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Principle of charity: what it is and what it is for when talking

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Let's imagine that in the middle of a conversation, someone is giving a wide variety of data (eg. g., descriptive or biographical data about a person and that could fit the description of two different people). Therefore, two different people come to mind, so we should accept the option that makes the most sense based on the context of what it tells us.

The principle of charity requests that those statements that are made by another person are to be interpreted as rational. and, in the event that there is a dialectical dispute, to take into consideration the interpretation of the same that has a greater solidity, avoiding irrational attributions, fallacies with lack of logic or any falsehood about the statements of other people.

In this article we will see what the principle of charity consists of and what is it for?

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What is the principle of charity?

In the fields of rhetoric and philosophy, the principle of charity requires that those statements made by an interlocutor be interpreted as rational and,

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in the event that there is a dialectical dispute, that the interpretation of the same that has greater solidity be taken into consideration.

Therefore, if we stick to its strictest sense, the purpose of this principle would be to avoid making irrational attributions, fallacies with a lack of logic. or any falsehoods about other people's statements when in fact a rational and consistent interpretation of them would be possible.

To try to better understand this concept, we are going to give an example: if another person presents us with an argument that could be interpreted in two ways, one of them being logical and the other fallacious, we should assume that the interpretation we have interpreted as "logical" would be then the one we will take into account as the one that person really intended to transmit and not the other, as long as it is reasonable do it.

In this way, putting the principle of charity into practice in various dialogues could be beneficial in a wide range of scenarios, since it helps us to encourage a dialogue that is appropriate, cordial and discussions or debates that are productive, at the same time that the argumentative capacity of the participants in these debates could be improved.

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The origins of the principle of charity

The principle of charity was first defined in the 1950s by Neil L. Wilson. For him, this new concept served to determine some referent of a proper name, so that this principle had been developed as a semantic rule.

Let's see an example of the principle of charity based on the conception that Wilson had about this concept and that it could help students when preparing for an exam. To do this, we think of a name such as "Miguel" and then we choose a reference that is called that to expose 5 sentences about someone's life who could be called Miguel and is known to the people with whom we are carrying out the task (normally it is usually carried out with people illustrious):

  • Miguel was born in Bilbao.
  • Miguel wrote a novel titled “Niebla”.
  • Miguel was professor and rector of the University of Salamanca.
  • Miguel was exiled in Hendaye.
  • Miguel wrote "Don Quixote".

As we have seen, to use the principle of charity we have had to select a person to serve as a reference (‘designatum’) based on the choice of a proper name, which in this case will make a greater number of statements about the name true "Miguel". Next, the other people should think of illustrious individuals, whose main name is Miguel, and thus they could verify that the first 4 sentences refer to the writer Miguel de Unamuno, while the last sentence would refer to the writer Miguel de Cervantes.

Example of the principle of charity

Although this is only an example, since we could have taken other examples such as Miguel Ángel Buonarroti (artist), among others. Furthermore, this principle can be applied under any name (eg. g., “Caesar”, in which case perhaps the most representative character could be the emperor Julius Caesar of Ancient Rome).

These examples would demonstrate a simple use of the principle of charity, which is that when someone's statements include a name that could potentially refer to several people, we should assume that it refers to the person that makes the most sense in the context of the statement.

Subsequently, the American philosophers Willard Can Orman Quine and Donald Davidson developed other different formulations Wilson had made about the principle of charity. Davidson speaks of this principle as a tool that we could use in trying to understand what a speaker says when we are not sure of its meaning (principle of accommodation rational). Instead, Quine uses the principle of charity in a broader sense, giving it an empirical interpretation.

Time later several philosophers have made a formulation of at least 4 different versions about the principle of charity, so this principle could be used differently depending on the purpose of the conversation. These principles are the following:

  • Other people use words in an ordinary, normal way.
  • Other people make statements that are true.
  • Other people present arguments that are considered valid.
  • Other people say something that is interesting.

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The benefits of putting the principle of charity into practice

Putting the principle of charity into practice could be a good resource as it is a possible mental shortcut to the time to interpret what other people are telling us, trying to make sense of what we hear. Also, this principle could help us to be more understanding with other people, since over time, if we choose to use this principle frequently, we will be better trained to identify the best possible interpretation about what other people communicate to us, which is very important in the field of psychology.

On the other hand, the principle of charity can help people to improve their ability to build their own arguments, so that they are more solid and coherent. This is because, in addition to being important to know how to detect and counteract all those fallacies with a lack of logic that other people count, it is also important not to focus only on that and for this we should try to develop our reasoning skills and argumentation.

In addition, the principle of charity could improve the quality of our conversations and, therefore, of our interpersonal relationships, since other people they would rather talk to someone who is making a genuine effort to truly understand what other people are trying to tell them than talk to a person who is only focusing on identifying the problems or errors of what others say in order to counter their arguments and thus "win" the discussion.

Finally, it should be noted that the implementation of the principle of charity in our conversations encourages other people to be willing to listen to what we have to say. This is because people will be closer to us and predisposed to have a conversation. and to listen to us thanks to the fact that we usually approach the best possible interpretation of their arguments. On the other hand, if we had focused on other less relevant aspects, those people would have less interest in talking with us and they would not listen to us openly when we wanted to tell them something that we consider important.

In short, we could say that the principle of charity favors the development of conversations between two or more people with a higher quality, thanks to a more open, coherent and deep interpretation, focused on what is really important for the parties involved. This principle rejects the search for counterarguments that are aimed at "victory" in a debate. or dialectical dispute nor does it focus on the argumentative errors of what other people say; however, what is sought here is to understand what other people say in the best possible way.

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