Chains of Reason is currently just an idea

That idea is an online space for a form of public discourse that would be collaborative rather than adversarial – and which could help reduce, rather than contribute to, dogmatism, groupthink, polarization and tribalism.

The basic idea

Just as Wikipedia is a collaborative site for presenting knowledge, Chains of Reason would be a collaborative site for presenting arguments – moral, political, scientific, philosophical, historical, etc.

The presentation format

Each argument would be presented as a series of logical steps that are as small as possible – unless it consists of a single logical step that's as small as possible. Each step would consist of two premises followed by a conclusion, with the conclusion of each step prior to the last also being the first premise of the next step.

The logical steps would be presented in a column, as in the following example of an argument consisting of two logical steps:





The above doesn't include logical steps that might support claims 1, 2 and 4, but it would be possible to present such logical steps as separate arguments and then link to those arguments from these claims. It would likewise be possible to link to alternative arguments for the sub-conclusion – claim 3 – and the main conclusion – claim 5.

The above argument could instead be presented via merely a single sentence:

The death penalty should be abolished because deliberately killing someone is an inherently immoral act.

This version of the argument involves a single premise – deliberately killing someone is an inherently immoral act – and a single logical step that's larger than either of the two steps in the five-sentence version.

Although this version can initially seem to be a coherent argument – whether or not it seems convincing – it actually involves two leaps of logic. That is, whereas its conclusion refers to the concepts of the death penalty and abolishment, its single premise doesn't refer to either. That single premise instead refers to the concepts of an inherently immoral act and deliberately killing someone, whereas the conclusion doesn't.

These leaps of logic mean that this version of the argument must be dependent on hidden premises which bridge the logical gaps between the single premise and the conclusion. But in the five-sentence version of the argument neither of the two logical steps is dependent on hidden premises, and so there are no leaps of logic.

The argument can also be expressed in one logical step without any hidden premises as follows:




But this logical step, involving three premises, is larger than either of the two steps in the five-sentence version of the argument, and therefore not as easy to follow.

The other key features of the presentation format would be:

Such responses would be:

As with Wikipedia, Chains of Reason would be an open-source wiki web app, and users would be able to access the edit history of all site content.

A collaborative rather than adversarial form of public discourse

Public discourse is normally adversarial, as we try to demonstrate that our beliefs are correct and our opponents' beliefs are wrong. But Chains of Reason would be a platform for public discourse that would instead be collaborative.

That is, just as contributors to Wikipedia with contrary beliefs collaborate on articles related to those beliefs, contributors to Chains of Reason with contrary beliefs would collaborate on the presentation of arguments for and against those beliefs.

Therefore, just as Wikipedia isn't a forum for debating issues, neither would Chains of Reason be. The only debate on Wikipedia is about how best to present particular knowledge, and the only debate on Chains of Reason would be about how best to present each argument.

It would be possible to add objections to any part of an argument, but even this would be done as part of the collaborative process of presenting arguments, given that an objection to an argument is itself an argument – a counterargument.

And although it would also be possible for users to indicate their individual assessments of the premises and logic of each step in an argument, such assessments would be limited to the options listed above, and there'd be no way for users to respond to the assessments of other users.

The collaborative form of public discourse on Chains of Reason would have three significant advantages over the normal adversarial form of public discourse:

Although there would be debate about how best to present each argument, such disagreement would be between collaborators rather than adversaries, and would tend to arouse negative emotions to a much lesser degree than higher-stake disagreement over the arguments themselves and the beliefs which they supposedly support or contradict.

And the more we participate in, or at least follow, public discourse, the more knowledgeable we'll be of the arguments for and against both our beliefs and contrary beliefs.

And the less defensive we are of our own beliefs, and the more open-minded we are towards contrary beliefs, the more likely we are to notice the weaknesses in arguments for our beliefs or against contrary beliefs, and notice the strengths in arguments against our beliefs and for contrary beliefs.

So this collaborative form of public discourse could help reduce, rather than contribute to, dogmatism and groupthink, and thus also polarisation and tribalism. In short, Chains of Reason could be a sort of anti echo chamber.

Three other positive aspects of Chains of Reason

There would be three other positive aspects of Chains of Reason:

This clarity and conciseness would:

Of course, this also applies to presenting original arguments in most online forums.

Contribution feedback and user ratings

It would be possible for logged-in users to, Reddit-style, anonymously upvote or downvote any kind of contribution by another user, in order to indicate whether they think that it's a positive or negative contribution. And the vote tally for each contribution would be publicly displayed in both the relevant page's contribution history and the user's contribution history.

Also, these votes would be used to create a rating of the value of a user's collective contributions, which would be publicly displayed on their profile.

Three ways for contributors to earn

If contributors were able to earn money from valuable contributions then that would both encourage and support such good work. The platform would enable this in three ways:

These ways of earning could even enable top contributors to earn a living from their contributions, just as top content creators on other online platforms do. And that could include independent researchers, who normally have much more difficulty funding their work than academics do.

Beautiful, intuitive and innovative

The site would be joyful to use, by being beautiful, intuitive and innovative.

Chains of Reason Academy

Chains of Reason's user interface would be designed to be so intuitive that people, including children, would be able to start contributing without needing to read any instructions. However, the site would provide courses, collectively called Chains of Reason Academy, on how to optimally contribute, including how best to construct and assess arguments.

The courses would be created via the same collaborative process as the rest of the site content, and a subset would be aimed at children.

Uncensored public discourse

Chains of Reason would be committed to freedom of opinion and expression. There would be no censorship of lawful contributions.

Freedom of opinion and expression is a fundamental, and universal, human right. As Article 19 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Who's behind this idea?

This proposal was developed by me, Derrick Farnell. I live in Edinburgh, Scotland, and work as a freelance copywriter. I also write an ongoing series of articles on the psychology of belief called How Belief Works.

What's the plan?

I'm hoping that this proposal will lead to the formation of a community of people who want to work together to turn this idea into reality.

Chains of Reason would be, like Wikipedia, run on a nonprofit basis and funded by donations, with full financial transparency. It would be owned and run by a nonprofit organisation, just as Wikipedia is owned and run by the Wikimedia Foundation.

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