Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Your mother was a hamster

07:30:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device , , , , No comments
This week's theme is 'stupid arguments'.   Stupid arguments are, I suppose, those which are not logically defensible.  Logical fallacies with exciting names (and confusing explanations) such as the Straw Man Fallacy, the Masked Man Fallacy or Misleading Vividness exist purely, in my opinon, to detract from the real nitty gritty arguments and instead turn a lively, hot-headed debate into a potentially violent incident.

What this terminology represents is the long and dedicated work of many individuals who refuse to be proven wrong.  They are so determined that they will come out on top that they have come up with long lists of words to show everyone else how wrong they are.  Any sort of reasoning which is based on emotions is immediately ruled out (Appeal to Emotions) as is any argument which is based on a perceived natural order (Naturalistic Fallacy).  There's Godwin's Law to prevent anyone from ever comparing another's argument to Hitler or Nazism.  And if you consider the way you see the world to be the way it actually exists, well, that's the Mind Projection Fallacy.

But to argue implies disagreement.  And disagreements frequently incur emotional charges.  Most of us, when we argue, do so with the intention of coming out on top.  We don't enter into an argument with the expectation that the other side will show us the error of our ways.  Arguments are competitive by nature, not pedagogical. 

So perhaps it's time we put the fallacies aside.  They are, after all, just another way for one person to claim supremacy over another.  Daniel Dennett has written about the nature of argument and in his book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, he sets out four rules for constructive criticism which can lead to discussion rather than argument:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

I think this list is particularly useful because I know that by the time I'd completed the first three steps, I will have forgotten what I intended to criticize. 

In essense, all arguments are stupid.  If you walk through that door, you should know that the fish are ruddy herrings, that proof is a burden and the men are made of something resembling straw.