The Argument for Altruism

Reciprocal altruism in nature → Rogerian argument

From wikipedia:

[It is] a form of altruism in which one organism provides a benefit to another without expecting any immediate payment or compensation. However, reciprocal altruism is not unconditional. Firstly the act of altruism must give rise to a surplus of cooperation, in the sense that the gains to the beneficiary must be perceived to be meaningfully larger than the costs to the benefactor. Secondly the act of altruism should be reciprocated by the original beneficiary if the situation is later reversed. . . .

The history of this idea is documented by Robert Trivers (“The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism,” Quarterly Review of Biology [1971] 46: 35-57). Examples in human populations are gift economies and peer-to-peer communities like wikis.

Rogerian argument—perhaps one such mutual benefit—is based on finding common ground to solve a problem, i.e. it is collaborative and decathectic (tension ↓), whereas Aristotelian argument is based on finding a compromise, i.e. it is adversarial and cathectic (tension ↑).

Rogerian Argument

Fig. 1. Rogerian argument

Aristotelian argumentFig. 2. Aristotelian argument

There is a good introduction at Douglas Bren’s “Rogerian Rhetoric: An Alternative to Traditional Rhetoric.” Bren quotes Young, Becker and Pike (Rhetoric: Discovery and Change [New York: Harcourt, 1970]) , who outline four basic stages through which a Rogerian argument should pass (I’ve adapted some of the terminology):

  1. An introduction to the problem and a demonstration that the other person’s position is understood.
  2. A statement of the contexts in which the other person’s position may be valid.
  3. A statement of the writer’s position, including the contexts in which it is valid.
  4. A statement of how the other person’s position would benefit if they were to adopt elements of the writer’s position. If the writer can show that the positions complement each other, that each supplies what the other lacks, so much the better. (283)

But can this model serve to illuminate what goes on in critical thinking? We tend to think that we either

  1. follow the herd (= uncritical thinking, i.e. taking up a common position) or
  2. hunt on our own (= critical thinking, i.e. differentiating our position from others’).

But surely there can be collaborative critical thinking—that isn’t the domain of lone wolves (or rogue males)? Problematisation? Collaborative Argument Mapping (Honest Argument and Truthmapping)?

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