Argument

Critical Thinking by Adam on 2009-06-20 08:35

The word “argument” has a fairly specific meaning, yet we’re often conditioned to think of its negative connotations - husband and wife hurling dishes at each other, yelling and emoting, no real communication going on.

At another extreme is what critical thinking defines as an argument: an assertion based on a premise. This has nothing to do with people or emotions, but is a tool of logic and communication.

Thomas Jefferson purportedly would not abide in-person arguing. He had a rule for dinner guests: they may state their position, then he would state his, and then they would drop the subject. He felt that back-and-forth discussion was fruitless: it never changed anyone’s mind, only further entrenched the preexisting beliefs of the arguers.

I disagree with Jefferson on this point. In-person argument is extremely healthy, done right.

The key to accomplishing healthy debate - as opposed to unhealthy quarreling - is that the advocates for each side have to avoid feeling personally tied to the point they are arguing. The arguers have to be free to critically attack the other position with full force. For a position to prove its merit, it must pass the gauntlet presented by a skilled, informed, and highly critical devil’s advocate.

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