Arguing for the Sake of Arguing
by John D. Ferrer
If you’ll allow me a few minutes of your time I would like to argue for the sake of arguing. No I mean it. I am arguing on behalf of the vitally important lost art of argumentation.
Arguing has gotten a bad rap. We tend to think of arguments as verbal fights, mean-spirited personal attacks where the louder we speak the less we hear. Arguing sounds ugly and rude; it’s not the kind of thing that respectful and decent people do in civilized society. Well I intend to demonstrate to you that we not only could stand to do a little more arguing. I want to convince you that the passionate and responsible exchange of ideas is utterly necessary to personal growth, community development, and it is the lifeblood of any free-society.
I grew up arguing. I’ve seen the good kinds of arguing and the bad kinds. I’m the youngest of three siblings, with an older brother and an older sister. And I honed my own arguing skills largely by disagreeing with them. I learned quick and efficient ways to get attention. For example: When you are losing the argument, just pull your sister’s hair. Something entertaining is bound to happen. If your sister is annoying you, just shout really loudly ‘Stop it [insert name].’ And make sure you yell loud enough till your parents wake up and promptly discipline the offending party. Again, entertaining things are bound to happen. And she’ll probably get time-out. I also learned how to get my brother and sister fighting with each other, as that was entertaining too.
All of those are examples of bad arguing. I’m no fan of bad arguing. We need less of that. I don’t want to encourage you to do any of those entertaining things that I did. No matter how entertaining they may be. No matter how much you want to belittle your opponent, embarrass them, make them feel bad. No matter how mad they may make you feel, and even if it’s your sister, that is not the kind of arguing that helps make you a better person or the world a better place. Good arguing makes both parties better. Good arguing is not between enemies, or it doesn’t have to be. Good arguing is between mutual truth-seekers, with mutual respect, and even love.
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How do you know if your argument is a bad one?
It might be a bad argument if you are attacking the person. That’s called an ad hominem, literally ‘to the man.’ You are missing the claim they are making and the evidence they are offering because you are busy calling them names are attacking their character, intelligence, mother, sexual orientation, etc.
It might be a bad argument if you are just using the evidence that agrees with you and ignore the rest. This is called cherry picking or special pleading. If your position only works by ignoring the opposing evidence, then it’s not a good position. Well informed positions can account for the evidence for and against itself, and stands just fine. But a bad position only works with selective evidence and tenuous details strong together in isolation from the rest of the data.
It might be a bad argument if you have to misrepresent the opposition to make yours look better. This is called the “straw man” fallacy. Picture a prize-fight boxing match between you and . . . a scarecrow. It’s no fight at all because you don’t have a real opponent but a fabricated, easy-to-defeat, practice dummy. In the real world of ideas, there’s usually some evidence for even the weirdest most absurd ideas, and if you can’t imagine why anyone would hold to the views they do, then you probably don’t understand those views. You are likely operating on a straw-man understanding of their view. And your view is the weaker for it, since its over-inflated with confident ignorance…
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