Taxonomy of thoughtstarters

This page is inspired by the taxonomy that JMG came up with for thoughtstoppers. The opposite to thoughtstoppers are thoughtstarters, questions that make people actually think, rather than spouting more phrases and stock responses.  Some of the classic thoughtstoppers are:

Vacuous Belch: An expression of warm fuzzy feelings meant to shut down conversation.
“I believe in people.”
“Love is the answer.”
“We’re saving the planet.”

Vacuous Shriek: An expression of cold prickly feelings meant to shut down conversation.
“That’s offensive!”

One-Way Street: A thoughtstopping utterance that looks like it applies to both sides but is only used against one.
“You should have a more open mind.”
“I’m sure they’ll think of something.”
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

The list is quite extensive; check it out here.

Trying to sketch out the taxonomy of a few thoughstarters that have been in my own repertoire, it seemed seemed they fell into a few categories.   This is a first stab at this,  so any suggestions are welcome; leave comments on the original post of this topic.

As far as defining a thoughtstarter, it might be considered, “a question that doesn’t have a lot of emotional baggage in it, and is a question designed to get at the root of an argument’s reasoning, rather than ripping apart the person with a different or particular viewpoint.   A thoughtstarter might be considered Socratic in nature; and should prompt a series of questions.”

Some thoughtstarter categories might be:

The noble opponent:  Coming up with someone who can debate you is a challenge; if you can’t defeat a smart opponent, then perhaps your idea doesn’t have enough merit!

“Who is your best critic?”

“Who would you want to debate on your argument?”

“Forget about who will win; who would you want to be running for office X, on both sides of the aisle?”

“Person X and Person Y have vastly differing viewpoints, but seem to get along professionally.  Why do you think this is?”

Zoom lens: Asking questions of the bigger picture.

What is the most important thing in your life?

What is your ultimate goal in doing a particular action?

Why do you do a particular action (and following up with “why do you do that next action?”, and so on)?  For example:

“Why do you want a yacht?” “So I can have friends over.” “Why do you want friends over?” … and so on.

Explain what happens, “…if this goes on”:  Continue their line of argument, and ask what is the limit of their position, and why.  Handing of “edge” cases seems like a good way to for people to explain their rationale, if it appears overly simplistic.

If you are advocating position X that is a ‘half-way’ to some other extreme position, what is your metric for “holding the line”?   If you believe in no gun control whatsoever, why not let people have anti-tank weapons?  If you believe in absolute gun control, why not register other dangerous weapons as well?

If you believe in an ‘all or nothing’ approach to an argument (abortion, same-sex marriage), what happens in edge cases?  For opposition to same-sex marriage, for example, what happens if someone is born with XYY, or XXY chromosomes, or has androgen insensitivity syndrome?

What are your assumptions?:  Explain the fundamentals that can’t be proven, or, if they are provable… provide the proof!   If something can’t be proven, then the argument might be considered correct, but only if that assumption is made.

“01 and 01 = 10″… assuming you are in base 2, of course (a bit of a quibble, of course; numbers written in a particular base usually have a subscript, but that could be what makes the “argument” seemingly non-sensical.)

What would make you change your mind?:  If something is based on faith, then very little might change a person’s viewpoint.  But if someone “has a hunch, ” or has a bit of data, what would happen if that data was refuted?

It might be that the simple one-word question, “Why?”, is at the root of all of these questions.