The Scholarly Method (A Methodological Guide to Rational Inquiry).

Scholarship is the philosophy of interpreting facts. How facts fit into greater facts, whether or not something is really a fact, etc. One becomes a scholar only by rigorously debating issues. The following is a guide on how to debate these issues with yourself.

  1. Find a controversial and/or important topic.1
  2. See what previous answers there has been.
    • Look up videos, debates, and articles on search engines for a general gist.
      • First search introductory level content (subject textbook, Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, ProCon, “Introduction to…”)
    • Further familiarize yourself with the subject through books and articles.
      • (Content that expects the reader/audience to already know the terminology associated with the subject.)
    • Look out for when a citation is mentioned to see who’s the authorities on the subject.2
    • If there is dissent among authorities, find the point of contention.3
    • Pool data (surveys, statistics, studies) from reliable sources.4 5
  3. Meditate on how and why opposing sides have drawn their conclusions.6
  4. Respond to the pure forms of ideas rather than the ideas which are attached to the author or tradition.7
  5. Find common denominators which both sides assume (and find out why they assume these).8
  6. State the criterion by which you will judge all positions.9
  7. Choose what seems to be the most coherent and reasonable position based upon the criterion.10
  8. Ask why your position can’t be false to a reasonable degree.11
  9. Ask why your opposition can’t be true to a reasonable degree.12
  10. See how the most logically opposite worldview could be true instead.
  11. Document/cite every link clicked, every quote read, every statistic found, and every important distinction made.13
  12. No trite or exaggerated statements (it devalues all following statements).
  13. Make as many distinctions as possible.
  14. Honestly concede facts in each worldview (especially your own).
  15. Concede your own fallacies, presuppositional errors, and limitations/ignorance.14
  16. Think about the logical out-workings of the answer and if it agrees with other truths.15
  17. Repeat steps 2-17.


1 Why controversy? Because controversial topics are only controversial because they are important to people. Also, there is always a point of conflict that is causing the stir, whether it be superficial or fundamental. It is probably better to start with controversies first because you probably don’t know what is actually important until you see what others have found to be important. If you do want to start with “important” topics, then a good rule of thumb is to find a topic with drastic consequences.

2 “Why should I?” Because appealing to authorities is only good in-so-far as authorities agree. Since two people who specialize in the area disagree on something, there is likely to be something more to it than if a lay person disagreed.

Alternatively, look up “notable people in [insert subject]” on a search engine and look up what books they have written on the topic and read those. Searching in a large library (university libraries and large city libraries) on the subject is more direct (search systems for these libraries are now online).

3 One way of finding where the conflict really lies (especially when it’s hard to see) is by looking at how both sides define their terms and placing them side-by-side. The contrast will be much clearer.

4 Can’t tell if a source is reliable? Understand the source’s bias. We all have biases. Individuals and organizations would not be involved in studying a subject unless they have a reason to do it. For example, most research contracts involving government grants are less biased because the researcher’s incentive is money and not the outcome of the study (though giving out grants for studying a specific position on a subject sometimes is the problem). On the other hand, most political advertisements are not good sources because their intent is solely to bolster or defer votes in favor of themselves.

5 Another good way to pool data is by referring to directories to see what research sources are out there. Though be aware of logical and statistical fallacies; implicit and explicit alike.

6 In doing this, assume the sincerity of both (or all) sides. I don’t think I’ve met a person who was doing something just because they were trying to be evil. They are most likely doing something because it will benefit them or their cause (which is either noble or neutral by itself).

7 This is being critical rather than skeptical, or “trying to find an answer after questioning” instead of just questioning.

Also, looking for the pure form of a critique means reconstructing their argument to its strongest possible sense, even if the argument by itself is easily defeated or a heinous caricature.

8 The fact that these things are less disputed shows that they are more likely to be true. When these things show a clear advantage for one side and are still undisputed, it’s probably safe to assume their authenticity.

9 The criterion is the heart of your modus operandi. Don’t change/reduce your criterion to fit your current position. Be ready to critique and change your criterion as you discover more positive data, details, and positions. One easy way to create and apply your criterion is by listing them in them form of questions (in order of importance) and looking at how each position best responds to each question.

10 This concept that a belief should be coherent (or consistent) is based on the superposition theorem (a principle that states true propositions do not have their locus in a single subject alone, but can be true for a variety, even all, subjects).

11 Don’t overlook your argument’s limitations because of bias. Attempt to apply the most rigorous arguments to your side to see if your case is airtight. Even try to come up with the most logically sound arguments against your position and see if you can’t refute them.

12 Likewise to note 9, attempt to make your opposition’s case as airtight as possible, attempting to reconcile the errors which proponents of that position has. If there are just logically impossible gaps that just cannot be reconciled, you have a case. If their case seems pretty airtight, you’ve got something to think about.

13 In formalizing an argument, only refer to quote if the idea you are emphasizing is well stated. Put more emphasis on the argument rather than the authority.

14 If you have chosen your worldview and decide to state it, include these along with your positive argument.

15 When dialoguing with others, try using writing down every point that is made to better keep the conversation organized. Ask if the point written down is an accurate representation of their position. If you are using this in a one-on-one debate, it is useful to have each person sign off on their points to keep everyone more responsible for what they say.

[Turn into flow chart.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s