How can we be a good critic when facing people's rigid beliefs? I'm interested in how to attack (logically) their dogmatic beliefs to have a "good" influence on their minds, because if we just attack them, maybe they won't continue to listen to our reasons or won't think about them. I'm also interested in famous books (as reference) on this topic.

Maybe this is rather a popular question in different fields, but I face it in philosophy, in conversations with people with low knowledge (especially in conversations on religion and similar beliefs). In science for example I know I should say exact, true things with respect to the audience, knowing that the audience is logical and experts in their fields, but I don't know how I should talk with "normal" people, and so they always hesitate to talk with me.

3 Answers 3


In philosophy arguments are about mutually discovering the truth and debate is not something many view has productive; however, as you point out, dogmatisms often make this seem necessary. The idea of the dialectic deconstruction of an argument can be used. This is found very predominately in The Republic by Plato.

For example in Socrates initial exchange with Polemarchus and Cephalus, Socrates looks at their ideas on justice and provides specific contradictions that essentially cause them to disprove themselves.

The most useful way to critique an idea would be to provide situations where the logic presented would blatantly contradict reasonable action.

The specific example in The Republic that I mentioned before consisted of the definition of justice was that A just man gives what he owes. Meaning that he owes good to his friends and bad to his enemies. Socrates says

Take this case as an example of what I mean: everyone would surely say that if a man takes weapons from a friend when the latter is of sound mind, and the friend demands them back when he is mad, one shouldn’t give back such things, and the man who gave them back would not be just, and moreover, one should not be willing to tell someone in this state the whole truth.

The others agree with him and thus now disagree with their own arguments.

There are many more examples in The Republic. I highly recommend it and believe that it will help solve your query.

  • thanks I read their argument about justice, it was interesting.
    – Saeed
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 11:01

I use a simple method called PPCO (pluses, potentials, concerns, and overcomes). It comes from the academic world of Creative Studies, and it works soooo well at disarming someone, and making them feel that you are on their side and trying to help. It's nice of course if you actually are on their side and trying to help, and not trying to impose your own beliefs on others.

Pluses: When giving feedback, always begin with the positives. People have the most to gain by leveraging their strengths. Tell them what you like about their ideas/thinking first.

Potentials: Next build on their ideas/thinking. Point out the opportunities their thinking reveals or the potential their ideas hold that they may not yet see.

Concerns: It is, of course, important to give criticism, to point out the cons or challenges with one's ideas or thinking. Give care to pick the most important concerns and DO NOT FORGET the...

Overcomes: For each concern or weakness you point out, give a few ways to overcome it.

The end result of giving feedback this way is the improvement of ideas. Also, if someone receives feedback this way, they will truly feel like you are trying to help.

Hope this is helpful!

  • Thanks, good suggestion, but I couldn't find Creative Studies, would you link it?
    – Saeed
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 11:02
  • 1
    Of Course. Here's the original: creativeeducationfoundation.org But I would recommend these guys, much better content: creativitypost.com Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 8:15
  • How does this apply to intelligent people who nevertheless strongly believe in highly immoral conspiracy theories?
    – nir
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 20:28

Now remember, philosophers have always struggled with this (why do you think they executed Socrates, after all?)

I think a good starting point is to determine the framework that someone wants to disagree with you in. Perhaps they are operating from a synthetic, or dialectical framework like the Republic's examples show us. Here, all involved parties understand the goal of the discourse to be a shared, more complete, understanding of the initial question(s). Alternatively, though, an individual or group can operate from a dogmatic framework where any line of reasoning which doesn't lead to the desired conclusions will be rejected. And of course, an individual, as many do, could operate from a framework somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum. The first part of being an effective critic is determining that, and making your following decisions accordingly.

A great reference is John Phillips- "Contested Knowledge: A Guide to Critical Theory" It's a cheap paperback off amazon, and it really offers an excellent overview to effectively critiquing arguments from various frameworks and perspectives.

And ultimately, the best answer might end up being to admit the sad reality that students of philosophy may never be accepted by the societies around them. Love and friendship contained by mere mental states...

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