What Can Philosophy Do For Humanity?, #2–Phildialogues, & Principled Negotiation + Participatory Decision-Making.

By Robert Hanna


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Phildialogues

III. Principled-Negotiation-&-Participatory-Decision-Making

IV. Kialo

V. Meta-Kialo

VI. Conclusion



II. Phildialogues

Because it’s difficult, or even practically impossible, for spatially widely-distributed groups of people in many different time-zones to meet in person, even by means of face-to-face conversation technologies like Skype or Zoom, therefore, in order to wake up from the sleep of reason in a contemporary context,

  • we should be conducting philosophically-enabled and philosophically-guided, non-face-to-face, online dialogues with people living in any place and in any time-zone, about issues that really matter.

This is what I call phildialogues.

Phildialogues are the precise opposite of angry, anxious people clustering in their digital echo chambers on social media, or shouting insults at each other over the internet.

A phildialogue uses classical critical reasoning and discussion methods drawn from

  • ancient Greek philosophy (especially Plato’s Socratic dialogues, especially insofar as Socratic Method has been constructively reinterpreted by the early 20th century neo-Kantian Leonard Nelson[i]),
  • from the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment (especially the works of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, the French philosophes, and Kant),
  • from mid-20th century emancipatory pedagogy, especially the Brazilian philosopher of education Paulo Freire’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed,[ii] and
  • from late 20th century and early 21st century work on facilitation and principled- negotiation-&-participatory-decision-making (aka “direct democracy”), including Roger Fisher’s and William Ury’s Getting to YES (1981),[iii] Samuel Kaner’s “What Can Organizational Design Professionals Learn from Grassroots Political Activists?” (1987),[iv] Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (1990),[v] Allan Kaplan’s Development Practitioners and Social Process: Artists of the Invisible (2002),[vi] Kaner’s Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (2007),[vii] and Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging (2008),[viii]

in order to work towards individual and collective enlightenment.

How do phildialogues work?

As I indicated above, phildialogues are widely distributed over the spatial locations and time-zones of many participants, conducted online, and extended over some non-trivial duration in time, e.g., several days, several weeks, or a month.

Each phildialogue is facilitated by two philosophers:

  • an enabler, who acts as a neutral (i.e., non-participant) editor of the discussion, and
  • a guide, who acts as a participant leader of the discussion.

There are five simple rules for conducting a phildialogue[ix] —

  • The unpacking rule for participants: unpack each of your contributions (posts) into a single issue, idea, or argument, that does not replicate a point that has already been made elsewhere in that phildialogue.
  • The disagreement rule for participants: if you disagree with an idea or argument, then create new contributions (posts) that present your alternative ideas or counter-arguments.
  • The live-and-let-live rule for editors: existing contributions (posts) should be edited by the editor only to strengthen them.
  • The honest broker rule for editors: the role of the editor is not to evaluate the merits of a contribution (post), but simply to help phildialogue participants ensure that each of their contributions (posts) is framed in a way that makes it most helpful to the entire phildialogue community.
  • The procedural rule for editors and participants: each phildialogue is aimed at collective learning, collective wisdom, and ultimately collective action, which in turn unfolds according to a general procedure for principled-negotiation-&-participatory-decision-making.

III. Principled-Negotiation-&-Participatory-Decision-Making

Principled negotiation is negotiation in which all members of a group of people sincerely try to reach agreement about some controverted (and often highly controversial) issue, in such a way that everyone’s basic interests are mutually satisfied to the greatest possible extent.

Participatory decision-making is principled negotiation for groups of any size, leading to collective decisions about proposals for group action.

What follows is the description of a general procedure for principled-negotiation-&-participatory-decision-making.

For purposes of convenience, however, let’s just call it collective decision-making from here on in.

Every such process of collective decision-making is a dialogue with all members of a group of people discussing various proposals for group action, one proposal at a time, with the following features:

  • the group uses a five-valued array of options for taking a position on any given proposal, including two degrees of agreement, one neutral or as-yet-uncommitted value, and two degrees of disagreement, namely —
  • Strongly Agree
  • Mildly Agree
  • Abstain
  • Mildly Disagree
  • Block or Walk

any of which is registered by each member of a group at any point in a given dialogue about a given proposal being considered by that group,

  • every registration of a position carries with it the option to change or update your position at any time in the dialogue,
  • everyone follows the basic principle of mutual respect and tolerance: no one is ever coerced in any particular sub-cycle or overall process of decision-making, either with respect to their own position or with respect to their other contributions to the dialogue, and more specifically, no one is ever forced to walk, or punished for blocking or walking,
  • mild disagreement always entails going forward with the current proposal if there is sufficiently strong support for it,
  • sufficiently strong support means that there is close to or more than 50% strong or mild agreement with the proposal within the group, and no blocks,
  • blocking means not merely a strong disagreement with a given proposal, but also that one block is enough to defeat a given proposal in any given sub-cycle of a particular process of collective decision-making,
  • every blocker must also offer, or support, or at least refrain from blocking, an alternative proposal in the next sub-cycle of the same collective decision-making process,
  • every participant is permitted only a fairly small finite number (e.g., 5) blocks in a particular collective decision-making process, and if s/he uses up all his or her blocks, then s/he must also walk away from that collective decision-making process and thereby exit it, and
  • walking away from/exiting a particular collective decision-making process can be done at any point in the process, not only after the permitted maximum number of blocks.


[i] See R. Hanna, “On Leonard Nelson’s ‘The Socratic Method’,” (July 2019 version), available online HERE.

[ii] P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. M. Ramos (New York: Continuum, 2007).

[iii] R. Fisher and W. Ury, Getting to YES (3rd edn., London: Penguin Books, 2011).

[iv] S. Kaner, E. Palmer, and D. Berger, “What Can OD Professionals Learn from Grassroots Political Activists?,” Vision/Action (1987).

[v] E. Ostrom, Governing the Commons (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990).

[vi] A. Kaplan, Development Practitioners and Social Process: Artists of the Invisible (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

[vii] S. Kaner, Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (2nd edn., San Francisco, CA: Wiley, 2007).

[viii] P. Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2008).

[ix] See also M. Klein, “How to Harvest Collective Wisdom for Complex Problems: An Introduction to the MIT Deliberatorium,” MIT Center for Collective Intelligence — Publications (CCI Working Paper 2012–004), available online at URL = <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316659681_How_to_Harvest_Collective_Wisdom_for_Complex_Problems_An_Introduction_to_the_MIT_Deliberatorium>.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Sunday 12 January 2020

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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