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Studio 42 invites you to explore the world of ideas: to think deeply and philosophically about issues that matter. We have many important topics to discuss, and we have important decisions to make in life. You must consider which political campaigns to vote for, how to spend your time and money, and what are your duties or obligations to friends, family members and society at large.
As we discuss important topics, we should be guided by the pursuit of three main ideals: humanism, openmindedness and rationality. Humanism means that we care about others, openmindedness means that we are willing to consider new ideas and improve our understanding of the world, and rationality means that we insist on evidence and reason so that we are not too openminded – we can recognize false claims and bad ideas. By pursuing these three ideals, we not only better ourselves; we also become better members of our family and community and better actors in the world.
Openmindedness is the curiosity and willingness to consider diverse viewpoints and to change one’s own mind. Firstly it requires intellectual courage, the ability to explore new ideas and perspectives. Secondly, it requires intellectual humility, the ability to admit that you might be wrong, or might have misunderstood something.
Rationality means that you use proper reasoning methods to ensure that your actions, goals, and values are all in alignment. You are thoughtful about what you value, and use evidence, science and reason to ensure that you make the right choices in life, for yourself and for the people that you care about.
Humanism means that you care about people and humanity as a whole. We pursue the intellectual ideals of openmindedness and rationality because we want to be better citizens, better actors in the world, and we want to make better choices on important matters that affect us all.
Studio 42 events are a fun way to discuss controversial topics, hear diverse viewpoints, and enjoy an evening in the company of interesting and thoughtful people. They are also an opportunity to work on yourself and develop valuable persuasion and critical thinking skills. In view of these goals, we adhere to the following principles, organized into the four main categories of good communication, excellent reasoning, helpful collaboration, and enjoyment of the event.
Communication means that your ideas are heard, and they are understood by others as you understand them in your own mind. It means speaking in clear, simple terms, avoiding confusion, and not talking past each other. Communication is the first step towards persuasion; if you want to change someone’s mind, they need to understand what you meant.
Clear communication keeps the discussion productive and satisfying. Try to speak clearly by:
- Using plain language that everyone can understand,
- Not making your arguments more complex than they need to be,
- Using concrete examples to illustrate your points,
- Immediately stating your thesis or main argument when you begin speaking.
Brevity is the soul of wit and many other virtues in conversation. It helps to add some humor and rhetorical flourish to your speaking, but try to say your point in as few words as necessary, and do not repeat your point redundantly. The audience has limited attention span, and they will lose focus if you take too long to explain yourself.
Always use intro-body-conclusion structure when you speak. Before you begin speaking, decide what your main argument (your thesis) will be. What do you want to persuade the audience about? Begin by clearly stating this main argument. Then give a few supporting arguments to prove your point, and conclude by restating your main argument.
By stating your main argument at the beginning, you are helping the audience to contextualize and make sense of your supporting arguments. They know where you are going and can immediately see the relevance of your arguments.
Remember that everything you say is clear and organized in your mind, but the audience has limited comprehension and attention span. Don’t try to talk too long, or to make too many different points at one time. The audience can lose engagement or have difficulty following you if you try to say too much.
Communication means working with others towards common goals. The purpose of our events is to achieve intellectual progress. We listen to others, reflect and share our own thoughts so that we can all improve our understanding of the world together. These are not debates where you come with the intent to “win” an argument. We are having a conversation for common benefit and enjoyment of all.
The principle of charity says that you should assume that other participants are well-intentioned and intelligent. When you disagree with someone, you should give the best possible interpretation to their argument, and make a sincere effort to find value in their perspective. We are not here to “win” and demolish the arguments of others, we are here to broaden our understanding and learn from others however we can. This is also called a Steelman, and is the opposite of the Strawman fallacy.
Questions are more powerful than statements. When you disagree with someone, don’t launch into a disagreement and immediately try to prove them wrong. Ask questions to better understand their perspective.
You should be sure to understand what a person means before arguing against them. See Rappaport’s rules.
Remember that your goal in discussion is to change minds, but this requires more than throwing a few facts at the audience. Other participants will be more receptive to your views if you show that you are receptive and thoughtful towards theirs. Listen, reflect and inquire thoughtfully. State your disagreements gently, and explore your differences of opinion by asking questions.
The discussion should have a smooth thread where one person’s contribution is a thoughtful response to the contributions of previous speakers. In order to avoid hijacking or derailing the discussion, you should always respond to a previous speaker, or if you find the discussion uninteresting or unproductive, you should preface your speech by stating your intent to propose a new direction.
We should discuss ideas without discussing whether people live up to those ideas in their personal lives. e.g. If a person claims that it is unethical to eat meat, we should not ask whether they do in fact abstain from eating meat. The discussion should remain philosophical and avoid appeals to hypocrisy.
All ideas are open to contest and critical analysis. If you don’t want someone to scrutinize a belief that you hold, then don’t bring it up. Once you speak, you may be spoken to.
Studio 42 is dedicated to maintaining high standards of reason, and accuracy of facts and scientific claims. Our events are an opportunity to practice clarity, precision, breadth and depth of thought, and to help each other improve via constructive critical thinking.
As a critical thinker, you should always be ready to change your opinion on a given topic and you should have a clear concept of what evidence would be required to change your mind. If you hold an opinion, but you do not know what would change your mind, or there is no evidence that would change your mind, then you are not thinking critically. This is generally called the principle of falsifiability in regards to scientific matters, and defeasibility in regards to philosophical matters.
Be aware of your own values, biases, and perspectives, and understand how yours might differ from those of others. Familiarize yourself with the list of cognitive biases so that these possible errors will be more obvious to you.
Use proper logical reasoning to support your viewpoints. Logic is a set of principles and methods that help you to reason from premises (known information) to inferences and conclusions. You can also use logical deduction to analyse reasoning and find errors or inconsistencies. There are right and wrong ways to use logic. Familiarize yourself with the list of logical fallacies so that you can recognize common errors.
Metaphors and analogies can help in communicating ideas, but they can also confuse our thinking and lead to false conclusions. When speaking, you should have a clear sense of whether you are speaking in literal or metaphorical terms. If you are speaking in metaphorical terms, you should be able to rephrase your point in clear, precise and literal terms. If you cannot do this, then you are probably committing a fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
Epistemic means referring to knowledge and epistemic clarity means that you have a clear sense of what and why you hold your beliefs. You recognize the difference between facts, values, intuitions, assumptions and opinions, objective and subjective claims, or scientific vs. philosophical vs. traditional or religious knowledge. When asked, you can work backwards from your claims to show the evidence and chain of reasoning that underlies them.
Skepticism is when you form beliefs based on evidence, and your confidence in those beliefs is proportional to the weight of the evidence. It is in opposition to invalid belief-forming methods such as:
- Assertion (I just know that X is true)
- Faith (I believe X because I have faith that X is true)
- Revelation (I have special knowledge that X is true)
- Tradition (We’ve always believed X)
- Wishful Thinking (I believe X because I want X to be true)
Traditional or religious beliefs are open to discussion at any time, but they must be examined in their proper epistemological framing.
Our conversation events are an opportunity to work on yourself and develop skills that will help you to discuss difficult or controversial topics in your professional and personal life. Try to improve your patience, temperance, listening, public speaking, and critical thinking skills.
Practice the art of holding back before you launch into a disagreement. Take a moment to reflect on whether you must disagree, or whether you can ask questions to better understand the other person’s position. Have you understood their values and perspective, and have you found a way to phrase your disagreement persuasively?
Listening is not only the process of hearing a person speak. It means giving them space to speak without interruption, and it also means making an effort to use empathy and understand the thoughts and feelings that support their beliefs. An important part of listening is learning how to speak to others in a way that creates openness, gives them confidence, and makes them want to share their thoughts with you.
Learn how to voice your disagreements in a way that is palatable and persuasive to others. Learn to read the room, recognize emotional cues, de-escalate confrontations, and turn differences of opinion into a source of collaboration and intellectual growth for everyone involved.
Public speaking is a common fear that afflicts many people. It makes you hesitant to say your thoughts or intervene in difficult interpersonal situations. And for many, the fear of public speaking is even more intense when you are asked to give your thoughts on issues that are complex and controversial. Use this opportunity to practice developing and communicating your thoughts.
Critical thinking is a set of principles and methods for finding and correcting errors in reasoning. It requires self-awareness, and intellectual humility, the ability to admit that you don’t have all the answers and your understanding of the world could be improved. The quickest and simplest way to learn intellectual humility, is to share your opinion publicly, and listen to others who see the world differently.
Studio 42 events are a leisure activity – a fun way to spend your evening meeting interesting people and hearing a wide range of viewpoints on controversial topics. Don’t try to win debates or save the world. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the event.
If you can add some humor to the conversation, it goes a long way to lighten the mood, and make the audience more receptive to your opinion.
Studio 42 is open to everyone from all walks of life, and everyone has equal opportunity to share their thoughts. These events are not for snobs, gatekeepers or philosophy nerds. Be kind and friendly to everyone who shares their opinion, and if you disagree, use Socratic inquiry to turn your disagreements into an opportunity for productive learning.
Take time to reflect on what you share in common with others, and not only to be narrowly focused on your disagreements.
Pay attention to the audience and how they react to you. Especially when you are speaking to someone directly, watch their reactions and judge their comfort level. Some people love raucous debate and are happy to engage in heated arguments, but others shrink away from confrontation, and prefer that you tread carefully when you disagree with them. Try to observe others and speak to them using the communication style that suits their individual preference.
Temperance means to voluntarily moderate yourself. Sometimes we feel as if we MUST defend our views and engage in counterargument, but no law obliges us to. When someone says something objectionable, take a moment to consider whether you would be happier challenging someone who might never change their mind, or if it would be better for everyone in the room to change the subject entirely.
Please view our events as a way to practice your own communication, persuasion, and critical thinking skills. See them as an opportunity to expand your own horizons. Don’t try to argue and change the minds of others; work on yourself and let others pursue their own personal journey.
*This document is shared under a Creative Commons 0 “No rights reserved” license. Take it and do whatever you want with it! Yay!