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Guidelines for use

Posted by Hugo Holbling, in Site 30 April 2010 · 348 views

The Galilean Library is a site devoted to community and cooperation. Arguments or ideas are explored – not declared – and we are hoping to learn from each other, so we need to be careful to behave decently. The following are suggested guidelines for participation in the blog comments, groups and forums.

Equity:

Interaction here should be equitable. If we possess expertise in an area then we should use it to help others rather than restrict their access to a discussion or to declare the limits of debate; likewise, if we lack the expertise then we should take steps to learn from others and to develop our understanding. We should not refuse to question uninformed opinions. We should also be willing to question established and expert positions, and we should also offer argument and counter-argument. Ideally, we should not interact with each other from a privileged position and we should try to ensure that everyone can benefit.

Qualifications:

This site is based on the conviction that people should have access to learning and education, together with the opportunity to study and discuss things with others, even if they do not have the formal qualifications needed for schools, colleges and universities. This means that we should never question someone’s right to question or take part in discussion by asking or demanding that they meet certain standards, whether professional, academic or of our own invention. Everyone is welcome here and everyone has something to offer, given the chance, so if you have expertise in an area then please help others – and in turn be helped – rather than use your knowledge to belittle others or hinder their learning.

Insults:

Given the aims of the site, we should try to avoid insulting people, whether they are members of our community or not. If an idea is ridiculous then, given that we are trying to learn from one another, we can reasonably be expected to provide an argument to that fact. Insults also tend to lead to deterioration of the discussion and then no one learns anything. Banter and good-natured humour are an essential part of any community but we need to be careful not to overstep any boundaries.

Errors in arguments:

We encourage people not to simply dismiss arguments as fallacious; instead, if we notice a mistake in someone’s reasoning then we try to explain it. If we can help each other understand why arguments fail rather than dismissing them then everyone will benefit. If an argument is weak then it should be fair game on its own terms, irrespective of its origin.

Another thing to be aware of is poisoning further discussion by ascribing motives to others, even when we might be right in our assessment. After all, arguments do not necessarily stand or fall on the ends to which they may subsequently be employed and discussions often become aggressive when people are questioning each other’s motives.

Trolling or disingenuous remarks that make no attempt to further the discussion are obviously in direct opposition to the aims of this site and our community.

The Principle of Charity:

This principle invites us to try to take the best understanding of what others mean and even to strengthen their arguments if we can, making subsequent counter-arguments altogether more interesting and powerful. It helps improve the quality and the atmosphere of discussions as well because even a bad argument can be turned into a good conversation if we try to learn something from it. The opposite is often called a "straw man"; that is, criticising a weaker or inaccurate version of what someone has claimed, which has a tendency to lead to conflict and is unhelpful at best.

In a similar vein, it is best not to question other people’s understanding. Sometimes people are deliberately obtuse, do not want to understand or wilfully distort things, but it might also be the case that we did not explain ourselves well enough and the fault is ours, not theirs. Rather than blame them or call them names, we could try again. Even if some people are disruptive or uninterested, we have to remember that others may be reading – generally many more than are replying – and restating an idea might draw other responses. If we have said all we can or want to then we can just leave the matter alone, rather than try to have the last word or grandstand.

In summary, we are all here to try to learn from one another and develop a sense of community in the process. We may all occasionally fail to live up to these guidelines but at least we can aspire to bear them in mind when we interact with one another.




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