How to Make a Good Argument
Start Here – How to Make a Good Argument [The Pat Flynn Show]
Then Read This – 3 Steps to Having a Productive Online Argument
There are three questions you should always ask yourself before presenting an argument, and particularly before presenting an argument on any topics pertaining to fitness, religion, or politics:
Am I telling the truth? (Or at least, am I not lying?)
Am I being helpful? (Or at least, am I not being annoying?)
Have I thought my position through?
In the first case, it’s often very difficult to know if you’re telling the truth. Because while I believe there are things about the universe that are objectively true, I also believe it is one of the hardest things in the universe to know what those objective truths are. So, in most cases, the best you can do is say what you believe to be true, not what you know to be true. In other words, to not be lying.
Second, some arguments may be true, but also unhelpful. For example, it’s true to say that 2 + 2 = 4, but saying so doesn’t add anything to a discussion about how to make chocolate chip banana pancakes, typically. Thus spouting truths of an irrelevant nature causes you to look more like a cartoon character than an intellectual; like Ed from Ed, Edd, who in one episode answered every question with the statement that a horse is a horse. Yes, *technically* that’s true. Very good Ed! But it’s not remotely relevant to the discussion at hand. Yet, is this not so often how people act when arguing online, as if their tired and monotonous truism actually meant something? Think here of someone lunging breathlessly at any opportunity to answer a fitness question with the response, “eat less, move more.” Heroes, all of them.
Third, have you considered all the objections to your point of view? Have you brought your assertion through as much context as possible to see how well it can withstand scrutiny? Today, as another example, someone in a Facebook group said stretching is a waste of time. Oh, is it, now? But I don’t know, man, to me this just doesn’t sound like someone who’s thought their position over very much, even if they believe they’re telling the truth. Because I can think of a few instances where stretching is certainly not a waste of time. For example: Maybe I like stretching; maybe stretching makes me happy. So unless by waste of time this person was promoting something like, say, nihilism, whereby everything would be a waste of time, including his assertion, and including him–which makes you wonder why he bothered to assert it in the first place–his statement is annoying at best, misleading at worst.
Now here’s why any of this matters. Because bad arguments lead to people doing unreasonable things. And beyond that, a lack of ability to engage in argument at all leads to people relying on violence, rather than conversation, to advance an idea. So either we have argument or we have knives and guns and bombs. I would prefer to have argument. Not because I’m better at argument, but because I know a gun is much more likely to convince me otherwise, even when I believe I am right.
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