DEBATE IS IMPORTANT
We live in a world which believes to have an uninformed opinion qualifies them to speak, and speak loud. But how do we know what is what when freedom of speach is all around us. Because more than any time in human history we have the ability to express to a larger public, outside our block our opinions. Now to have an opinion one must prepared to have that opinion challenged. And the art of challenging is a method of verification of the veracity of the quality of the opinion offered. And it is very important for the development of a society where laws, ethics, attitudes determine the quality of life and our very humanity. If the opinion that slavery is okay is put forward, it is our human duty to counter it on an intellectual level. We must therefore be very serious about how we treat information for the health of a society. Our advancement is tied to having quality debates to determine which course of action is best.
IS IT A DEBATE?
Do you know how to present an argument? Well if you are like 99% of the planet that means no you do not. What people consider a debate is really just a battle of opinions. For example you say 9/11 was a hoax and someone replies, “I cannot believe you believe that nonsense”. or someone says “The ancient Egyptians were African people” and someone replies “No they were not black”. The responses are not counterarguments. T
hey are counter-opinions. If someone said “I believe in God” and you said “You believe in invisible make believe people” you have not discredited either my belief, or my statement: You just offered yours. It is not a debate because nothing has been offered in way of a constructive discussion. And this is all people on YouTube and social media are doing when they engage each other. Rather pointless because a debate is an exchange of information, a critique of points and assumptions, a challenge of facts and how they are used. And very few people get even remotely close to doing this.
Paul Graham, a computer specialist, came up with a wonderful hierarchy of disagreement which structures different ways people respond to a position. Below is
This is the lowest form of disagreement, and probably also the most common. We’ve all seen comments like this:
u r an idiot, you do not know what you are talking about!!!!!!!!!!
But it’s important to realize that more articulate name-calling has just as little weight. A comment like
The author is a self-important dilettante.
is really nothing more than a pretentious version of “u r an idiot, you do not know what you are talking about.”
DH1. Ad Hominem.
An ad hominem attack is not quite as weak as mere name-calling. It might actually carry some weight. For example, if a senator wrote an article saying senators’ salaries should be increased, one could respond:
Of course he would say that. He’s a senator.
This wouldn’t refute the author’s argument, but it may at least be relevant to the case. It’s still a very weak form of disagreement, though. If there’s something wrong with the senator’s argument, you should say what it is; and if there isn’t, what difference does it make that he’s a senator?
Saying that an author lacks the authority to write about a topic is a variant of ad hominem—and a particularly useless sort, because good ideas often come from outsiders. The question is whether the author is correct or not. If his lack of authority caused him to make mistakes, point those out. And if it didn’t, it’s not a problem.
DH2. Responding to Tone.
The next level up we start to see responses to the writing, rather than the writer. The lowest form of these is to disagree with the author’s tone. E.g.
I can’t believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion.
Though better than attacking the author, this is still a weak form of disagreement. It matters much more whether the author is wrong or right than what his tone is. Especially since tone is so hard to judge. Someone who has a chip on their shoulder about some topic might be offended by a tone that to other readers seemed neutral.
So if the worst thing you can say about something is to criticize its tone, you’re not saying much. Is the author flippant, but correct? Better that than grave and wrong. And if the author is incorrect somewhere, say where.
In this stage we finally get responses to what was said, rather than how or by whom. The lowest form of response to an argument is simply to state the opposing case, with little or no supporting evidence.
This is often combined with DH2 statements, as in:
I can’t believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion. Intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory.
Contradiction can sometimes have some weight. Sometimes merely seeing the opposing case stated explicitly is enough to see that it’s right. But usually evidence will help.
At level 4 we reach the first form of convincing disagreement: counterargument. Forms up to this point can usually be ignored as proving nothing. Counterargument might prove something. The problem is, it’s hard to say exactly what.
Counterargument is contradiction plus reasoning and/or evidence. When aimed squarely at the original argument, it can be convincing. But unfortunately it’s common for counterarguments to be aimed at something slightly different. More often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are actually arguing about two different things. Sometimes they even agree with one another, but are so caught up in their squabble they don’t realize it.
There could be a legitimate reason for arguing against something slightly different from what the original author said: when you feel they missed the heart of the matter. But when you do that, you should say explicitly you’re doing it.
The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation. It’s also the rarest, because it’s the most work. Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that the higher you go the fewer instances you find.
To refute someone you probably have to quote them. You have to find a “smoking gun,” a passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it’s mistaken. If you can’t find an actual quote to disagree with, you may be arguing with a straw man.
While refutation generally entails quoting, quoting doesn’t necessarily imply refutation. Some writers quote parts of things they disagree with to give the appearance of legitimate refutation, then follow with a response as low as DH3 or even DH0.
DH6. Refuting the Central Point.
The force of a refutation depends on what you refute. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone’s central point.
Even as high as DH5 we still sometimes see deliberate dishonesty, as when someone picks out minor points of an argument and refutes those. Sometimes the spirit in which this is done makes it more of a sophisticated form of ad hominem than actual refutation. For example, correcting someone’s grammar, or harping on minor mistakes in names or numbers. Unless the opposing argument actually depends on such things, the only purpose of correcting them is to discredit one’s opponent.
Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point, or at least one of them. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is. So a truly effective refutation would look like:
The author’s main point seems to be x. As he says:
But this is wrong for the following reasons…
The quotation you point out as mistaken need not be the actual statement of the author’s main point. It’s enough to refute something it depends upon.
The way we like to approach any discussion is by setting up a platform from which to start the discussion. And this is very important when you are dealing with a very diverse group of people. And the thing about people, normal everyday people, is they are not critical thinkers. So someone that is White generally can see the entire world in spheres of Whiteness, even how they see us is relative to their whiteness. Religious Zealots see only their version of religion in everything. So much so that after telling them you do not believe in their book, they still using it as the bases of their arguments. “But the books says…” Did I just not tell you I believe in your book? — Anyway. So for us all debates/discussions must have a purpose and that purpose is part of the foundation we like to set-up before wasting our time discussing something.