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


In practice, for me, it means that I avoid deception - in myself or others.

Literally, it is more complicated. I am really more sort of a “no faith” participant, in that I think people are more or less separate from their ideas and opinions. Discussion is a brainstorming session where we offer many possible interpretations and strategies, and I think that investing one view with lots of conviction does not help this process. But unlike with “duplicity”, this is not done to deceive. Ambivalence is a virtue and being able to juggle dozens of models of a scenario is good exercise. I think that persuasion is overrated and that debates function better as exercises in “comparative realities”.

But this approach sometimes grates with those who insist that there must be One True Way to understand things. Or who insist that certain social conventions be accepted from the outset. It can seem to be bad faith if one assumes I am deceiving myself, as a consequence of having quite fundamental differences. I am sure that it all sounds too subjective. I do believe that there is a solid objective reality underlying everything, but the human mind is unable to directly perceive it, so we simply use the best models of it we have at the time. But both our circumstances and our models change over time.


Maybe it’s been said already but arguing for pure kicks is not in ‘good faith’ even if points are valid. If I sense someone is doing it for fun I’m done. Here and elsewhere.


I think one aspect of good faith also means refraining from personal attacks. Argue the idea, not the person.



Not always, hence my comment.


for me all it takes is one PEGIDA flag.


“Measure twice, cut once.”

Or, dare I say that Reading [for understanding] is fundamental * to Good Faith?

I’ve lost track of the times (not really keeping track, mind you :slight_smile: ) that I’ve seen folks here fly off the handle, or respond with a rude gif etc., and I’m looking at my screen thinking But that’s not what they said! You didn’t read carefully before you took offense! And I’m watching a tortured exchange that seemed to stem from someone imagining that they knew what the other was saying.

I think it helps to remember that people have widely different skill at expressing themselves in words—I often think of reading this forum in terms of working out a puzzle.

I suppose this could fall under “Give the benefit of the doubt”. But how does that actually work, i.e., giving the benefit of the doubt?

For me, when I’m responding to a comment, I try to remind myself to go back and re-read their comment before I hit Reply, and ask myself Did I really understand what they said? And if I feel especially hot about it, or am, e.g., wanting to correct them, ask myself Is there something else that they might have meant, that’s not the way I initially took it to mean? It’s surprising how often I see that I may have taken it differently than it was meant.

Do folks here have suggestions or examples of how you yourself actually go about giving the benefit of the doubt? Is it a skill we can learn?

eta- * nod to @codinghorror with hopes that I don’t misrepresent him in any way.


When the law is on your side, pound the law. When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound the table.


No, misunderstanding ones intentions and arguing past another person is not bad faith.

It happens with long heated discussions where others are shitposting around (and posters are unfairly lumped in because of a particular post), but so long as it’s not a regular occurrence or to trollish ends, still good faith.

That’s not generally what persons are complaining about, which are serial issues with the ability to analyze any position along with framing.



Several people here have told me they enjoy arguing, and I’ve found those particular people to usually argue in what I’d call “good faith”. Often I’ve felt quite informed by interaction with them, and counted the experience positively. So I doubt there’s a valid general principal that arguing for kicks is always discussion in bad faith. More of a trend or indicator than a rule, perhaps? I dunno.

I wish!   I rarely see that intention in an online argument.

Online conversations that do not devolve into argument are often devoted to mutual improvement of knowledge, but as soon as argument begins, intent can rapidly shift to something less mutually beneficial and far more accusatory and boring.

To be more specific, in online arguments I frequently see an intent to dominate a conversation by devaluing the perspectives of other participants, intent to sense party quorum through value signalling, and intent to “play to the peanut gallery” using other argument participants as mere background props. The emphasis is on peacocking or on designating winners and losers regardless of other factors; in such cases goalposts can be shifted or facts misrepresented as necessary to reach a “win”.

Maybe other people’s offline arguments are different than mine, and resemble online arguments more. Online, everybody is the same height; offline, I’m six to eight inches taller than most people, so maybe people are unusually polite to me offline.

Mindfulness is hard. Self-examination is hard. Reading nuance and emotion in pure text is prone to error.

Communications experts always tell us to read emails and posts after composing them but before sending, attempting to see what we’ve written in the worst possible light, in hopes of reducing misinterpretation. Reversing that prescription and trying to read the best possible interpretation of another’s work would be an example of Postel’s robust communications principle, of being “parsimonious in what you emit, and tolerant of what you receive”.


Arguing for the sake of illumination isn’t quite arguing for the sake of arguing.


I see your point. I can’t think of a good analogy right now, so maybe you are right. I’m not willing to concede entirely on this just yet but I’m also unwilling to argue about it :slight_smile:


Unfortunately, there’s a problematic tendency towards audacious egotism to that end, via an attitude of “you poor foolish peons, allow me to liberate your minds!

In my experience, such needless condescension in one’s attitude is not conducive to any actual enlightenment, whether it’s actually intentional or not.


Thanks, you’ve helped me clarify what I was thinking. I didn’t mean that misunderstanding is necessarily evidence of bad faith, but that careless reading can prevent us from actually acting out our own best intentions and good faith. It may have been a bit off topic for this particular thread.


To that end I agree!


I think good faith is a tremendously important concept in discussion, perhaps the most important one.

In addition to the excellent points made above – good faith implies that:

  • you care about the condition of the community in the same way you would when you visit any public park, even if it’s not “your” park
  • If you are going to bother commenting at all, you would
    • continue to spend time in that community to follow up on your comments at a bare minimum
    • visit some other topics and see what the tone and culture of the existing community is
  • you are above creating a fight or commotion just because “Who cares? When will I ever come back to this place again?”

Communities of all itenerant visitors are about as stable as you would expect – which is to say, not at all. One of the worst behavior patterns is drive-by folks willing to do whatever they please, because you can tell up front that they have absolutely zero plans to ever visit there again. It’s the critical flaw in Disqus or any other “slap a bunch of comments at the bottom of a web page” so-called communities.

There is a reason we have the state of “regular”.


This is a great topic and the more I think about it, the very reason I’m on BB. Not just because of its culture of good faith discussion (even amongst semi-regulars) but because other good-faith BBers temper my diligence in making sure I have my facts and reasoning straight. I’ve changed my views and opinions on several occasions and every time it felt like a moment of enlightenment rather than concession or defeat.

This BBS feels like a forum to learn rather than bicker and that’s a direct reflection of the exceptionally high level of good faith among the BB community.


This topic was automatically closed after 82 days. New replies are no longer allowed.