reconstructing arguments – a strategy to accept criticism better

Ever had that moment where people kept telling you to do or stop doing something and you just didn’t follow through with that?

Maybe you thought you knew better or wanted to test out your judgement on your own. Or maybe the way the criticisms were delivered was not diplomatic, kind, or well-crafted enough.

There’s one way to overcome this and use the information people provide us to our own benefit, and that is by reconstructing their arguments. We don’t reconstruct people’s arguments because we want to please them, or evade conflict and be nice to them necessarily. Rather, we reconstruct them so that we don’t have to miss out on any potential truth in their arguments.

Reconstructing arguments, like prism “reconstructs” a ray of light into a rainbow | D. H. on

In the philosophy of epistemology, this is known as the principle of charity.

When interpreting an argument, we should always try to identify the best version of the argument that the author could plausibly have intended.

Principle of Charity (from Reason Better: An Interdisciplinary Guide to Critical Thinking, Manley, 2019)

Although this strategy applies in formal argumentation in philosophy, I believe that in general this concept that be expanded into our daily lives as well.

A few strategies come to mind:

  • For example, if someone points out our flaws using negative and harsh language, we can reconstruct their argument in our mind by imagining how a well-mannered person would deliver that criticism to us. Would we find truth in their words?

Again, the point of this exercise is not to support the use of harsh language and being its recipient, or to force yourself to listen to others, but to reach the truth regardless of the information’s delivery.

  • It’s also possible that someone is trying to bring our attention towards an issue, but because they don’t know how to put their gut feelings or observations into words, they don’t know how to communicate well to us. Reconstruction can help us not miss out on that potentially useful knowledge.

As for how to reconstruct arguments, there are many ways to go about it, depending on the context. If we’re doing it in the context of emotions, the strategy mentioned above may work.

And if we’re doing it in the context of logic, then we can decide how deeply we want to study that area. A helpful place to start from could be learning about basic deductive and inductive reasoning, and the common cognitive pitfalls and biases people generally succumb to.


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