Good Faith vs. Bad Faith

Tomorrow’s events:

  • Live Journaling w/ Peter Limberg. Daily @ 8:00 AM ET. Patreon event. 90 mins.

  • Dunbar's Number w/ Robin Dunbar. May 27th @ 12:00 PM ET. Patreon event. 60 mins.

Newly posted event:

  • The Theory of Neural Annealing w/ Andrés Gómez Emilsson. June 7th @ 12:00 PM ET. RSVP here.

An event to (maybe) get excited about:

  • Straw Man, Steel Man, and All Those Other Men w/ Ryan Nakade and Peter Limberg. June 1st @ 6:00 PM ET. RSVP here.

Ryan Nakade and Peter Limberg will deliver a presentation on the straw man, the steel man, and other related “man” concepts. This will be followed by an activity lead by Ryan.


May 26th, 2021

Noam Chomsky is coming back to The Stoa, and Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints) will be in conversation with him. That is a pretty big conversation, probably the biggest The Stoa has helped arrange. 

The session is called The Future of the Left, and it is funny to me that The Stoa is memetically helping the left cohere. I do not politically identify myself on the left, or on the right. When it comes to electoral politics, I have a good degree of political aporia, and political identities do not work with my mind, or with my soul for that matter.

I am happy to hold space for the left to find itself, as I am good at holding space. I do not want to hold space for everyone though. The Stoa has a pretty eclectic array of guests. The guests have a mix of political and philosophical views. We have a good mix of practitioners doing workshops and intellectuals delivering slide presentations. We also have big name thinkers on here, alongside obscure ones. 

I do not know what the throughline with the guests are though. I wanted to write about good faith and bad faith today, and this might be one of the throughlines with who comes to The Stoa. I sense most people who come to The Stoa, regardless of their political orientation, are making well-thought out arguments in good faith and will engage in argumentative challenges to them if those challenges are coming from a good faith place.

But what do these terms even mean? This is a good question, because answering this question may allow our reasoning game to effectively flutter down from third-person epistemics to second-person epistemics. New skills are needed, beyond being good at reasoning, to spot good faith and bad faith arguments. I will probably write about what those skills are in an upcoming entry, but it would be good to get a clean definition of what good faith and bad faith are first. 

Clean definitions are good, especially here, because this good faith and bad faith thing can get pretty messy. Saying somebody is coming from bad faith can be a bad faith dismissive move against the person and their arguments, but somebody who is actually coming from bad faith can also claim in bad faith they are on the receiving end of a bad faith dismissive move, when they are really not. Bad faith abounds in the culture war, and it can indeed be a tricky thing to spot. 

Here are my definitions ... 

Good faith: A conversational disposition occurring when somebody presents an argument they believe to be true, and who are presenting their argument in service towards a greater connection.

Bad faith: A conversational disposition occurring when somebody presents an argument that they may or may not believe to be true, and they are presenting their argument in a way that is not in service towards a greater connection. 

What is different about these definitions from others is the crux that comes with the ‘greater connection’ phrase. I sense this is what most people are leaving out when they think about good faith and bad faith argumentation. 

Greater connection here does not necessarily mean greater commitment or involvement in their life, which is something that can happen though. Instead, greater connection means purifying the communicative channels with truth, so the connection is a little better than before the argument was given. You offer your argument because you genuinely sense that they would be better off if they heard your argument. 

I disagree with so many people, especially on Twitter. I do not usually offer my arguments though, because if I am honest with myself, I do not know if my arguments will make the other person better, even if I think my arguments are right. There needs to be an openness to receiving an argument, and most people do not go on something like Twitter with this openness.

I also do not offer my arguments at times because I do not always want a greater connection, and that is okay, because my bandwidth for connections is limited, and I cannot connect with everyone, nor should I connect with everyone. 

When somebody is making an argument in bad faith they are not interested in connection or making the other person better. Ostensibly they might gesture to those things, or to something like truth or morality, but that is never the full story. They are usually serving their own egoic high, or engaging in some tribal signaling, or attempting to pressure somebody to bend to their will, so they can receive some kind of conscious or unconscious advantage. 

If one is on the receiving end of bad faith they can quickly spot it in their body, because bad faith invokes the fight-or-flight response. We cannot rely on this as a universal heuristic though, because sometimes bad faith is not present and the fight-or-flight response gets invoked anyway, perhaps because of oversensitivity. In either case, Stoicism helps with getting into the right relationship with the fight-or-flight response, and so does a conversational modality like Verbal Aikido.

I would also argue that sometimes it may be good to engage with bad faith arguments. As with most people on the internet, I was on the receiving end a few times of what I perceived as bad faith arguments, and while I do not always respond to them directly, I do privately process them. I steel man their arguments right away, then process what is happening in my body, which I think are important things to do before theorizing what the bad faith attacker's “theory of mind” is, which I also think is an important thing to do. 

I usually learn something from this, and it is often something unexpected. Everyone can be our teacher, and the lessons they offer us are not always found in the arguments they present.


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