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How to Write Strong Arguments  

I just finished reading an interesting essay entitled How to Disagree. Written by Paul Graham, the essay introduces and describes a seven-level Hierarchy of Disagreement. From name-calling to carefully reasoned refutation, Graham breaks down each level of the hierarchy with a brief explanation. I completely agree with Graham’s theory but I have to disagree with him in one critical area: his use of illustrations (he uses none).

Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement

Disagreement Hierarchy

Bam! Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement has been Maslowtized. Visual-learning works great for many people and I thought it would be helpful to represent this theory graphically. When you are using CreateDebate, the goal is to write strong arguments (funny ones welcome too, sometimes). You will write stronger arguments if you think about this graphic while you write.

As you browse the site and read debates, try to mentally classify the arguments with the most points. Which level do they reach? Graham postulates that all arguments falling below Contradiction are unconvincing. You may come across popular arguments that are intellectually dishonest. Vote them down or respond: use your pin to pop those balloons.

As you craft a response, do your best to explicitly refute the central point of the argument. In most cases, that will require thinking of something better than that’s what she said. The web is giving you an opportunity to respond to the world. Take advantage of this opportunity.

The article has

46 responses

Written by Loudacris

April 7th, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Random Musings

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46 Responses to 'How to Write Strong Arguments'

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  1. Wow, nice blog post Loudacris! This really gives me a good understanding of arguments and hopefully will help me to convince more people to agree with my point of view.


    8 Apr 08 at 7:38 am

  2. Word didn’t like the word “Hominem” in your diagram, and you can see the underlining.


    8 Apr 08 at 11:15 am

  3. Looks good, but the labels on the left could use to be darkened a bit, I’m having trouble reading them…. but other than that it’s cool.


    8 Apr 08 at 12:23 pm

  4. Good points, I updated the graphic. Redditors, if you want to check out CreateDebate, sign up for the beta here and we’ll get you approved ASAP.


    8 Apr 08 at 12:39 pm

  5. Shouldn’t the base of the pyramid be “refuting the central point”? This graph makes it seem like the base of any good argument is name-calling. Then you follow it up with the one-two punch of ad hominem and responding to tone. If they’re still standing (as if!), you give’em the ol’ contradiction and down they go.

    So, aside from being wrong, it’s awesome.


    8 Apr 08 at 2:11 pm

  6. ur a fag

    Paul Graham

    8 Apr 08 at 2:16 pm

  7. [...] How to Write Strong Arguments at The CreateDebate Blog: [...]

  8. @pg:

    You are an ass hat!


    I like the diagram a lot, but I’d like to see “Responding to Tone” be in a color with more contrast against the white background.


    8 Apr 08 at 3:16 pm

  9. Thanks, very useful!

    Juan Tootroll

    8 Apr 08 at 4:25 pm

  10. Juan how can that be useful. Have you learnt that it is not a good thing to call people names (like mine)? or have you suddenly had a revolution that all you have to do is provide evidence that the other person is an Ass Hat?

    To be brutal this post is about as productive as calling Abraham Maslow an Ass Hat.

    Ass Hat

    8 Apr 08 at 5:27 pm

  11. The four lowest ones are used when defending religion. It never fails.


    8 Apr 08 at 5:42 pm

  12. [...] How to Write Strong Arguments [...]

  13. You got the hierarchy backwards. In maslows hiearchy of needs, the most important needs are on the bottom and the least important are at the top. Think of an actual pyramid. The foundation is more important than the top. The more important and basic parts to a strong arguement should be located at the bottom, as they give foundation.

    Take a second look a maslows hierarchy. Physiological needs are at the bottom, because they support the foundation of life. Self-actualization is at the top because it isn’t very necessary, if at all.

    likewise, name calling should be at the top, and Refuting the Central Point, at the bottom.


    8 Apr 08 at 6:51 pm

  14. Korinthian said:

    “The four lowest ones are used when defending religion. It never fails.”

    Ad Hominem logical fallacy, ass hat. I prefer “The four lowest are used when attacking religion.”


    8 Apr 08 at 7:15 pm

  15. I am sure..Paul graham would never say things like “you are a fag” … It’s just someone who use his name to dishonor PG… what a pathetic attempt…


    8 Apr 08 at 8:08 pm

  16. If you read the article, you’ll see that Paul was trying to be funny and posted a quote from the actual article. I don’t think it was someone trying to dishonor him.


    8 Apr 08 at 8:15 pm

  17. regardless of how maslow did it…if you are reading the chart for what it is, then you would see that the BROADEST and flimsiest arguments are at the bottom…and the stronger and more pointed ones at the top. from general to specific…


    youre all a buncha dorks

    8 Apr 08 at 11:07 pm

  18. [...] Post

  19. it illustrates the concept perfectly – the more sophisticated approach at the top of the pyramid – makes sense. now someone should teach the american internet users how to express themselves with other words than just “awesome”.


    9 Apr 08 at 7:32 am

  20. [...] how well this type of marketing works, yesterday we decided to post Loudacris’ blog post on  How to Write Strong Arguments to Reddit to test if it would drive users to the site.  My initial reaction is WOW!  The blog [...]

  21. [...] for a larger version. Image originally found here, which was in turn inspired by the article found [...]

  22. [...] hierarchy of disagreement. From the CreateDebate Blog, a diagram of Paul Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement. Self-explanatory. [...]

  23. [...] How to Write Strong Arguments at The CreateDebate Blog (tags: debate argument communication writing howto blog speaking reference **) [...]

  24. This looks like a good idea, it’ll be interesting to see how it works in practice. Especially the voting parts. Will someone holding an unpopular position, like on digg *not* being a Ron Paul supporter or Ubuntu fanatic, or perhaps not being an atheist, mean that the vote system will effectively bury their posts regardless of the quality of their arguments?

    Just wondering.

    As for the pyramid, I think it quantifies the majority of online debates pretty well, with the most part being name-calling, and only a couple of actually decent posts that deal with the substance of the particular issue.


    11 Apr 08 at 8:32 am

  25. yes, I agree with avx. Your taxonomy is more in line with Bloom’s.

    Ass hat:)


    11 Apr 08 at 8:02 pm

  26. Hey ass hat. You clearly sleep with baboons and are stupid. This article is self righteous and preachy. A different system is correct.

    Damn, one can only get 4 into a single post before it becomes paradoxical (eg the 5th layer cannot be done while the 4th remains true). Still points for effort eh.

    More seriously there is room for use of criticizing the tone as a legitimate part of debate, most especially when discoursing with an ally. For instance I might read a post where I sympathise with the core content, but where I feel the language, tone or proposed methods are unhelpful, or damage the cause. It would then be right for me to criticize that tone.

    With that caveat, the hierarchy is sound and useful. especially if it draws people towards proper thought and away from the hate-filled bile and re-stating of opposing views that passes for much of the debate online.

    A Pedant

    14 Apr 08 at 3:25 pm

  27. Great posting. I am really surprised though at the amount of people that DIDN’T read the directions for using the graph! I knew we lived in a world half-full of dumb*****.

  28. The name-calling technique clearly works best.
    If you disagree, you’re a moron.


    16 Apr 08 at 11:28 am

  29. Obviously that was a joke. Your post was very interesting. I signed up for CreateDebate since it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for for years.


    16 Apr 08 at 11:33 am

  30. With regard to the four lowest categories, surely both attacks and defenses of religion often rely upon these.

    Nonetheless, Kierkegaard “defended” religion without resort to these, indeed, he fervently attacked those who would defend religion. Instead, he resorted to the category ABOVE the pyramid, namely, Irony.

    `The truth of this should not be disregarded, and it is undoubtedly necessary to underscore it in a time like this, which is running wild in its profusion of empty, pompous, and fruitless knowledge, to the point where now, just as in Socrates’ time, only even more so, it is necessary for men to be Socratically starved a little.

    (Sickness unto Death)


    16 Apr 08 at 3:37 pm

  31. Korinthian said:

    “The four lowest ones are used when defending religion. It never fails.”

    Your statement is provably wrong – I have observed many debates on religion where both sides argued at the top of the pyramid. I have also observed some where both sides used the bottom hour tactics.

    In my experience, neither side of the debate about religion tends to be appreciably more or less logical than the other. There are plenty of intelligent, rational people on both sides, and there are plenty of irrational, emotional people on both sides.

    Dan H

    16 Apr 08 at 4:58 pm

  32. The Pyramid of Disagreement: A Critical Tool for Analyzing Arguments

    When confronted with an idea, proposition, or any content with which one disagrees, several responses are possible. One can ignore it, consider the points of disagreement and become convinced that they are correct and you have been mistaken, or one…

    The Interface

    17 Apr 08 at 6:27 pm

  33. It would be interesting to hear what Paul and readers have to say about the motivations (conscious and sub-conscious) that cause people to ascend and descend the hierarchy, both between and during disagreements.

    Also, I can think of other human behaviors related to disagreement. For example, I am attempting to Extend the Topic’s Scope. In this case it is because I happen to generally agree that the hierarchy seems to be useful for its intended purpose. I seek to make it better through expansion of the topic’s scope.

    However, I could see a “sneaky disagree’er” attempt to _change_ the Topic’s scope, or to redirect the attention of the audience, by _seeming_ to agree with the subject. This is often done in politics in a debating context. “Well, although I generally agree with the Senator from Michigan concerning the hierarchy of disagreement, I find that there is actually nothing wrong with being a fag…”


    17 Apr 08 at 8:36 pm

  34. This is really a graph of the frequency of arguments in an internet debate with “name calling” the most prevalent and “refuting the central argument” as rare as ivory billed woodpeckers.

    Especially applicable to the Global Warming Debate.

    L Nettles

    18 Apr 08 at 4:15 pm

  35. [...] 22 April 2008 Paul Graham wrote a nice essay on how to disagree. The team at CreateDebate made a great graphic illustrating his essay; check out Paul Graham’s [...]

  36. An excellent post Loudacris.

    Please update the image so that the title (“Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement”) is included in the actual image.

    I’d like to share the image (on its lonesome) with some friends.

    Kosta Kontos

    23 Apr 08 at 4:09 am

  37. I arrived here via Stumble Upon and read the comments. I think that the chart would be more understandable if presented as a ladder instead of a pyramid. A lot of people relying on the visual representation with this post as one reader mentions without “reading”.

    Danielle Vyas

    24 Apr 08 at 6:43 pm

  38. [...] In March, Paul Graham wrote a great essay entitled How to Disagree. I loved the article because it is all about how the web is turning into a conversation (which is why we built CreateDebate). Shortly thereafter, I transformed Graham’s underlying thesis into a graphic to help illustrate his point. The original graphic (a similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) can be found here. [...]

  39. [...] clipped from blog.createdebate.com [...]

  40. thanks for the news


    4 May 08 at 1:02 pm

  41. Your Maslowtized graphic, as you call it, doesn’t work here. First of all, Maslow chose the pyramid because his material really was an actual hierarchy. You start at the base and can’t move forward until the previous levels have been met. This is not the same. Which is probably why Graham didn’t use a graphic organizer. If your visual were correct it would mean that in any debate you start out with name calling and gradually move to the more civilized and mature level of refuting the central point. But c’mon, if you start out with name calling no one is going to patiently wait until you can proceed more civilly. That’s why this particular graphic doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense for the information it is meant to visualize.


    8 May 08 at 4:46 pm

  42. [...] Image found at Create Debate [...]

  43. [...] Image found at Create Debate [...]

  44. [...] the more visual among us, the create debate blog summarized his points into a nice graphic.  Mild profanity, but I think it is forgivable in this [...]

  45. I have to agree with the others here. The graphic is completely wrong for the concept you are trying to explain.

    A good graphic might be two dueling swordsmen or even a target. Name calling could be represented as a wild slash while refuting the central point would be a stab to the heart.


    14 May 08 at 3:07 pm

  46. [...] you’re debating, you’ll come up against many styles of arguing, based in all different levels of arguing. But if you’re in the debate to win, you have to spot flaws in other’s arguments and [...]

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