Steel-manning is a debate technique where one strengthens an opposing argument before addressing it, promoting understanding and intellectual honesty. It enhances critical thinking and encourages productive debate, though it can unintentionally amplify harmful ideas.
Understanding the Opposing Argument
A crucial starting point in steel-manning is the comprehension of the opposing viewpoint. This goes beyond merely grasping the broad contours of the argument to include a deep and nuanced understanding of its finer points and implications.
Improving the Argument
After understanding the argument, the next step is to make it stronger. This can be done by resolving apparent contradictions, filling in logical gaps, providing missing evidence, and rephrasing points for clarity and emphasis.
Avoiding Straw Man Fallacies
The term “steel-manning” is derived as a contrast to “straw-manning,” a tactic where one misrepresents an opponent’s argument to make it easier to attack. By focusing on improving and solidifying the opposing argument, steel-manning acts as a counter to this fallacy.
Promoting Intellectual Honesty
Steel-manning is seen as an exercise in intellectual honesty and fairness. It requires respecting and acknowledging the validity of different perspectives, rather than seeking to ‘win’ the debate at any cost.
Encouraging Empathy and Open-Mindedness
By actively seeking to understand and enhance an opposing viewpoint, steel-manning fosters empathy and open-mindedness. It encourages participants to see the debate from multiple angles, which can often lead to more fruitful and respectful exchanges.
Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills
Practicing steel-manning can greatly enhance critical thinking skills. It demands rigor in understanding complex arguments, creativity in enhancing them, and precision in subsequently critiquing them.
Aiding Productive Debate
By presenting the best possible version of an opponent’s argument, steel-manning can contribute to a more productive debate. It makes it more likely that the discussion will be about the substantive issues at hand, rather than being sidetracked by misunderstandings or misrepresentations.