In my 20+ years of of experience making serious arguments, it seems to me that I have gotten better at it, while society has gotten worse. Here are some basic guidelines I’ve learned.
The basic unstated rules of arguing are to share truthful and verifiable information that either provides evidence for an argument or basic premise, or disproves the opposing side’s argument or basic premise.
This of course, also presupposes that people think that truth is important, and that truth matters. In point of fact, truth does not matter to many people. Many people consider power, or money, or pride, or other things to be far more important than truth, and they will happily lie to hold on to power and money, or protect their pride.
Thus, a second reason to argue is to expose the lies of the people who prefer money or power over truth.
Exposing a lie is the same thing as disproving an argument. This usually consists of showcasing a person caught saying two contradictory things, or two things that cannot both be true because one statement contradicts another statement. Or it consists of a person saying something contrary to known verifiable facts that are not seriously in dispute.
Liars therefore love to falsely claim that their assumptions are not in serious dispute. For example, they will say there is a global consensus when there is not, or say that “everyone believes” when everyone does not believe.
A third reason to argue is to educate yourself, and others. It may appear as if you are trying to convince the person you are arguing with to change their mind, but that might not ever happen, and that’s ok. Even if they don’t change their minds, you can expose their lies, expose the weakness of their arguments, and expose that they have no answers for truthful challenges to their position. This then can be useful information to share with others. You will also learn how to make your best arguments faster, and this ultimately lead to others supporting your position.
There are various rules about the details of how to argue. Some of these are lies.
For example, consider the “no name calling rule”. This rule is supposed to keep the debate “civil”. However, the entire point of arguing is to showcase which arguments are better than others, and in this process, often times, some arguments are showcased to be lies. Showing an argument as a lie is the same thing, in essence, as calling someone a liar, because you just proved that they lied. And that is name calling. Name calling is not only appropriate, but is the entire point of arguing in the first place. But it is not the starting point, it is the ending point. A “no name calling rule” is inherently hypocritical. For if someone else calls you a “name caller” that is just another form of name calling. Jesus engaged in name calling in Matthew 23. He called the religious leaders hypocrites seven times.
What is particularly challenging about things these days, is that many media companies now try to ban name calling, moral comparisons, attempts to make others feel “less than”, and of course, they apply all these policies hypocritically and primarily against conservatives.
Consider also the “make no appeals to authority” rule. Supposedly, we are not supposed to appeal to authority. Well, yes, and no. Yes, some people in authority often lie, because they are trying to hold on to power or money. But arguments that appeal to facts are often arguments backed by authoritative arguments, or facts that authorities have gathered, facts that end up contradicting the authority in the first place. But if you are arguing in math, or arguing with logic, then of course you have to appeal to the authority of the rules of math, or the authoritative rules of logic. If you are arguing what scripture says, then you have to make the appeal to the authority of scripture. A “no appeals to authority” rule is inherently hypocritical. For it is actually making an appeal to the authority of a list of rules, made my some authority.
One of the most common mistakes I see in arguments, a common form of lies, are false accusations about a person. People who get upset, because their position is exposed as a lie, generally try to retaliate and expose the other person as a liar, too. So they skip the entire “evidence” part of arguing, and move to just straight out lying about their opponent. They will seek to dig up any dirt whatsoever, and then magnify it. The truth is that all humans make mistakes. Thus, there is dirt on everybody. But dirt on a person, or mistakes a person has made, do not discredit actual evidence, nor make invalid an argument presented, which stands or falls on its own merits. I like to point out, even if a murderer says 2+2=4, then 2+2=4 still remains true. The slanderers have no comeback for this, of course.
Two other big problems I see in debates or arguments today is a lack of grace. People seldom say “thank you” when they are given good information they did not know about from the other side. Another failure is that people seldom admit they were wrong, and that they should reconsider the issue. Personally, I believe that since one of the major reasons to argue is to learn, it should be considered a success if, when arguing, the other person shows us that we are wrong. There is good in that. Because we have the ability to change our minds, and then be right.
The final bit of advice I would give when arguing is that when you know you are right, try not to rush it. Don’t be stressed out. Try to gently help the other person get to the point where they see the contradictions in their logic. One of the ways to do this is to restate their argument as best as you can without trying to slam dunk it at the same moment. Maybe even re state their argument better than they are saying it. Just let them know you hear their main point. After they agree you heard their position, then let them know why you can’t believe it, because of these other points, facts, and arguments that don’t line up.
What are some of your favorite topics to argue about?