What does 'Good Faith' mean in a forum discussion?

Exactly what it says on the title: what does having ‘good faith’ in a forum discussion mean?

Open-mindedness? Willingness to acknowledge fault with one’s own position? An acknowledgement and/or recognition of personal bias? Something else? Or some combination thereof? Is it a binary or a continuum?

Given the number of trolls that we’ve had lately, and individuals that have revealed themselves to be trolls arguing in bad faith, I got to pondering what, exactly, good faith in this context means, and figured that I’d start a discussion on it. :wink:


to me arguing in good faith means that one’s arguments are sincerely meant and honestly derived. in my opinion, the most common signs of bad faith argument are constantly moving the goalposts and setting up a series of strawmen to bear the brunt of their contumely without moving the argument along.

edited to add imo to the second sentence.


I think all of those questions count. I’d also say that when I’m arguing something, I mean what I’m saying, as opposed to holding a position that I don’t hold IRL. I might be shown to be wrong, but I’m not bullshitting you that I’m of that position, if that makes sense. So, yeah, I agree with @navarro here.


I would say that good faith in discussion involves at least the following things:

  1. The contributors expect from themselves the same thing that they expect from the other participants.
    That is, if you’re trying to change someone else’s mind, you’re open to have your own mind changed. If you demand evidence in support of your opponents’ arguments, make sure you have your own evidence in-hand, ready to present to bolster your own case. If you’re lobbing insults around, you’re open to having insults aimed back at you. If you’re contributing snarky .GIFs, you don’t complain when snarky .GIFs are used in replies to your own comments. At the very least, if you want someone to read what you’ve posted, you should be willing to read what they’ve posted first, and their response to your post.
    In short: only minimal hypocrisy.

  2. The contributors actually have the views that they are representing (or openly label themselves as playing a devil’s advocate). They’re not coming into, say, a Linux thread and claiming that Windows Vista was better than any version of Linux, just for the lulz. In addition, their words are their own (or are clearly a quote, complete with attribution). Copypasta is a clear sign of arguing in bad faith.

  3. The contributors are trying to make the discussion better. They don’t want to have the discussion locked, or get someone else banned, or get themselves banned, or have posts deleted. They want to contribute something meaningful to make everyone else (and themselves) think. They’re not just trying to get a knee-jerk reaction to their post, but a well-thought-out response.

  4. While no one has an obligation to answer every question put their way, if something a contributor asserts as fact is challenged, those challenges should be answered before the contributor asserts that fact again. You can concede a point, you can drop a point, or you can try to prove a point, but just asserting the same fact over and over again, ignoring all challenges and refusing proof, is a clear sign that the person is not interested in discussion.


you make an excellent point here which plays well with one @nimelennar makes in the next comment–[quote=“nimelennar, post:4, topic:90227”]
That is, if you’re trying to change someone else’s mind, you’re open to have your own mind changed.

it doesn’t happen often that i come away from an online discussion here or at some of the overtly political blogs i visit with the realization that i was wrong and i am forced, no matter how reluctantly, to change my mind about some issue or point but i am open to it and it has happened and i will admit it in thread if it happens.


Barely a few posts in, and it already seems like the subject has been fully covered!


What Liz said; there’s really not much more to add, aside from own my personal take.

To me, ‘conversing in good faith’ all boils down to one’s individual intent.

A person engaging in a discussion in order to foster a better understanding or to exchange ideas with others, and who has the capacity to listen to legitimate counter-arguments is conversing in good faith.

On the other hand, those whose apparent goals are:

  • to “prove” that they are “right” or “superior” in some way
  • to gloat over the perception thereof
  • to cause general chaos and discord
  • to try manipulate the emotional state of other people in a negative manner

Those folks are not only not acting ‘in good faith,’ they’re probably trolling.


You bring up a good point, there is a distinction between people who are bad at making arguments and outright trolls, and even though conversations with either type of person usually wind up derailing the thread, I believe we’re not helping when we engage with people making bad arguments in good faith as if they were trolls.

The best way I know of telling the difference is to just plainly ask them to state their position on the topic at hand before responding to any of their opinions, trolls will usually avoid answering directly since plainly stating some very silly opinion tends to expose the hidden assumptions in their fake concerns.

Summarizing their positions and asking why they believe as they say they do also goes a long way towards understanding their intentions.

Also, agree that bewtween @navarro, @Mindysan33 and especially @nimelennar we’ve got this covered.


But is it our responsibility to “help?”

In a free discussion forum, is not each person accountable for his or her own commentary, whether it’s factually sound or not?

I hear what you’re saying in regards to avoiding making broad assumptions and directly asking others to clarify their points; I think the majority of active members here are very good about doing that.

In fact, I think that there are quite a few of us who go above and beyond when giving the benefit of the doubt to potential actors in bad faith.


I’d add that, if a contributor’s facts are challenged, they should at minimum acknowledge the challenge. Dropping a point without acknowledging that it has been dropped is a bad sign, especially if it is happening repeatedly in one conversation. In the worst cases, this starts to look like a Gish Gallop, and pretty clearly indicates that the contributor isn’t really interested in discussion.


As a small point of clarification here I’d add that if the evidence someone is using to support their argument is shown to be false they should admit that. If they can find better, more reliable evidence that’s fine. However to me a sure sign of someone arguing in bad faith is when they don’t refer directly to having previously been caught using false evidence but carry on as though their argument is still just as valid without presenting anything new.


No, I just think that treating people who are sincerely “wrong” like trolls means that we are now, functionally, arguing in bad faith. We’d be failing the first point in @nimelennar’s list:

That’s the risk one takes when responding to trolls, their “winning” condition is chaos, even when we feel we’ve won, they still feel we lose.


Do you have any suggestions to remedy that issue?

Personally, I’ll always be of the opinion that I don’t owe anyone else any time or attention; so those who act likely they ‘need’ it desperately are going to be highly suspect.

And just speaking for myself, I’m not in the habit of trying to change anyone’s mind; that’s not my motive in posting my views.


It takes an impressive vocabulary to casually work that phrase into a sentence.


thank you.


Trying to use Wikipedia articles as definitions rather than attempting to address the issue themselves?

I keed, I keed…

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I suppose in some ways an argument can be seen as similar to a scientific experiment. The intention is to improve our knowledge, so arguing in bad faith is a little like introducing sampling bias to produce the results you want, falsifying evidence, selecting the results that support your theory and ignoring the others, attacking other people’s scientific work because it contradicts your theories etc. The problem is not being wrong, it’s acting in a way that shows that you are working to reach a specific outcome rather than seeking an accurate representation of reality, and you don’t really care about the truth. In that way, even if what you say is accurate, it doesn’t matter; it’s a coincidence that you use to support your argument rather than the basis for your argument. Similar evidence pointing in a different direction wouldn’t convince you that you’re wrong. See: climate change deniers.


Possible extra points:

Good faith is a continuum, not a binary.

For example: one of the basic (but unsporting) tricks of philosophical debate is the dialectic/rhetoric slip. When you’re winning based on logic, argue logic; when you see your logic starting to lose force, shift into emotive rhetoric to cover the hole. If your rhetoric is getting stale or thin, move back to logic again. Do it well enough and the audience will rarely catch what you’re up to.

There are folks who are purely malicious from the beginning, but there are also folks whose good faithyness may slip a bit under pressure. That latter category probably includes most of us on at least a few hot button topics.

Part of constructing a good debate is learning how to notice this when it happens, but also how to engage without creating too much pressure unnecessarily.


Bad arguments that we discuss here are those which come from malintent, certainly after the first few signs one can discern accident from bad faith.

I don’t see much of a difference between willfully poor rhetorical form and bad faith. It is a tactical choice from which to bludgeon others into submission and not given up easily.