The New Science of How to Argue—Constructively
Earlier this month, Jesse Singal wrote about the dynamics of today’s online flame wars—and described a new movement to study and learn from disagreement. “Erisology” looks specifically at unsuccessful disagreement.
According to the Swedish blogger John Nerst, who coined the word, an unsuccessful disagreement is“an exchange where people are no closer in understanding at the end than they were at the beginning.” Nerst, Singal explained, “hopes that scholars can learn more about how the divergence in people’s fundamental beliefs and assumptions makes them react to the world in different ways.”
Folks are certainly free to invent their own enclaves of thought and inquiry, but the notion that a new discipline called “erisology” needs to be invented to understand our technologically mediated communication misses the existence of a more than 2,500 year old body of knowledge founded on the very same impulse: rhetoric. Despite its classical roots, rhetoric has proved remarkably persistent and adaptive to new technologies, social dynamics, and different ideologies.
David M. Grant
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Erisologists rejoice! For the reports of the death of the study of disagreement are highly exaggerated. Rhetoricians, like myself, populate college campuses all over the United States and we too are interested in how and why people don’t seem to be very good at disagreement these days.