Opponent’s Bill of Rights

by Bill Kincaid

We should remember the double objective of debate: truth and consensus. If an opponent is worth the time to answer at all, he or she deserves certain considerations. We should grant them as inalienable rights, first by establishing these principles in order, and then by publicly accepting them as binding on our behavior. Some possible examples of rights our opponents deserve from each of us.

1. To have all their noteworthy and informative points acknowledged clearly and considerately.

2. To have all their points and quotes taken and treated according to their best possible meaning.

3. To have their arguments improved where possible by our rephrasing, rather than mutilated, so as to progress rather than stall the discussion.

4. To have all their genuine and legitimate concerns and motivations publicly noted and considered.

5. To have all their legitimate queries at least acknowleged promptly, whether a convincing response is handy or not. “Let me think it over” would do nicely.

6. To have our own uncertainty admitted to them as promptly and freely as our conviction.

7. To have our errors retracted simply without glossing or excessive self-justification.

8. To have their successful arguments acknowledged, and modifications to our position clarified.

For the record I publicly bind myself to these whether I succeed at them or not, and whether anyone else agrees to them or not. No doubt you will recognize that this is simply gentlemanly behavior. Others might have much to add.

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