Posted On 25 Jul 2010
This arguing essay answers the question “Is it useful or not?”
The thesis that it is useful is based on the fact that intellectual progress occurs only when ideas clash.
In philosophy, the give and take of intellectual combat is the dialectic that originated with oral disputes in ancient Greece. In science, new ideas are always challenged, and the ones that don’t survive testing are junked. In a courtroom, the attorney for the prosecution presents interpretations that are challenged by the attorney for the defense, and the judge or jury decides which argument is closer to the truth.
The point is not that the clashing of ideas always yields truth. It doesn’t. The point is that it’s a common method for attempting to discover truth. So arguing is often thought to be useful in certain contexts. No arguing essay should ignore this.
Nevertheless, especially in encounters (relationships), clashing ideas does not have to be understood as arguing. There’s a better way. Never argue; instead, discuss.
Any arguing essay ought to consider the subject matter of arguments, namely, opinions.
Opinions (judgments, beliefs) are perspectives. Lacking omniscience, all human perspectives are partial. None of us has an impartial, objective understanding of reality.
Furthermore, our opinions are always temporal. We are able to change our minds. Even if we don’t, whether it’s for a long time or a short time, opinions that we hold are always held at a certain time. In that sense, they are temporary.
Also, they are relative to the person who holds them. Since reality is in incessant flux, we are always in the process of updating our understanding. Understanding is additive. Over time, opinions change because our understanding changes as circumstances change.
Problems proliferate when we become attached to our opinions. This is the central point of this arguing essay. Since the world is always changing, the more attached to our favorite static opinions we are, the more likely it is that those opinions will be false.
Fanatics are people who are most attached to their own opinions, and fanatics are fools. Having the courage of your convictions is having the courage of a fool.
By way of contrast, genuine philosophers, lovers of wisdom, regularly practice challenging their own opinions. Having the courage to challenge your own convictions is having the courage of a philosopher.
Suppose that you and I disagree about some issue. Contrast two attitudes.
First, I am attached to the idea that I am right and you are wrong. I assume that I’m smarter than you or that my evidence is better than your evidence. The more fanatical I am, the more I am predisposed to begin arguing with you. Why? I’m egocentric. Like all conflicts, arguments come from egocentricity.
Furthermore, if I challenge you, what are you likely to do? Because you’ll feel threatened, you’ll just stubbornly dig in and resist my attack. When was the last time someone argued you out of an important opinion?
Second, I am not attached to the idea that I am right and you are wrong. I am a philosopher rather than a fanatic. I assume only that our perspectives are different. I calmly tell you that my perspective differs from yours and suggest that there is probably some truth behind each of our perspectives. Why don’t we discuss it to try to find common ground that we can both accept?
Instead of perceiving this as a challenge, you should perceive it as an opportunity to develop our encounter. There’s no threat or conflict. Instead, we are both on the side of seeking the truth about the issue. Instead of provoking you to feel threatened, I’m enabling you to feel respected.
The conclusion of this arguing essay is that it’s better to prefer discussing to arguing.
In concrete situations, this isn’t always easy to do. Nevertheless, it’s why it is better to let go of arguing in favor of discussing.
Furthermore, it’s a concrete way of being less egotistical. Sages are successful philosophers, in other words, those who actually live well (as opposed to those who are still seeking to live well). This isn’t just a way of being more persuasive, it’s the way of sages.