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Show HN: Arguman – Argument Analysis Platform (arguman.org)
170 points by fatiherikli on Oct 17, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments

I've always wondered if there was a platform where we could have some standardized set of arguments regarding a proposition. Then, one would not need to tolerate repetitive pointless discussion: something that usually arises regarding propositions that require little expertise to discuss.

For instance, nothing would make me happier than to be able to reply to the nth discussion regarding the idea that "the GPL is freer than the BSD licence" with a universal fully-qualified link to every argument for and against the idea. Or "For software engineers, open-plan offices lead to greater productivity than individual offices".

While it may appear that this would lead to some sort of _Futurological Congress_-esque situation where we respond to people in paragraph numbers, it has many advantages:

* No longer will people be misled by a correct statement poorly argued for.

* No longer will message boards be polluted by the nth iteration of the same argument.

* Undiscovered lines of argument will be universally available.

Of course there's the disadvantage that you'll get less participation, and there's value in just having some number of comments even if they're repetitive: at the least, the desire to respond to that may bring people who later on make novel arguments.

This seems like a fine UI to do that. Deep link to the relevant sub-graph, and let the collective intelligence of thousands do your arguing for you. I like it.

There is lots of rich ground here to explore, but claims like "the GPL is freer than the BSD licence", will be open to a lot of subjectivity, due to there being no clear (or even given) definition of 'freer'.

I think the biggest challenge is UI and user education (most people don't know what a fallacy is, let alone how many there are and how often they likely make them).

The "X is freer than Y" example is only superficially subjective. The issue at hand is that people disagree on what "free" means. This can be resolved in a mutually agreeable way by first clarifying the different possible aspects of freeness and clearly separating them out (in your example, one might state them as: BSD allows you to do more things than GPL with source code you receive under the respective license; GPL makes it likelier for you to receive more source code in the future, hence leading to a larger total number of potential actions you can do with source code over time (a point which requires a sub-tree of arguments)).

Then you further need to relate those back to the original statement by clarifying how different subjective target functions will have you come to a different final conclusion. (Not to mention that the "GPL is freer than BSD" or vice versa discussion is itself merely a sub-part of the larger "GPL is better than BSD (for my purpose)" or vice versa discussion.)

So my point is that it is possible in principle to provide a fully qualified link to a non-subjective presentation of arguments on that particular issue (and any other issue). I agree with you that the real challenge is UI, and probably moderation more than user education.

If you get the UI right and have reliably automated (even if user-sourced) tools for qualifying statements and disallowing (or rather, marking) logical fallacies, the users can educate themselves.

I've played around with UI ideas in the past. I think you need a nested structure, which can ideally be generated by the users (but would need to conform to the basic rules of logic [to whatever extent it has been defined]). Any argument will be in some knowledge domain, until you get to some "ultimate high level domain" (which probably doesn't exist -- not sure how you'd represent this in the UI; probably just the superset of all your as-yet-undomained arguments), so the nesting of domains should be reflected in the interface.

I think the UI problem is related to the data modeling problem. In my view, it seems like the UI should directly expose the data model. If that is the case, then the question is, "What is the right data model?".

For that, I think it's primarily directed graphs showing the relationship between the arguments. Of course there is more needed, as you'd need to annotate the arguments with various meta-arguments (eg. argument's conclusion is assumed as premise).

I do agree that one can probably come up with solutions for handling subjective arguments relatively well, I just think it might be difficult to come to a "this will handle all cases" solution. If someone says a particular argument is fallacious, why should we believe them? What happens when your database gets spammed with tons of bogus info? How do you make sure it stays out (or at least, can somehow be "excluded" from what you normally see)?

Now think about finding a way to have some machine learning sytem learn out of this... that would be interesting...

I don't see why it wouldn't be possible. If you could get arguments reduced to individual propositions, you could begin to run the resolution algorithm to find new conclusions.

Even in the case of subjective debates, having all common arguments summarized in one place with links to relevant essays and source material from the original authors about their intentions would be useful.

I agree, but you still have the problem of finding the argument tree that uses your particular definition of the subjective word. :)

Only angle we might be missing here, is that people seem to rather enjoy arguing as a pastime.

There is this misconception today that you can argue everything, including the laws of nature.

For "For software engineers, open-plan offices lead to greater productivity than individual offices" we don't need arguments but experiments and science.

Once you have the experiments and science, you still need to conclude for yourself. Empirical science does not give you perfectly proven insights. Especially, if the question is hard to define, costly to evaluate, and underfunded.

If you had 5 studies regarding open-plan offices, you still need to check which ones are the most trustworthy, find out if and why they disagree, decide which outliers you ignore, etc.

> There is this misconception today that you can argue everything, including the laws of nature.

I just wrote a comment about this, responding to global warming debate. Perhaps what this platform needs to address that is an ability to separate facts (that is, sources) and opinions (that is, synthesis or analysis of the sources).

The problem is that outside of a debate forum, you'd only be making a statement to accomplish some goal, and providing the link will only help you do that if people generally agree with your statement, which is exactly the case right now.

I think you're assuming bad faith here. Of course some people who don't want to be convinced. But I think there are many people who engage in debates and are open to be convinced by counterarguments. Or they just joined the topic and just have naive questions. After all, it's in our interest to understand reality.

The problem with "the GPL is freer than the BSD license" is that it's the wrong question to ask, because the perspective is too narrow. What matters most IMHO is which license will lead to the largest and most viable ecosystem of free software. If you take this perspective of a whole ecosystem instead of the license of a single project, a lot of complex dynamics and unintended consequences need to be considered, and it may make more sense to investigate empirically instead of armchair arguing.

The problem with "which license will lead to the largest and most viable ecosystem of free software" is that it's the wrong question to ask, because the perspective is too narrow. What matters most IMHO is which option will lead to longest and most viable ecosystem of satisfied engineers. If you take this perspective of satisfied people instead of an ...

IOW, I suggest such a system simply moves the problem from answering virtually the same question over and over to the problem of which level to ask a question at. Perhaps, in the name of progress, a step forward, or perhaps not.

I fail to see what your point is. I believe there does exist an appropriate perspective for questions such as these. Are you arguing that it doesn't exist, that the one I suggested isn't the appropriate one, or that we can just ignore the problem? This is basically about framing issues, something which is generally recognized as a crucial factor in debate.

"Are you arguing that it doesn't exist, that the one I suggested isn't the appropriate one, or that we can just ignore the problem? "

None. For any area, there will exist numerous levels of perspectives such that people will argue over which level matters.

"This is basically about framing issues"

People will move to arguing which frame is relevant.

I love this!!! I wish it gets pushed forward! I wish a lot of people would use this! I think it is a great platform!

I worked on something very similar as one of my very first projects which got me into programming. I wanted there to be a debate website where anything could be debated using arguments. I've found that the debates I would see on TV or in everyday discussions would not be good enough, because:

- There was space for people to diverge off of the discussion

- When the discussion would fork, the participants might forget some previous arguments that were made

- It would be difficult to come back to a previous point.

- People would have a bias towards the arguments made by the most prestigious side of the sides discussion a certain matter.

- It was possible to make some claims without backing up proofs/sources.

- Emotions could become a factor. The discussion can heat up.

I thus wrote a small website where one could post an idea as a node, and others could reply in favor of, against the idea or under a neutral position. The users could also vote for some nodes. The website would then become a collection of trees. As I see it, it could be used to discuss any matters! However, I've never really pushed the idea forward.

I've always thought about picking the project back up as I was passionate about the idea. I've never really got around doing so (I would love to discuss on how to get projects pushed forward). Through the years, I thought about this website, and I've found some problems that could arise:

- There would have to be a good user base. My perception was that people would have less incentive to discuss where no one would listen.

- How do you simplify ideas as much as possible? Some texts can be summarized or shortened (and some connections like relationships to other nodes could be added) and still have the same idea. I'm guessing this would be done using moderation. I think this is somewhat relevant because if you're browsing a tree of ideas, you want to do so seamlessly such that you do not lose interest in providing your input.

- For some, it is tiring to undergo a proper debate where the claims made need to be backed up. A lot of people like to discuss freely, in a comfortable setting. The usual reply system works for that.

- How do you report an improper report?

- I have found that many people like to stick with their beliefs more than with research. (This point applies to debates which need evidence. Many philosophical debates would be fine without the need for evidence.)

- It would make sense to have some nodes point to many parent nodes. How is that managed?

- The users need to learn about the possible relationships between the nodes.

- If a node would get too big, it would contain more than one idea. There has to be a system to split nodes apart.

- How do you deal with merging nodes?

- How do you manage spam and moderate node creation? (I did not have a good understanding of how to achieve these)

- How do you deal with nodes that have been edited? I've found a way to deal with this, but it's not as pretty as I would have liked it.

- Watching websites like Reddit and Facebook, I realized the reply system was enough as it allowed people as much room as they needed to make their point, using text. The only issue is organizing the ideas properly in this case. Hacker News had the reply system and people were using it to lead great discussions.

I've also thought about extending relationships to not just logical relationships. The reason I was looking to do this was that I wanted to find the simplest and most elegant solution that could apply to many use cases (not ALL the use cases though). It fitted (and still somewhat does fit in) how I think about writing good software (please someone correct me if I am wrong). The relationships would be akin to: Grows from, Follows, Is of type, Contains, etc.

I thought that this would essentially grow into a database of everything, a little bit like Wikipedia. Although Wikipedia does not allow much discussion (As far as I know).

But.. however...because.. are too simple. There needs to be weighting. Why not use something like what law folks use to qualify arguments https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasis_(argumentation_theory...

Also look into Toulmin - claim, warrant http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/rgass/toulmin2.htm

i built a ui mockup of something like this a long time ago.


makes me think i should dust it off..

Might as well throw in upvotes too

It is an interesting turn of events that Arguman can be used to improve the design of Arguman.

[1] http://en.arguman.org/there-should-be-inbuilt-definitions-fo...

I love the ideea of this!

I have a question: When using because/but/however, do they apply to the hypothesis or to the premise? It would seem logical that they apply to the premise, however the count on the homepage is slightly misleading. I thought some people were "becausing" a lot to a subject, when in fact it counted the becauses on the "buts," too.

Also, the design could be improved, but it's usable as it is.

P.S: Gosh, my sentence is confusing.

Love this.

Is there already a community/location for meta discussions? Maybe a Slack/Discord/Discourse/irc something or other.

E.g. I would like the ability to say 'I need more evidence to accept this premise', but I wouldn't want to just make a pull request if it's not something the community wants.

The fallacies reported should all be linked to a thorough discussion of each, and it should be possible to contest a fallacy report.

I love argument maps, they work much better than an essay form at trying to capture the complex aspects of an argument. But, an additional editorial aspect would be nice.

One problem I see here is people wrapping too many ideas into a single premise, which then makes arguing for or against it too difficult. Each should really be as small and isolated as possible.

Argument mapping is producing "boxes and arrows" diagrams of reasoning, especially complex arguments and debates. Argument mapping improves our ability to articulate, comprehend and communicate reasoning, thereby promoting critical thinking.

You can think argument mappings as visual hierarchy mappings.

Arguman.org’s aim is arguments to be mapped successfully by many users.

Also arguman's source code is available on github:


Do perfectly rational highly intelligent agents argue or is it our imperfection that needs such a tool? If yes then can people really change their minds after discussing like this?

(I do think its a great platform)

> Do perfectly rational highly intelligent agents argue [...]?

They agree, and do so quickly. See http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2410 for an explanation of Aumann’s Agreement Theorem.

I think that the answer to the first part of your question is 'yes'. Just imagine two (perfectly rational and highly intelligent) mathematicians debating the truth of an unknown result—say, the Riemann hypothesis. I suppose if you add the caveat 'omniscient', then the need to argue goes away.

They argue, but they agree surely and quickly. (See "Are Disagreements Honest?" https://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/deceive.pdf)

It's interesting, I thought about it.. It seems to me that agreement can break when you aren't forced to reveal your model of the world. (For example, you may not even agree to use Bayesian statistics or logic.)

I think it could be useful if we forced the opponent in the debate not just to present argument, but also to reveal their model of the world. That way, they couldn't just poke holes into the argument from an inconsistent position.

thank you for posting these links. they have provided me with mind expanding knowledge

I published this blog post after reading maybe you would find it interesting to disagree about :)

Which blog post? Perhaps you want to post a link to it?

When will the arguments be formally-verified from sets of axioms rather than just human-verified (which is prone to error, politics and groupthink).

We will never agree on the set of axioms.

You can still verify deductions, even if you disagree with the axioms.

Fine example of the platform's weakness: http://en.arguman.org/there-is-no-such-thing-as-global-warmi...

Inject enough irrelevant counterarguments and you get the same quasi-controversy with the same amount of confusion for the layman.

That's a strength. I didn't know about the Plasma argument and it looks like a good one.

Someone is yet to post a good refutation to it there.

The weakness is in allowing those who disagree to throw a tantrum, be impolite, use curse words, and attack other participants, such as this post:

"What the fuck has this to do with global warming?? electric currents and your shitty plasma have nothing to do with this, literally 99% of your spam quotes are irrelevant quotes"

When it's obvious from the "spam" arguments posted that the Earth sits within a system that is 99% plasma.

The problem with this system is that you will get many participants Skissor (author of the above-quoted pearl) asking for arguments to be censored or removed. This is the major problem that forums everywhere have yet to solve - when enough of the majority deem the minority's point of view as "trolling" as asks that it be censored, there is no real debate.

I would say, based on the number of supporters of the existing arguments, it is not really a good example of weakness..

But yeah, the debate here lacks some good arguments. For example, one of the main reasons why we know global warming is not caused by the sun (aside from direct observation) is the fact that nights/winters/poles are getting warmer than days/summers/tropics, and that stratosphere is cooling.

Perhaps the weakness of the platform is that it doesn't distinguish between rational (thoughts) and empirical (facts) arguments?

This really looks interesting, I really like its simplicity. However it feels like that the arguments should either support the given statement or its converse. I think there should be other options too. As a physicist I would argue that the very statement "The universe is a simulation." is non-falsifiable, therefore it's not something we should argue about. There could be other problems with statements too, like "the GPL is freer than the BSD licence" where there is no consensus on the definition of free.

It would be nice if one could source other statements, it could integrate with it quite well.

Great project.

A UI suggestion: how about make the list view in HN nested comment style? If an argument gets too much items (like this one: http://en.arguman.org/there-is-no-such-thing-as-global-warmi...), it's a little mess in tree view. The list view style is more clear, but you have to click each item to see the sub-item. How aout make them nested with indentations? So one can see all items in one place.

When will different branches get merged? ;) It is great to build the mind map and log the history just like `git` does. But people still need rooms to discuss more.

We discussed about rooms, or maybe a structure like sub-arguments. it's in our roadmap.

I built something like this back in the day. It looks like it's lacking a weighing mechanism. This (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjective_logic) is a good formalized framework to use for that, if the authors are here reading along.

Self-referential argument can be found here [1].

[1] http://en.arguman.org/this-argument-has-the-same-total-count...

Any chance of releasing the source? I'd love to be able to self-host this...

Looks like it's up here: https://github.com/arguman/arguman.org

No idea how to install it, but take a look :)

Enterprise Edition? How would something like this go down at work?

I've meant to do something like this for a long time.

Me too. It's always a mix of feelings when you see a project that you wanted to do. The truth is though, I was probably never going to get to it...

I like this implementation though. Really cool.

There should be a wikipedia for these. Argupedia.

I think there might be a market for a "Stackoverflow for opinions".

Isn't that Quora?

I think this idea is a great in the nerd-good sense, as in I've thought of this myself many times...

But ultimately I wonder if it will be useful or really gain traction.

Maybe you can see it with really popular, hot questions, and get some social media buzz.

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