Better discussions lead to better explanations
Imagine that you are discussing a policy issue with someone (I just did this week). Doesn’t it make sense to start by agreeing to conduct your discussion so that it’s maximally beneficial? (I didn’t. I wasn’t smart enough.)
But suppose I was as smart then as I am now. (I have the benefit of recent non-maximally beneficial discussion followed by reflection.) How could I have made the discussion better?
What does “better” even mean in this context? This is one of the things that I think that people think they understand (I did) but don’t (I didn’t.). Better in what way? What's the intended benefit? To improve someone’s understanding? Whose? To improve someone’s rhetorical skills? Whose? To impress people who are listening? Who? To resolve an issue? For whose benefit? To explore an issue? For what purpose?
If I someone asked me how my recent discussion came to be, I would have been answered: “We were talking about the weather, and our lives, and kids, and the conversation kind of evolved to talking about this policy thing.” If someone asked the purpose of that part of the conversation either of us might have answered: “We were exchanging information so we could discover the truth.” And that might have been true but I doubt that either of us had thought that particular thought--or any nearby thought.
We might have said, more accurately: “We had some time to kill, and that’s how we killed it.” Each might have said: “I knew the answer to this question, and I thought I'd explain it to <other party>.” Or one might have said: “I know a lot about this, and I’m going to show how knowledgeable am.” I might have said that. Maybe they would have. Who knows without asking?
Following Deutsch: I have a clearer purpose for such discussions. It's not about convincing people or anything. It's not about practicing my arguments. It's not about showing off my knowledge. Or even “finding the truth.” It’s about finding better explanations.
I think I know how to find better explanations on my own. The question unanswered is: can I find a way to engage with other people so that they help me find better explanations--and so I can help them find better ones. This presupposes that other people want to find better explanations--or can be convinced that looking for better explanations is a good use of their time and abilities.
To be continued.