NYU guidelines for respectful philosophical discussion
The NYU department of philosophy encourages its members to be respectful, constructive, and inclusive in philosophical discussion.
To this end, the department has compiled a list of guidelines to facilitate discussion of this sort. The guidelines are intended primarily for oral philosophical discussion in formal settings, especially for discussion in colloquia, conferences, and so on. In addition, convenors of seminars and reading groups are encouraged to consider the use of guidelines such as these. Groups are encouraged to adapt and modify these guidelines for their purposes as they see fit.
The use of guidelines should typically be announced by a chair and/or determined in advance by the group. If the guidelines are perceived to be violated, the chair is encouraged to gently point this out (a light touch usually works best), either at the time or later. There can be reasonable disagreement about violations, but debate is best left until afterwards. It is worth remembering that violating these guidelines does not make one a bad person.
- Be nice.
- Don’t be incredulous, roll your eyes, make faces, laugh at a participant, or start side conversations.
- Don’t present objections as flat dismissals (leave open the possibility that there’s a response).
- Don’t speak over others, especially toward the beginning of an exchange (later in a long exchange or a long speech, there’s more room for back and forth with interruption, but it’s always good to let people get their point out first).
- It’s good to acknowledge your interlocutor’s insights as well as those of previous contributors.
- Objections are fine, but it’s also always OK to build on a speaker’s project. Even objections can often be cast in a constructive way, and even destructive objections can often be usefully accompanied by a positive insight suggested by the objection.
- If you find yourself thinking that the project is worthless and there is nothing to be learned from it, think twice before asking your question.
- It’s OK to question the presuppositions of a project or an area, but discussions in which these questions dominate can be unhelpful.
- There’s no need to keep pressing the same objection (individually or collectively) until the speaker says uncle.
- Remember that philosophy isn’t a zero-sum game.
- Don’t dominate the discussion (partial exception for the speaker).
- Try not to let your question (or your answer) run on forever. Raise one question per question (follow-ups developing a line of thought are OK, but questions on separate topics can wait). You can usually talk more with the speaker after the talk.
- It’s OK to ask a question that you think may be unsophisticated or uninformed.
- Don’t use unnecessarily offensive examples.
- Chairs should attempt to balance discussion between participants, prioritizing people who haven’t spoken before, and keeping in mind the likelihood of various biases (e.g. implicit gender biases) when calling on questioners and applying these guidelines.