Some Basics for Intellectually Honest Discussion
In any discussion involving disagreement between two or more parties, in order for that discussion to actually accomplish something meaningful, I’ve noticed a few guidelines that should generally be observed for the discussion to successfully carry.
This is needed when what is desired is more than just flaming common message-board trolls, more than a bickering pissing contest or argument by assertion, when what is desired is willing agreement, agreement to disagree, or to clarify or elaborate on a previously asserted position.
Here are a few I find handy, and I expect these, under near ideal conditions, of those I argue with as well:
- Avoid using partisan-sounding loaded language, and try to be clear in your meaning if the goal is illumination, not obfuscation. Use of loaded language that appeals to ideologies and attitudes your interlocutor doesn’t share is inappropriate and may prevent them from seeing things ‘your way’ via a negative attitudinal reaction to your choice of words. Presentation is everything.
- Mind the soundness of your reasoning, and try to avoid committing obvious logical and rhetorical fallacies. This is even more important than pointing out such fallacies in your partner’s arguments, and if you cannot see the flaws in your own reasoning, he or she almost certainly can and will if so inclined and skilled.
- Avoid the use of cherry-picked quotes, factoids, or other data out of its proper context to support your point, and make sure your sources both pertain to the topic of discussion and support your case. Nothing is more embarrassing that quoting a source to shore up your point only to find out that it has nothing to do with what you said in its full context, or that it even outright contradicts your point.
- This should go with [3.] but is important on its own, too: Make sure your sources are reliably trustworthy and the information you use from them is factually correct. Check your facts — if you don’t, your argument partner will, and will call you on it if not.
- Address the argument made, and only the argument, not a straw-person caricature of the argument, and not the person making it, unless some circumstance both true and relevant to the argument warrants questioning its source. Insults and snark should be used as adjuncts to, not replacements for, strong or valid argument. Don’t be a dick unless the other person is as well, then, all bets are off and you may fire at will, Mr. Gridley.
- Respect your opponent. Showing respect for your argument partner’s/opponent’s personhood, rights, autonomy, intelligence, and perspective allows you to claim that same respect for yourself, and all of the previous guidelines rest upon this one.
- Be prepared to admit when you are shown wrong, allow yourself to be corrected, and move on. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more destructive to civil discourse than a dogmatic need for certainty, and nothing more tempting in our tumultuous, ever-changing world with metaphysical certitude’s siren song of absolute Truth™ calling to the unwary.
- Finally, and most importantly, know your own biases and consider how they may intrude on your objectivity: None of us are as objective as we think ourselves to be, but we can make ourselves more so if we know and account for our biases in our thinking and perspective. Typical examples are confirmation bias, selective thinking, the attribution error, the representativeness heuristic, the superiority bias, the availability error, and many, many others. I encourage you to read up on these and similar errors and shortcuts in thinking — you won’t be sorry that you did. Every one of us is skewed in our views, but by learning of and accounting for this, we are the wiser for it.
- Unreasonable Forms of Persuasion & Manipulation (ethicalrealism.wordpress.com)
- Introduction to Critical Thinking & Argument Mapping (ethicalrealism.wordpress.com)
- Fun with fallacies [infographic] (holykaw.alltop.com)
- Informal Fallacies: Fallacies of Relevance (ethicalrealism.wordpress.com)
- Hunting for Logical Fallacies in a Pod Delusion report (thethoughtstash.wordpress.com)
- Six Vintage-Inspired Animations on Critical Thinking (skillsservices.wordpress.com)
Posted on Friday, 0:10, June 1, 2012, in Logic/Philosophy and tagged Argument, Critical Thinking, Fallacy, Illusory superiority, Informal Logic, Philosophy of Logic, Straw Man, Validity. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.