesting. I’ll try.



To extend our thinking on what goes into good conversations here’s a short PDF chapter How to Talk from a book authored by Mortimer J. Adler (edited by Max Weismann)  titled How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization.


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