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Philosophy

How to Argue

This post is part of the series Argument and Dialectic

Other posts in this series:

  1. Fallacies of Language
  2. How to Argue (Current)

Now that I have finished discussing the basics of fallacies and have already discussed the importance and nature of argument and dialectic, we must move onward to discuss actual debates, discussions and conversations. All arguments and debates have four components. They all have a starting point, arguments, a problem and opponents. Understanding these things will greatly help in arguing well.

All arguments have a problem. A problem is a statement that is the description of the disagreement. For example, ” Should women be soldiers or not?” . All problems are stated as questions that can be answered by either yes or no. This is so that the statement correctly describes the disagreement between the two people. We should be objective and one way of doing so is correctly describing the difference of opinion without prejudice. If the answer is either yes or no, then one person must be right and the other must be wrong. If the answer is neither yes or no then the question cannot be asked at all. For example, the problem ” Are unicorn horns longer than one foot or not?” is senseless because unicorns do not exist. Assuming that the problem is ordinary though, the question will usually be fine.

All arguments also have opponents. All arguments must have one person who says yes to the problem and one person who says no. It is possible for someone to argue with themselves, but this does not happen in the ordinary course of arguments.

All arguments have arguments. Individual arguments are reasons particular people have that are the reasons why they believe their position. Each person in an argument will have a reason to believe their side of the argument. Let’ s consider the first example I mentioned. One side might claim that women should be allowed to be soldiers because at least some women can reach the requirements (apart from maleness) of being a soldier. The requirements of being a soldier all have good reasons behind them having to do with the nature of the activity. Maleness lacks such a reason. Therefore, women should be permitted to be soldiers. These particular sentences when put together are arguments. They form a reason for a ” yes” answer to the problem.

Finally, all arguments have starting points. Arguments are intended to change your beliefs. Therefore, they must start with something that you already believe. Not only that, but you must have more reason to believe the starting point than you do your own position on the matter. That is why my example argument above started from commonsense ideas. This is what everyone already has strong reasons to believe. If we start from there, we will be much more likely to convince others. We will also have a better argument than if we start elsewhere.

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