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TotD: Suggested Rules for Democratic Discourse

Sid­ney Hook, sug­gest­ed rules for demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­course, from “The Ethics of Con­tro­ver­sy,” Sid­ney Hook on Prag­ma­tism, Democ­ra­cy and Free­dom: The Essen­tial Essays:

  • Noth­ing and no one is immune from crit­i­cism.
  • Every­one involved in a con­tro­ver­sy has an intel­lec­tu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty to inform him­self of the avail­able facts.
  • Crit­i­cism should be direct­ed first to poli­cies, and against per­sons only when they are respon­si­ble for poli­cies, and against their motives or pur­pos­es only when there is some inde­pen­dent evi­dence of their char­ac­ter.
  • [Just] Because cer­tain words are legal­ly per­mis­si­ble, they are not there­fore moral­ly per­mis­si­ble.
  • Before impugn­ing an opponent’s motives, even when they legit­i­mate­ly may be impugned, answer his argu­ments.
  • Do not treat an oppo­nent of a pol­i­cy as if he were there­fore a per­son­al ene­my of the coun­try or a con­cealed ene­my of democ­ra­cy.
  • Since a good cause may be defend­ed by bad argu­ments, after answer­ing the bad argu­ments for another’s posi­tion present pos­i­tive evi­dence for your own.
  • Do not hes­i­tate to admit lack of knowl­edge or to sus­pend judg­ment if evi­dence is not deci­sive either way.
  • Only in pure log­ic and math­e­mat­ics, not in human affairs, can one demon­strate that some­thing is strict­ly impos­si­ble. Because some­thing is log­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble, it is not there­fore prob­a­ble. “It is not impos­si­ble” is a pref­ace to an irrel­e­vant state­ment about human affairs. The ques­tion is always one of the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties. And the evi­dence for prob­a­bil­i­ties must include more than abstract pos­si­bil­i­ties.
  • The car­di­nal sin, when we are look­ing for truth of fact or wis­dom of pol­i­cy, is refusal to dis­cuss, or action which blocks dis­cus­sion.

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