Guidelines for Respectful Discussion 

The use of these 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, either at the time or later. There can be reasonable disagreement about violations, but debate is best left until afterwards. Violating these guidelines does not make one a bad person – violations of these guidelines should be treated as an opportunity to improve behavior.
1. Respectful Interaction

  • Be respectful.
  • Don’t be incredulous, roll your eyes, make faces, laugh at a participant, or start side conversations.
  • Don’t present objections as flat dismissals; always 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 can be more room for back and forth with interruption, but it’s always good to let people get their point out first).
  • Try to acknowledge your interlocutor’s insights as well as those of previous contributors.

2. Constructive Interaction

  • Objections are fine, but it’s also always helpful to build on a speaker’s project. And objections can often be cast in a constructive way. Indeed, even destructive objections can often be usefully accompanied by a positive insight suggested by the target work.
  • 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 concedes the point. Understand that Q&A may not always be the best time to fully develop a response to some objection. Respect the fact that even very intelligent people think at different speeds “in the moment”.
  • Remember that philosophy isn’t a winner-takes-all, zero-sum game.

3. Inclusiveness

  • Don’t dominate the discussion (partial exception for the speaker). Be conscious of how much you are speaking and whether others have had a chance to speak.
  • 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 often ok, but questions on separate topics can wait). When possible, try to save further discussion until after the Q&A or until everyone has had a chance to speak.
  • It’s often extremely helpful to ask a question that you think may be unsophisticated or uninformed.
  • Don’t use unnecessarily offensive or potentially triggering 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.

Note: this content on Respectful Discussions is largely based on the NYU guidelines,