Criticizing with kindness

Can you be kind to your critics? You betcha...and it is especially important if you want them to listen to you, and if you want your readers to take you seriously.

If  you write counterarguments that are weak or insubstantial, all the better to dismiss them and lose ethos to boot. This is especially true if your readers are passionate about your subject.

Somewhere along the way you have to take on, and tackle, the strongest counterargument you can think of - and that can be difficult.

Daniel Dennett, one of today's best modern philosophers, asks "Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”

Here's his answer, word-for-word:
"How to compose a successful critical commentary: 
"1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, 'Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.' 
"2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement). 
"3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target. 
"4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism."
This strategy builds ethos, pathos, and logos when formulating counterarguments. Ethos by being able to re-express your opponents position plainly (you are fair). In addition, when you can show that there are points of agreement you are building ethos (again, you are fair), but this also expresses pathos since we all want to get along somehow.

You can accomplish logos by expressing the logical outcome you gained from your opponent's position (what you learned). That sometimes seems to be the sticking point for new college writer's, how can I validate the claim I am supposed to be arguing against? You don't have to validate all of it, just some of it. At times, you may not be able to validate any of it, but if you look like you can reach some kind of common ground that makes you look reasonable (again, more ethos).

So thinking of your own counterargument, how can you adopt this formula?


  1. Belief perseverance is all too tempting when constructing a counterargument. Writers are required to put their egos aside in order to address the entirety of an argument, which includes a counterargument that quite possibly could negate parts of your argument.
    I would adopt this formula in a "put yourself in their shoes" tactic. Until we take into consideration the context of our opposition, we are not really appreciating their argument for what it is - and therefore not strengthening our own argument. Fallacious speech comes easily when trying to evaluate an opposing viewpoint, either asserting the disagreements as a character flaw or a misunderstanding on the other end. But the counterargument exists for a reason, whether it is logical or not. The construction of in depth counterarguments can make the writer's argument a stronger one.

  2. This practice is really just the first step in the art of persuasion. Repeating your "opponent's" view in clear terms not only shows that you understand their opinion, but it also allows you to understand their motivation. Once you understand and get your opponent to admit their motivations and their methods, you can often show how their methods won't lead to their proposed goal. Only then can you really make someone question their way of thinking. It shows that you've considered their point of view and situation, and, by analyzing their situation from their point of view, only then came to a conclusion that their methods were flawed. Far more palatable and productive than simply telling someone they're stupid...and in actuality, everyone benefits.

  3. The counterargument is probably the most important thing in a paper, basically we can make ourselves look smarter. In Daniel Dennett's answer, I think the first one and the third one are the most important ones, "You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, 'Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way." "You should mention anything you have learned from your target" Because readers would want to know we have actually understood what the opponent have to say, and also try to think like them. That way it'll be easy to write a counterargument. Every time I write a counterargument I think by those two points Daniel mentioned, I think that would be my "formula" to create a counterargument.

  4. Criticism is a prime way for an individual to learn something new, or to change how they view something. Without receiving proper criticism an individual will fail to learn. Taking someone else's belief and then learning what there is to learn from it, and then creating a counterargument against them is something that can be done very sloppily if just rushed through. But if it's done right both sides will respect the other and potentially see any merit a certain ideal has, if there is any. But to be seen as a capable person on a subject you have to respect the other side, otherwise you will lose the respect of your intended audience, and will most likely fail to persuade anyone to your point of view. When two sides have a common agreement, for instance safety, then bridges can be built for people to cross over onto your side. Its impossible to know everything about a subject (unless that subject is very small), and thus its important to learn from any side.

  5. Criticism has been something I've always partaken in, but never mastered or approached in the same way that Daniel Dennett explains here. It's incredible how impactful you can be as writer when you can clearly and systematically tear down your "opponents". It gains you the respect and attention of those who recognize that. My counter arguments and criticisms generally lack the "1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, 'Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way." and instead I use confident fortitude. But this means that to the knowledgeable readers, I'm not giving to them what they might need to begin to accept my words. So I will definitely consider this point in my own counter arguments.

  6. In a research paper or essay a counterargument is the main thing after you decide on your thesis. In any paper if there is no counterargument then the essay would seem really boring because you are telling the audience the things they already know and not a new side of the topic by going against it. After you put an counterargument you might make a person change their opinion or side on the topic that if you just write good things about the topic and end it then the audience will not have anything to look forward to or get interested in the topic you write about. Then it's the criticism if you receive more of it the more it helps a paper to be way better than before. If there is no criticism then you might write an okay paper but it won't be great because you don't get any criticism meaning no one has seen your paper just turned it in and would not learn anything from it and fail to give an good counterargument or a good essay.

  7. It is vital to know the power that ethos, pathos, and logos plays in a counter argument. It helps us acknowledge our opponents point of view and helps us to attack it appropriately. I believe that the four points that were mention can guide us to have a strong response to the counterargument but also help me as a writer to improve the way I view things in a daily to daily basis. I think that the best advice in this blog is the first one. I will "clearly and vividly re-express my opponent position" that it would make him /her "wish they thought about it that way".

  8. I can adopt this formula by, like it suggests, restating the other side's points, and, again, conceding that you agree on whichever points that you and the other side agree on. In my case, for my essay, I'd relist any points on my essay that were disagreed upon, and conceded that some of the disagreements may have been correct. Like the formula suggests, I'd let the other side know nay new information I learned, and then take the final part of of the formula and give rebuttals to each counter argument, in the order they were mentioned.

  9. I actually really enjoyed reading this article. And I actually found it really helpful. I find myself in this kind of situation when I Peer Edit. It is like I want to tell them something and critique it but I'm always so hesitant to say anything afraid it comes out rudely. I also really like how you build up and then you can come in with the critique. I never really thought about ethos, pathos, logos playing a role in it.

  10. In todays society people criticizes each other everyday and then get angry when people get offended. This blog explains why very clearly, because Daniel Dennett shows what the correct way to "criticize" is. His explanation has a good correlation with the saying '' Put yourself in their shoes". Because it shows how if you say something that you dont find offensive, that does not mean that they wont. His way of criticizing is good because it puts everything about what the other person said and makes you think to produce a fair counterargument instead of speaking from your ego. This builds up and encourages more ideas instead of putting people in a box and closing off new ideas.

  11. I feel like more people ought to read this article. There are several ways in which you can speak your mind, explain why your opinion is logical and why it's the better option than someone else's without getting defensive. When you can criticize something correctly where you're helping that person, but not bashing them and when you can receive criticism without taking it to heart is when you know you're doing it right. I agree with how giving criticism correctly will increase your ethos, pathos, and logos. When you can be honest without being a bully about it people will feel welcome to taking your advice and won't feel attacked therefore creating ethos, a sense of credibility. So be passionate about your topic so that you're given the credibility you deserve, be a kind critic, and don't take criticism the wrong way.

  12. Anavenessa Aguirre
    ENGL 1002
    I am so excited to finally know someone also thinks that criticizing can also be approached in a kind way! I have always been around so many people who have no filter within themselves and will say anything to the extent that it can hurt someone else feelings. Also if you come out with anger or attitude when arguing for your position it can make the conversation a little awkward. I just believe when criticizing you must be professional and have your reason to back it up.

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  14. In today's time there are many people who criticize you not to feel bad,but to become a better person. There is two ways,but the most positive is the one that will make you understand what you did and how people will criticize you to make you become better. There is also the negative criticism where they will only talk bad about you or any reason

  15. From reading the first sentence, I can already relate to this blog post because I feel as though it is really difficult for me to criticize in a nice way because of the tone that I speak. But there is a lot of ways to express yourself without hurting the other person with your words. People don't necessary have to say "I don't like this" they could give alternative ways to correct the person, and give them guidance. I like that this blog spot mentions the fact that we have to give good criticism to people when revising something of theirs. (Jaylin Mendez)

  16. I'm a huge critic in my everyday life! I'm a really honest person too but I hate being rude about it and I hate people who are rude about it too.What I usually do is 1.Observe what is both good and bad about whatever i wants to critique. 2. I then talk about whats good, what I liked and all of their strong points. I do this to let hem know that their work isn't a total mess. 3. I start talking about what they could improve on and I'm honest about it so they don't think I'm sugar coating. I don't like not having an honest critic because then I don't know if my work is actually good. 4. Give solutions on what they could fix to make their work better. I feel like theres no point of being rude towards someones work and not telling them what they could fix because then you just leave the person lost and confused. It is also a good thing to give good feedback because then people keep coming back to you for help and they'll actually listen to you.

  17. I like to think of myself as a very fair, yet honest person. I put myself in other people's shoes a lot and try my best to understand them completely and usually, I do. I am very good at being sympathetic. Just the other day, though i am pro-choice, there was a standoff between pro-life and pro-choice groups in the quad at my college and I took my time to deeply listen to the other sides stance and I asked a bunch of questions. I learned many things from the person I was talking to and also spoke my mind about few things- it was a very good, intellectual conversation in which both sides learned a great deal from the opposing view. Rather than strongly taking one side, one should at least first try to completely understand the full stance of the other. I actually often think about becoming a critic because I think I would be very good and people would respect me and what I am saying since I am very fair, speak the truth, yet very much put my opinion out there- i don't tend to try to persuade others but instead i do so by just speaking what i believe and hoping others will as well have the courtesy to understand and try to fill my shoes. Only those who are mature enough will take the time to understand both sides and at least be reasonable- it is immature and selfish to only think of oneself and their own beliefs.


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