I came upon this graphic the other day, illustrating the Hierarchy of Disagreement — with seven stages of argumentation based on the Paul Graham essay, How to Disagree.


If we’re all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages. So here’s an attempt at a disagreement hierarchy.

Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement

Diagram released into the public domain – Wikimedia Commons

A Facebook friend offered a counterpoint to this methodology:

This pyramid of hierarchies seems to be centered on someone being right and the other being wrong. Sounds like the parlance of debate where there is a winner/loser. I’m thinking about establishing dialogue that accepts another viewpoint as being just that: another viewpoint

I think Graham’s layers of civility (or incivility) are useful as a rhetorical measure — and as a guidepost of reason, particularly when the discussion hinges on misleading claims. When genuine dialogue isn’t even possible until the misrepresentations are swept away, it’s obviously preferable if people can resolve those differences with some logical tools and Socratic skills.

(I can, however, think of times when working your way down the pyramid — starting in good faith at top and ending in exasperation with “you are an ass hat”  — would seem justifiable.)