How to Teach Intellectual Charity

Co-sponsored by the Harvard Department of Philosophy and ThinkerAnalytix

Want to help your students “steel-man” rather than “straw-man” other people’s arguments?

Learn how to use a research-backed method called argument mapping to help students practice the skills of intellectual charity: read carefully, interpret ambiguous claims in the most plausible way, and ascribe to an author the most defensible version of their view.

Argument mapping provides a simple and effective framework within which to practice these skills, and to provide students with targeted and effective feedback.

Session 1
Monday, December 13, 2021
Recording and slides below:

Professor Ned Hall
Chair, Harvard University Department of Philosophy

Help students:

  • Distinguish between argument as persuasion v. argument as enlightenment, and understand their different criteria for success
  • Cultivate intellectual curiosity as to how someone who is not Stupid, Evil, or Deranged (SED) could come to a conclusion
  • Parse language that functions to give reasons from language that serves other functions, such as insinuation

Session 2
Monday, January 10, 2022
Recording and slides below:

Nate Otey
Lead Instructor, ThinkerAnalytix

Use simple, engaging exercises to teach the skills of intellectual charity:

  • Interpret claims in the most plausible way that also makes sense in context
  • Identify unstated assumptions (i.e., suppressed co-premises) and choose modest formulations that also achieve inferential strength
  • Charitably evaluate arguments, especially when you disagree

More teaching resources:

ThinkerAnalytix is an educational nonprofit that partners with the Harvard Department of Philosophy. We use argument mapping to help students practice and improve the skills of argument analysis and intellectual charity.

Argument mapping is a heavily research-backed method that faculty can use to help students read carefully and interpret arguments charitably. Studies from top universities such as Princeton and Carnegie Mellon show that students can achieve gains in argument analysis and writing skills that far exceed a standard semester of college.

The activity of mapping reduces cognitive load, enhances students’ ability to reconstruct arguments, and prompts students to identify unstated assumptions in order to more rigorously evaluate inferences.

Please contact us with any questions: