Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement and Internet Arguments

(28 October 2014)

In 2008, computer programmer Paul Graham outlined a seven-point “disagreement hierarchy,” with the most strongest, most logical form of disagreement at the top, and the weakest, least logical at the bottom.

Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement

Such a hierarchy would serve as an important tool for internet interaction, considering, in my unscientific estimation, probably 99% of internet arguments consist of the bottom four levels:

Name-calling: sounds something like, “You are an ass hat” [or, as Graham notes in the article in which he posited this pyramid, even more articulate forms of name-calling, such as “The author is a self-important dilettante”]

Ad Hominem: attacks the characteristics or authority of the writer without addressing the substance of the argument

Responding to tone: criticizes the tone of the writing without addressing the substance of the argument

Contradiction: states the opposing case with little or no supporting evidence

If only every Twitter user, not to mention those sending me torrents of hate mail, studied this list before spewing such fallacies.


Disclaimer: A quick side note here: In addition to his work as a computer programmer, Graham is also a venture capitalist. And, although “How to Disagree” is a good (and important) article, Graham writes a slew of mostly ridiculous essays at his website.

That said, as much as I dislike venture capitalists—and, more importantly, as much as they exploit people around the world, immiserate workers, undermine democracy, crush unions, strangle public goods and services, and destroy the planet—just because a venture capitalist says something doesn’t (necessarily) mean it’s incorrect.

After all, as much as capitalists like monopolies, they do not have a monopoly on logic—and we should never let them consolidate one.

Three cheers for logic and sound argumentation! As for capitalism? Not so much.