Introduction

Welcome to Socratrees: a platform for argumentative discussion! We are certain you are eager to get started, but first, let us explain a few concepts. And, a note of warning: although we are very excited about opening up Socratrees to the public, be aware that many features are still missing. Our primary goal for now is to evaluate the core design. We would therefore greatly appreciate hearing any feedback you might have.

Provide feedback and participate in 'meta' discussions on: reddit.com/r/socratrees

Socratrees introduces structure to arguments by breaking them up into smaller pieces, called statements (represented as leafs ). By relating statements to one another as either supporting or opposing (represented as branches ) they start to form argument trees (shown in the "Cats like humans" example). These can contain multiple, possibly contradicting, arguments; it is up to you to interpret statements and their relations to help you draw your own conclusions.

To facilitate this process, users can express agreement with statements and statement relations (indicating the relation is warranted, i.e., relevant)—represented as droplets. Take the cat example: you might agree that cats rub up against humans, but not that this implies that cats like humans.

Now, this is where things might get a bit confusing, but bear with us: all statements and statement relations are argument trees! You can thus 'drill down' into an argument hierarchically by opening up (clicking on) leafs and branches to discover the underlying statements which support or oppose them.

To add a new statement, search for it first; we want to encourage contributing to and reusing existing statements. However, since the current search functionality is limited (only results which contain the exact text you are searching for show up) we recommend you to use short search queries when looking for existing statements. To aid discovery, statements which make for interesting entry points into discussions can be shared on Reddit.

This concludes the short introduction. More detailed information is provided below, but for now you should have sufficient information to start browsing the site.

Example argument tree

What is a statement?

Statements on Socratrees express a claim, or assertion (regardless of whether it is true or false), which can be argued for or against by relating other supporting or opposing statements to them. For this to work effectively they should:

  • Be concise (max 120 characters)
  • Aim to be free of context (not rely on context in order to be understood)
  • Not be phrased as questions
Good
  • Global warming is man-made
  • The Earth is flat
Bad
  • Nuclear energy is dangerous and should be phased out (not concise, should be two statements)
  • Wind turbines are more effective (not free from context, should be made clear what this relates to, i.e., "... more effective than solar panels")
  • I am tall (not free from context, depends on who utters the statement)
  • Is Donald Trump a good president? (phrased as a question, therefore can't be reused as a supporting or opposing statement)

Statements have two forms: a 'normal' form (how it was formulated when posted) and an 'inverted' (negated) form (e.g., in the given example: "Cats don't like humans"). Regardless of which form is shown, the same supporting and opposing statements are displayed; when the negated form is shown, both sides are simply swapped.

Navigating argument trees

You can link to supporting or opposing statements 'in context' by hovering over them, clicking on the hyperlink , and copying the URL from the address bar. The related statement will become highlighted. This can be useful when sharing links to statements with other people.

Each statement and statement relation within a tree leads to statements supporting or opposing them in turn. To see how many statements to expect, the leafs inside statements and next to branches sum up the amount of immediately underlying statements. In the given example, the branch of the highlighted statement will lead to two underlying statements, elaborating on why the supporting statement is relevant or not.

With so many links to follow, it might be easy to get lost. To see which statements you followed to reach your current position, the sidebar shows a current branch section. Here, you can click on previous statements in order to revisit them. Note that this does not 'reset' the branch; the full branch (including the statements further 'down') are retained until you diverge from the presented path. We therefore recommend you to use this function rather than the browser back button.

Pro tip! This branch is stored per browser tab. By opening links in new tabs (Ctrl+click) you can thus traverse and keep track of multiple branches.

Reasoning about the relevance of statements that support or oppose another statement relation becomes excessively 'meta'. Therefore, this functionality is disabled for now; there are no branches 'inside' statement relations.

Example navigation

How can I contribute?

Contributing to Socratrees does not have to be hard! Many small contributions add up quickly, even if it is just expressing agreement with statements:

  • Express agreement with statements you encounter when you believe them to be true, even when they contribute to statements you disagree with, or when they aren't relevant in the given context. Remember that statements should be 'free from context'!
  • Express 'disagreement' with statements you believe to be false by expressing agreement with the inverse form (for now, this requires you to navigate to the inverse form). The inverse droplet indicates you disagree with the presented form of the statement.
  • Express agreement with statement relations you find relevant. This is done automatically when agreeing with supporting or opposing statements and when adding related statements. We presume this to be the desired behavior in the majority of cases, but this can easily be undone by manually removing agreement after.
  • Express disagreement with statement relations you deem irrelevant. For example, when they are not directly related.

Expressing agreement with statements has two purposes:

  1. It gives an impression of popular opinion, as indicated by the number of droplets in leafs and next to branches.
  2. It acts as a subscribe mechanism: you will receive notifications in your inbox on all statements you have expressed agreement with, thus keeping you informed and offering you a chance to rebut.

Contribute to discussions:

  • Add new 'top' statements on topics you want to discuss, and add them to the list on Reddit.
  • Extend on discussions by adding supporting and opposing statements to existing statements. Try to reuse existing statements as much as possible. Remember you can also add the inverse form of statements by clicking on the inverse icon in search results.
  • Comment on statements to provide additional information, request clarification, or highlight concerns.

The first few statements you add will be posted as drafts. Draft statements are under review and cannot be used (added to or used as related statement) until they are approved. Moderators can turn statements into drafts when they do not comply with the guidelines.

Currently, you can only edit and remove statements you created yourself. Furthermore, you can only remove statements if they are not in use (or if they are drafts). In case you see problems with a statement you cannot address yourself (e.g., by adding a comment or opposing statement) you can 'flag' for moderator attention on Reddit . This will require you to create a Reddit account.

A short overview of your contributions is listed next to your profile name at the top of the page. You can see the total number of approved statements you posted and the number of times people have expressed agreement with statements you added to the site (regardless of whether they agree or disagree).

Example draft statement

Contact

For any questions regarding the project, we have set up a dedicated subreddit. This is a place where you can provide direct feedback, e.g., suggest new features.

reddit.com/r/socratrees

Community Managers
  • Wouter Jeuris
  • Jesse Wursten

These early adopters have helped out considerably with rubber ducking, brainstorming, and subsequent testing, and are thus fully capable of answering your questions on reddit.

For any questions regarding setting up a possible collaboration, feel free to contact me personally. Currently, Socratrees is a personal (unfunded) side project so any help in development or financing would be appreciated.

Steven Jeuris
© 2017 - Socratrees