How Not To Argue 21 replies

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Locomotor

in spite of erosion

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13th May 2004

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#1 12 years ago

Relander – with his signature - and Jeffro - with his I’ve Had Enough With Sarcastic Arguments thread - inspired me to create this thread. I would love to start seeing some really thoughtful, constructive discussions here in The Pub. Certain things must be overcome if we’re to even attempt to start having intelligent debates, however. I’ve decided to author a list of things that everyone in The Pub should start avoiding if we want to start having constructive arguments. I’m certainly guilty of most of the following, a problem I’m currently rectifying. Most of these are simple fallacies of logic, relevance, ignorance, ambiguity etc that aren’t at all difficult to avoid. WHAT TO AVOID IN A DEBATE: Argumentum ad antiquitatem – This is an argument to antiquity, or tradition. Suggesting that something is right simply because “it’s always been done that way” is not an effective argument. Example: “Homosexual union has been outlawed in most societies around the world for centuries, therefore it should remain illegal in America today.” That fact alone cannot justify anything one way or another. A more effective argument would be to explain why “homosexual unions have been illegal in most societies around the world for centuries”. There are reasons as to why this fact is true, and those reasons should be examined. Argumentum ad hominem – An ad hominem is a statement intended to refute an argument while avoiding the argument itself altogether. Instead, the attack is directed at the character, motives, or sources of the argument’s author. Examples: “You’re a blockhead if you think capitalism is flawless.” “The New York Times is a bogus, left wing tabloid.” We’ve seen this all too often here. It is a common occurrence - attacking the messenger as opposed to the message itself. Avoiding the argument by discrediting your opponent is probably the easiest way to get out of an argument, but it is also the least effective. Instead of attempting to refute the source of information, refute the information itself with better argumentation. Argumentum ad ignorantiam – This is an argument to ignorance. This type of argument often pushes the idea that because something hasn’t been proven false, it must be true. The fact that something hasn’t been conclusively falsified does not necessarily prove that that something is true. Example: “The defendant has no alibi for the night of the murder and therefore must have committed the crime.” “Because there hasn’t been a discovery of any significant WMD stores in Iraq since the invasion, George Bush must have lied about them.” The issue here becomes apparent when the burden of proof is examined. In the case of a criminal trial, the burden of proof lies on the prosecutor, not the defendant. Just because no WMD have been found does not necessarily mean that George Bush actually lied about them. The burden of proof in this case lies with the accusers, not the accused. Argumentum ad misericordiam – This is an appeal to pity. No amount of dogmatism, no matter how passionate, can (by its lonesome) prove the improvable, make true the untrue, or prove practical the impractical. Example: “Thousands of children starve to death every day. This is an inexcusable dilemma. We must help these children.” While intentions in this case are not necessarily illogical, the pleas alone cannot serve as a justification. It is completely sensible to highlight the severity of a problem in order to provide justification for a proposal, however reasonable suggestions must also be made. It is not enough to say “this problem is severe and must be remedied”. Argumentum ad nauseam – Arguing to the point of disgust. This is usually an argument by repetition. Pushing a single idea over and over is most often completely ineffective. Example: Person 1: “Morals are absolute. You are either good or evil.” Person 2: “There are no absolutes. The cold hand of science has shown us that.” Person 1: “That is irrelevant, because morals are absolute.” The problem here should be self-explanatory. Without any explanation of why morals are absolute, Person 1 has no real argument. Stating his first claim a second time does not make his second any more valid. Argumentum ad populum – This argument uses a something’s popularity as proof. Because something is popular, it must be right. Example: “George Bush’s approval ratings are roughly 40%. Because the majority of Americans disapprove of his policies, his policies must be bad.” An appeal to popularity only goes so far. Is not enough to simply make reference to a single statistic. This argument is often referred to as the “Bandwagon Fallacy”. Popularity alone is not justification for anything. Argumentum ad verecundiam – This argument uses an appeal to authority. This fallacy occurs when someone tries to demonstrate the truth of a proposition by citing some person who agrees, even though that person may have no expertise in the given area. Example: “Tiger Woods believes in a state provided healthcare system.” There is a difference between authority alone and competent authority. Tiger Woods is a professional golfer, not a political philosopher. It isn’t enough to say that something is right simply because so-and-so said that it was. Circulus in demonstrando – This is a circular argument. It uses part of the proof of an argument in order to prove it. Example: “Most drugs are illegal in the United States. You shouldn’t violate the law. Therefore, you shouldn’t do drugs, because doing them is illegal.” It is not enough to say that something is true because that something is true. A more appropriate argument against legalizing drugs would be to propose why they should remain illegal, not simply using the fact that they happen to be illegal as justification against legalizing them. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc – This means “with this, therefore because of this”. Just because two things coexist does not mean there is a necessary relationship between the two. Example: “The economy during Bill Clinton’s presidency flourished. Therefore, Clinton’s economic policies were the cause.” This is not necessarily true, however. Correlation is not the same as causation. The economic growth during the Clinton administration is arguably attributable to Ronald Reagan’s economic policies. It is not enough to point out a coincidence and argue causation without further evidence and reasoning. Dicto simpliciter – This usually refers to argumentation by generalization. To imply that most of a given group is one way or another doesn’t necessarily make it true for all of that group. Example: “Most women are physically weak, when compared to men. Therefore, women should not be allowed to serve in combat in the military.” The sweeping generalization of all women in this case is the fallacy. You cannot turn the fact that most women probably are weaker than most men into a universality in order to serve as support for an argument. What is true for some is not necessarily true for all. Tu quoque – The English translation of this means “you too”. It is an attempt to justify an act by forcing someone to acknowledge that they also committed the act. Tu quoque is another form of ad hominem. Example: “You claim that I made a false assertion. However, you did the same earlier.” Two wrongs don’t make a right, however. It doesn’t matter who else commits an act, it is done all the same. If something is wrong, the fact that someone else also commits that wrong is no justification for another doing so. The Straw Man – This argument uses an extreme end of a concept in an attempt to refute the concept as a whole. It utilizes a caricatured version of one’s actual argument in order to point out the absurdity of the argument as a whole. Example: “Some say safety is not at odds with profits, but this is untrue because some companies cut corners in order to save money.” Instead of commenting on the actual argument, that “safety is not at odds with profit”, this statement attempts to refute the entire argument by offering an exaggerated example. The fact that some arguments made for a policy are wrong does not imply that the policy itself is wrong. The Slippery Slope – The slippery slope argument can be a valid argument, but only when used properly. It is the presumption that allowing one thing will inevitably lead to the allowance of another. Example: “Legalizing Marijuana will undoubtedly lead to the legalization of harder drugs.” There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with using the slippery slope argument, unless it is used alone. B won’t necessarily happen because A happens. Without any explanation connecting the effect B with the supposed cause A, the slippery slope argument quickly falls flat. It can be used effectively, however. For example, you could argue that legalizing marijuana would cause more people to consider the use of mind-altering drugs acceptable, and those people will support more permissive drug policies across the board.




MrFancypants Forum Admin

The Bad

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7th December 2003

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#2 12 years ago

I'd like to see some discussion where all this is respected, but I fear it is rather unlikely.

I'd be happy if people would just post according to the Pub-rules. It'd make this forum much more fun to use. I continually see people making condescending posts because they think their opinion is so clearly superior - just try to respect other people. Even, or especially, if they have another point of view.

It doesn't make sense to laugh about people, to imply that they are stupid or to compare them to criminals if you start to think what you expect from this forum. If you want to learn something new, or share your experience and knowledge this is the right place for you. If you want to feel superior and harass people - go to the Melee.




Huffardo

Arrrr!

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29th November 2003

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#3 12 years ago

It would indeed be nice if people tried to follow those rules, but as MrFancypants pointed out, it is quite unlikely to happen.

I'm rather sure I do something against those rules every now and then (or perhaps all the time :p), and if someone would be kind enough to point out what it is I will try to improve my posting style.




colonel_bob

Here & There

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4th June 2004

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#4 12 years ago
LocomotorArgumentum ad ignorantiam – This is an argument to ignorance. This type of argument often pushes the idea that because something hasn’t been proven false, it must be true. The fact that something hasn’t been conclusively falsified does not necessarily prove that that something is true. Example: “The defendant has no alibi for the night of the murder and therefore must have committed the crime.” “Because there hasn’t been a discovery of any significant WMD stores in Iraq since the invasion, George Bush must have lied about them.” The issue here becomes apparent when the burden of proof is examined. In the case of a criminal trial, the burden of proof lies on the prosecutor, not the defendant. Just because no WMD have been found does not necessarily mean that George Bush actually lied about them. The burden of proof in this case lies with the accusers, not the accused.

This seems to happen alot in the Religious Discussion thread. Sometimes it gets annoying. Who votes to make this a sticky? :nodding:




Hypnotoad13

GF is my bext friend *hugs GF*

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6th January 2006

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#5 12 years ago
colonel_bobWho votes to make this a sticky? :nodding:

you have my vote




WarHawk109

From the Austrian School

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21st July 2003

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#6 12 years ago

Straw-man:

"I disagree with the welfare state"

"So you don't think poor people need help?"

Also, I see a lot of apeals to belief being made here.

"Most people think X is true, therefore X is true"




Aeroflot

I would die without GF

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2nd May 2003

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#7 12 years ago

Locomotor, have you been hanging around philosophy forums lately? Cause what you copied and pasted looks very familiar ;)




Locomotor

in spite of erosion

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#8 12 years ago

I did not copy and paste, thank you very much. I did get my information and Latin translations from this site, however. I wrote the descriptions, examples, etc myself. Had I copied and pasted, they'd be better. :)

I'd be all up for this being stickied, if the moderators felt it appropriate. It's not up to me, and I won't push for it.




Nostradamouse

The Arrogant French Prick

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5th December 2004

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#9 12 years ago
LocomotorArgumentum ad nauseam – Arguing to the point of disgust. This is usually an argument by repetition. Pushing a single idea over and over is most often completely ineffective. Example: Person 1: “Morals are absolute. You are either good or evil.” Person 2: “There are no absolutes. The cold hand of science has shown us that.” Person 1: “That is irrelevant, because morals are absolute.” The problem here should be self-explanatory. Without any explanation of why morals are absolute, Person 1 has no real argument. Stating his first claim a second time does not make his second any more valid.

Gosh I feel like I inspired you for that one. ;) But yea, I guess that respecting people we're debating with in this forum would be an advancement.




WarHawk109

From the Austrian School

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#10 12 years ago

teehee nostra, you know you are guilty of at least one of these. ;)