book notes: Good Arguments

useful notes as I learn how to argue productively

When I read books, especially non-fiction books, I like to take notes on those books. I realize now that I should be publishing those notes. Sadly this is a static blog so there’s no comment section. But at least I’ll have the notes out there in my words.


I don’t quite remember how I found Good Arguments. Usually I use Twitter for book recommendations but I only sporadically check Twitter nowadays as I reduced my time spent on real-time news. I know I recommended this book at the company book club as well (although that book club was paused). I stop-started the book due to a laziness that I’m starting to finally tackle. Finishing it today was a personal accomplishment, and with that accomplishment let’s get to the notes. I have three sections on notes.

Writing a Position

  • Write down every argument the opposite says to ensure each argument is addressed. In documents this is easy as they are all comments. In real life, it takes some diligence to write down those arguments. But as usual, writing slows you down in a good way.
  • Always ask in the middle of a heated argument “what are we arguing about?” That way we avoid making arguments nasty personal conflicts.
  • When making argument notes, the position is at the top of the page so you never forget the position in its clear state.
  • Only engage in a topic that is factual, normative, and prescriptive. I think this is a good triple-check for when to engage and when to disengage.
  • Construct an argument using the following structure in order. The order is the opposite of storytelling because this is an argument, not a story.
    • conclusion, then
    • importance of conclusion, then
    • claims for conclusion, then
    • reasons for each claim, then
    • evidence for each reason.
  • Own the mixed emotions that come with a position. You’ll somewhat agree and somewhat disagree. That mixture enables creativity, based on this thesis from Christina Ting Fong.

Assessing Arguments with RISA(N|P)

If an argument has started, gauge the value of the argument by filling in the following.
Clearly describe the difference of opinion.
Define why the difference is threatening and undesirable. Stop if pride or defensiveness is in the way.
Estimate time to resolve difference in scale of unit (minutes, hours, days, weeks, never).
Introspect and read others for why they are arguing. Stop if stubbornness or personality are reasons for argument.

Then one of the next two.

Agree that a claim is actually part of the difference in opinion.
Agree that resolving a claim will bring more agreement to the debate.

Defend Against Five Bad Actors

pivots by latching onto a different part of a broader subject. Stay the course with “we are talking about …” or “on the claim that …”
tries to add to burden of proof via distortion. Expose the distortion, usually to remove the necessity of the distortion. (This is sometimes a response to squirreling.)
always rebuts instead of defining the opposite position. Press for a definition of the opposing position with “what is your claim” and “can you clarify the position” and similar.
it’s in the name. Plug to explain the lie’s impact. Then replace to demonstrate the benefit of dismissing the lie. Forget truth, go for lack of reason.
wants to demonstrate human superiority rather than a position. Control pace to restore the rules of debate, even calling out the brawling behavior. Preemptively end the debate to regain control.

Published by using 581 words.