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LINK The Steel Man Technique: How To Argue Better And Be More Persuasive

Twice in as many days, people have brought up the STEELMAN TECHNIQUE. I was caught unaware of what this is and I consider myself pretty well informed on debate techniques and fallacies.

Put simply, it’s building the best form of the other side’s argument and then engaging with it. It’s being charitable and patching up the weaknesses in the other side’s proposition so that he can bring the best counter-argument to your point of view.

This is an interesting point of view for as the article states:

If you listen to the language used to assess any debate, you’ll find that there’s always an element of “winning”.

And I've made that comment countless times, that I don't view "debate as competition" but as "debate as exposition", as in I will expose my views for you to chew on while you will expose your views for me to chew on. To ascribe to a competition point of view would require an impartial judge and rules to which both debaters agree upon beforehand and neither of these happens in online debates. Hence, what you end up with is both interlocutors walking away, cocksure that they are the winner and that they have "completely devastated" their opponent.

Debate is hard. Rational debate harder. Fallacy-Free debate harder still. I have no doubt this technique will be difficult but it's worth a try, don't you think?

TheMiddleWay 8 Dec 13
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7 comments

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1

In some ways it is very like the Socratic method, not a perfect fit but similar. Since you could say that in the Socratic method you get the other party to Steelman themselves, by inviting them to put forward ever more of their arguments until the basic structure fails.

interesting insight, the steelman as a "reverse socratic method"

1

Steelmanning discussion would be useful in honest political debate assessing the relative merits of policies.

Although arguments may be too ad nauseam for some.

What the world needs now is love sweet love.

.

2

kinda like taking control of the "other" position.

3

I can see value in the idea of improving on the other person’s argument, but I don’t think that has been a main feature of the steelmanning I have witnessed in debates.

As I understand it, the minimum requirement is to simply state the other person’s perspective in your own words, to the other person’s satisfaction. This alone (without making actual improvements) is enough to ensure that you are actually addressing the person’s argument instead of talking past each other.

All too often people are ready to produce some canned reaction to a statement they haven’t the least understanding of. A most typical indicator of this is when they characterize the other’s statement as “word salad”. There is no more common indicator that they have no idea what you’re saying, but they somehow feel obligated to put it down.

Inviting them to steelman your idea stops this nonsense in its tracks, because the person who cries “word salad” clearly has no ability to comprehend what you’re talking about, let alone restate it in their own words. They just want to shoot off at the mouth and feel relevant.

There’s an excellent debate between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson where they demonstrate this technique like the two gentlemen that they are. It’s very illustrative of the technique. I’ll see if I can find it and post it here.

skado Level 9 Dec 13, 2021

Well sure. The "Let me see if I understand what your saying..." and then repeating what they said in your words is a tried and true technique.

But Steelmanning, from what I see, takes it a step further. In fact, when I read other articles about it, it is called the Steelman because it's a distinction against the Strawman: where in one you make the argument artificially weaker to make it easier to burn down, here you make the argument artificially stronger to make it more difficult to burn down.

Seems odd that you'd want to help your interlocutor but I can see merit in this for several reasons:
one can parrot the other persons point and it could come off as understanding when all you've done is chosen different synonyms. Taking an arguement a proper step further however does require understanding.

Another reason is that it can help you see that their point is stronger than yours, even if they don't see it. You may save yourself a lot of time if you can see that there is an endgame where your arguements won't hold up.

Yet another reason is as a way to proactively predict what the strongest version of their point is and then, by addressing that strongest point, all other points are carried along.

And of course no technique is foolproof. There is a logical fallacy "arguement from repetition" which one could fall prey to using this. And It is all to often the case that I will do this, try to restate their point, only to be countered by nitpicking about semantics or vocabulary in my expression.

For example, in a recent conversation someone advocated that nobody reproduce so the human race would die out. When I said that I could not abide by anyone that advocated genocide, we went into a back and forth over how it wasn't genocide because he wasn't promoting that he would kill anyone, just that we die off, and I said there is no better word, and back and forth.. So in trying to understand and restate his point all I did was give him more ammunition to claim that I'm not understanding him or that I'm misrepresenting his point. To me, this is a sign of a dishonest interlocutor insofar as they have no interest in helping you understand their point, their only interest is "winning" or have you concede their point exactly as they state it. Tiresome frankly. And it stands to reason they would do this when you try to restate their point or when you try to extend their point (Steelman)

@TheMiddleWay

I don't have any argument with what you're saying here. And yes, it can be difficult to impossible to do with success, because, as you point out, it requires a genuine, honest interest in getting to the best answer, regardless of who "wins" and that is pretty rare.

I think this is the debate where they attempt to steelman (?) each other's point (with varying degrees of success). Peterson credits Carl Rogers with the concept.

First night:

Second night:

1

It somewhat undermines the point being made when the head line reads
How To Argue Better
rather than
How to make a better argument

Perhaps?

Not seeing how TBH.
But all the same, there are countless articles on Steelman with headlines that don't undermine its content.

@TheMiddleWay

@LenHazell53

@TheMiddleWay love Jeff Dunham 🙂

2

Not gonna happen so it doesn't matter what I think.

5

I'm not sure i could do that. sounds difficult and i don't behave well. still, an interesting endeavor. worthwhile..

Doh. you do it to me all the time.

@Fernapple misbehave!?! not me brother. I'm an angel.

@Fernapple if i did this and it was offensive or wrong or something i apologize. I've never heard of it or studied debate at all. should i act differently somehow?

@hankster You are never offensive, quite the opposite. Do it more.

@Fernapple wow, thanks.

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