A good argument


Sir, – Argument can be seen as a battle between opposing views, with victory the sole purpose, and aggression, invective, dissembling, and rhetorical tricks all fair means of achieving it.

Or argument can be a means of examining opposing views, with the opposed sides each seeking to gain an accurate grasp of the relevant facts, each willing to expose and challenge hidden premises wherever they are found, each committed to identifying and correcting invalid reasoning, and each hoping to arrive at a clear view of the question being discussed.

The former approach entrenches unexamined views, while the latter may bring opposed sides to a common understanding.

If our purpose is to score the most points, to gain a victory and inflict a defeat, then we have engaged in the ultimate lose-lose scenario.

Winning an argument in this fashion comes at the cost of failing to see the other’s point of view, and engendering further antipathy which sows the seeds of future discord.

If, on the other hand, we approach our disputes in an open spirit of inquiry, then even if our starting beliefs are very different, we still stand a good chance of convincing each other of the merits of our different positions: and if after all false arguments have been stripped away, our views remain irreconcilable, the mutual understanding that has developed by seeking to find the best expression of each other’s views creates a strong basis for us to agree to disagree.

In an increasingly crowded world, filled with conflicting ideas, there’s nothing like a good argument for settling our differences so we all get along, and nothing so common as bad arguments, argued for in bad faith, leading to no end of trouble. Imagine how different a debate on Brexit would be if achieving a clear and fair understanding of the different positions when each was stated as accurately and factually as possible was the agreed goal of the discussion. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.