Thursday, October 20, 2005

Arguments vs. Discussions

I was on NZ philosophy discussing philosophy (of course) when I apparently found myself within an argument with a person named Patrick.

I raised the question that the debate was not going anywhere in as far as Patrick "saw it as a way of scoring points in some theoretical game."
To which he responds "Isn't that what an argument is? A "theoretical game"?"

The latter I guess is correct in a sense but it doesn’t have to be the sort of game where one scores points nor does it have to be an argument.

The implications of having such system is that you and the other party enter a discussion trying to "win" and get the other side to believe, or act as if they believe what you believe (or possibly a third party).

The problem of course is that if you enter the debate in this frame of mind you are not very likely to learn anything yourself - and neither is the other person. In fact you may end up forgetting things you already knew. This is probably evident in our discussion that Patrick stopped really listening to what I was saying because he was arguing as opposed to discussing.

My approach to debates is
1) Never take anything personally, if the other person insults you or tries to turn the discussion into an argument the easiest thing to do is to just fail to take on board the insult.
For example if a person uses a world like "immature" there are two aspects to it - the first is "to have the traits of youth" and a second part "that youth is bad" (particularly interesting when youth use it)
This word is often used by parents as a generic insult to a child who does anything they don’t want them to do and few people can put their finger on specifically what it means. This means that it is wise to treat the second part of the word as meaningless and take the first part as something to consider with all the other available information.
It seems odd to me to call anything other than "nah nah na nya" immature.

2) never get too uptight about "wining" people on the net usually have fairly fixed positions - you will only make yourself depressed if you care too much about that - the debate needs to be a learning experience or at least cathartic. Anyway surely one wants to find the correct answer as opposed to being very sucesful about convincing peopel of somthing that is outright wrong.

3) If you get the urge to try to hurt the other party step back and ask yourself exactly how is that going to help you? Usually it is jsut your anti-social side coming out - and of course any social advise like this is going to reject that.

I believe that arguments are fundamentally inferior forms of discussion (I also oppose the adversarial judicial system and that at least has rules) and only result in a sort of an arms race that ends in people hitting each other.


Blogger Era said...

Interesting point. I put philosophical discussions into one of a few different types. There are those encounters in which you simply have no common ground between you and whomever you are talking to. The view devout post-modern types I've talked to fall in here, and I find the discussion a complete waste of time. Then there are those with a sort of mainstream view on something. It makes for interesting debate, but I find most arguments to be familiar and rehearsed. Then there are those ones where you agree with someone down to one point, which you both have opposite opinions on. It can be fun sorting out the nitty gritty of ones own views, and I find this is often when it happens. And finally there are those kind of fun ones when the topic is new to both of you and you kind of just explore the possibilities. So I think my approach to debates really depends on the context. I'm rather looking forward to discussion over at my blog, I’m hoping most of it will take the forms of the more enjoyable types of debate. Just need to get through this last week of honors then its all go. I probably ought to mention that over there actually…

9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is an argument? That's such a massive question. Perhaps a simple definition could be 'attempting to change an opinion', which allows for arguing with yourself. There's any number of way of arguing, ranging from words to actions. A strong argument that it's time to run is when everyone else runs, for instance.

Philosophical arguments are a small subset of arguments, and have traditionally followed conventions of using language and logic. Language is easy, logic is easy. But the connection between them is very hard, which is why you can't have a fruitful philosophical argument with your computer yet.

I can't say I agree with the idea that some kinds of verbal arguments should be legislated against. Better is to argue against them. Physical arguments are a different matter.

Cheers, Ben Wilson

2:31 PM  
Blogger Genius said...

I look forward to it too - think you do need to make a note too !


My point to an extent is that if you are interested in the truth (which you presumably mut be to some extent to be worth talking to at all) then you should be trying to make the other person see the CORRECT point of view you may THINK that is your point of view but there is no point getting personal and hating the person if you start to loose.

there may be sub goals to this task such as getting them to understand your point of view (so that they can reject or accept it)

> I can't say I agree with the idea that some kinds of verbal arguments should be legislated against. Better is to argue against them. Physical arguments are a different matter.

Well I am arguing against them here. but we do "legisate" against certain actions at a social level in a similar way to I would be argued against if I ran around town yelling "niggers!" or "black people are sub human!"

In that regard certain types of clearly anti social activities should be immdiatly recognised as such as opposed to being acceptable in some sort of a "no holds bared" atempt at achiving ones own goals.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about this subject a lot lately. I think that we are living in a time when people feel definsive, questions are often seen as confrontational and attempts to discuss something are seen as something to cut it off with things like "I don't want to argue with you."

I think it comes a lot from people, at present and I feel more then ever sad to say, don't want to admit there mistakes and feel very protectionistic(is that word?)

I am going to write more about an experience that I had recently on my blog which is

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Over the last few years, am 72, I have tried to just make my coments on a subject and not ask the other person(s) what he/she thinks.

I also try not to ask "why?.

It isn't a perfect system but people I have known for some time do the same with me.

I spent a great deal of my life arguing and usually without suffiecient information or for that matter accurate infortmation.

I like this business of sharing and discussing rather than arguing.


11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that discussions are far more productive than arguments. For this reason I am concerned about our political system in which millions of voters base their decision on months of watching candidates argue so rigidly that the 'flip-flopper' is one of the worst things a candidate can be called.

Let us all start a discussion about forming a massively collaborative direct democracy in which discussions based on facts directly guide our legislative process.

6:20 AM  

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