yes, therapy helps!
Learning to disagree: Paul Graham and the hierarchy of argumentative quality

Learning to disagree: Paul Graham and the hierarchy of argumentative quality

June 12, 2024

Disagreement and disagreement are two aspects as inherent to the human being as the need to eat. The mere fact of being rational animals predisposes us to doubt and disagree with any opinion with which we do not feel completely identified.

However, not all people have the ability to do it correctly. Paul Graham noticed this fact and created a "hierarchy of discrepancy" that orders the way in which people express their disagreement.

  • Maybe you're interested: "10 types of arguments to use in debates and discussions"

Who is Paul Graham?

Paul Graham is a computer programmer and essayist of British origin who became known after his work with Lisp, a family of programming languages. In addition, he co-founded what was the first application service provider (ASP).


After gaining a notable reputation in the computer world and programming, Graham began his career as an essayist. From his own website, he published essays on a variety of topics They contained everything from texts about programming languages ​​to the causes of why "nerds" never reach popularity. These writings are gathered in the publication Hackers and painters, which was published in 2004, although it had already published books about programming previously.

However, one of his most acclaimed and widely disseminated essays throughout the world was his study How to disagree written in the year 2008. In it Graham graphically represents the "hierarchy of discrepancy" , which shows the different levels in which a person can express their disagreement or disagreement with any topic.


However, before explaining what it is about and how this hierarchy is organized, it is necessary to know what the discrepancy consists of and how the dynamics of the hierarchy function.

What is the discrepancy and how does it work?

The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language defines the "discrepancy" with two different meanings:

  1. "Difference, inequality that results from the comparison of things with each other".
  2. "Personal dissent in opinions or behavior".

Therefore, and according to this definition, a person who disagrees is one whose beliefs, thoughts or behaviors do not match those of any other person or group.

However, the discrepancy is a social fact. That is, in order to disagree with something, the presence of another person or group of people with whom to compare opinions and disagree is necessary; plus a group of followers that support our point of view .


So, the social level the discrepancy follows a path. A series of guidelines that go from the origin of the disagreement to the disagreements generated within this first discrepancy. Although complex, this process is much easier to understand if we follow each of the steps:

  1. Existence of an ideology or thought backed by numerous followers.
  2. Within this same group of people someone generates a discrepancy, spreading a belief or opinion of their own and creating a separation within the first group .
  3. Both parties acquire a large enough number of followers to maintain such opinions over time.
  4. Discrepancies continue to appear within the groups themselves that generate new groups of people, thus ending the original groups . This dynamic is repeated successively.

Because the tendency to disagree is something natural of the human being, by the mere fact of having the ability to reason, these dynamics are maintained over time and appear in all areas of life.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The 10 types of logical and argumentative fallacies"

Hierarchy of Graham's discrepancy

Once we know the functioning of the discrepancies, we can go on to describe how these disagreements can manifest themselves in each of the people who experience it. Since it is not the same to express a disagreement by means of an insult, that to do it resorting to the solid and rational argumentation.

To do this, Graham creates a graphical representation with a triangular shape in which these levels of discrepancy are ordered. According to this triangular chart, the higher the location of a person in the pyramid, the more powerful the position or the argument itself, while those who are at the lower levels use weak and banal arguments to justify themselves .

However, a person is able to evolve or move between the different levels. In this way, the higher the people are in the levels, more edifying and profitable will be the exchanges of opinions.

Wikipedia Commons.

Next, we explain the different levels of the hierarchy of the discrepancy from the lowest to the highest of all.

7. Insult

The lowest level of argumentation is where all those people who resort to insult as a form of opposition are installed, since they are unable to offer any kind of argument, however little reasoned it may be.

Graham exemplifies it with the phrase "you are an idiot".

6. Ad hominem

The author places on this rung all those who "attack the characteristics or the authority of the opponent are to consider the substance of the argument".

This means that the person is only able to rebut another by means of attacks or negative affirmations about their person, with the intention of discrediting him but without providing any valid argument that demonstrates the weakness of the reasoning and the affirmations of the other. That is, the person is attacked, not what he says.

An example of this discrepancy would be: "What will you know if you do not even have studies?"

  • Maybe you're interested: "6 keys to avoid absurd couple discussions"

5. Answering tone

In these cases the person focuses or uses the tone of your opponent's message to try to deny or disprove it , without taking into account the foundation or essence of what is being discussed.

A typical statement in these cases would be: "Screaming so much nobody will take you seriously."

4. Contradiction

The person who uses the contradiction to refute an opinion tends to express an opposite idea but with very little content or without any evidence.

In these cases the arguments used they express themselves in forms of universal truths that, according to that same person, do not need explanation .

Therefore the example would be: "Everyone knows that this is not the case".

3. Counter argument

From this level the reasoning begins to present a greater wealth and quality . However, in the counterargument the person exhibits evidence or evidence that supports his opinion, but that has been said or written by others before.

The ideas used to discuss any topic are not the result of the reasoning of the person, but it uses statements and explanations from third parties to support their beliefs.

For example: "You are not right, because as Socrates said ..."

2. Refutation

In this second level of discussion the person is able to reason and disagree with their own ideas and beliefs but without taking into account the basis of the argument or the beliefs of the other . Rather, it is based on details or very specific ideas of the discourse of the other, not being able to refute the central idea.

1. Refute the central point

Finally we reach the highest level, and therefore more constructive when it comes to maintaining a discussion. At this point the person has the necessary resources to refute the central theme or the basis of the discussion explicitly and directly , using their own experiences and arguments and being able to integrate the ideas of the other in their discussion.



Plant Intelligence and Human Consciousness Panel (June 2024).


Similar Articles