The art of arguing

Hello all. I have been thinking about this for a while. while I am not an expert in anyway, however i think the number of arguments and the variety of people  I argued with through my life and my analytical perspective in life enable me to create a semi-good list of do’s and don’ts that are essential for any PRODUCTIVE argument. I will try to list them here and explain them. I am really interested in any agreements or disagreements with them.

1: Check your intention
Many times I have seen myself and other people going into an argument to prove that my theory/opinion is the correct one. That’s NOT why we argue. The beneficial aspect of arguing is reaching the correct answer. By nature people hate to lose, and since arguing is considered an art, people hate to “lose” and be convinced by the other person. I know i noticed this in myself that i sometimes present an argument that i know the counter to but i say it anyway in the hope that the other party doesn’t know the counter. this way i will win the argument in public, even though i know in my mind that the argument i presented is weak and counter-able. So before you start an argument, be ready to be convinced by the other person’s opinion.

2:Check the other person’s intention
This is similar to the first one, but it is a bit more tricky for two reasons. First it requires more experience/skill to recognize what is the other person’s intention. The second reason, which is more complicated, that EVEN if the other party is arguing for the wrong reason(s), you can still benefit from his arguments, either by being convinced by them, or at least by knowing what arguments people on the other side use and believe in.

Another thing you need to recognize in other people is that sometimes people argue against something not because they have proof that it is right, but because once upon a time they were hurt by that aspect so they are now fully against it. I would guess most of us seen that in religion and how for example if some people were robbed from their freedom by their parents who claim that’s religion and how these oppressed people become fully against religion. To spot such people i noticed the best way is to count how often they use examples. Many of their arguments will start with “One time i met/saw someone/something doing your way and he/she/it was very bad person/thing”. For those people it is usually a dead-end argument and it might be a very good idea to just stop the arguing and simply listen to them venting.

I will go over using examples in arguments and their strengths and weaknesses, but in general, examples alone are not enough to prove theoretical points, they are more geared to prove practical/realistic points.

3:Declare your stance
It is scary the number of times I witnessed two people arguing AGAINST each other, but for the SAME side. You would think this is an easy point to notice, but it isn’t. Many times people use specific words to describe their position. This causes the other side to think that the first party is against them JUST because they used different set of words to describe the same argument. PLEASE PLEASE notice this as fast as possible and announce it explicitly “we are agreeing with each other” and stop the useless argument from continuing. The best way to notice this by LISTENING to the other side and understanding what they mean rather than ONLY thinking about the literary meaning of their sentences . again go back to point 1, we are arguing to find the correct answer, not to show our skill in arguing or in choosing words.

4: Define what you are arguing about
It is inevitable that argument shift around once it starts. so make sure at ANY single moment that you and the other side know exactly what you are trying to prove. I found it very very useful to announce what you are trying to prove before you present your argument. Example, say “I am trying to prove that flying can be considered part of teleportation; because if i can teleport, i can practically fly by continuously teleporting upward”. This argument could have started from “which is better, teleportation or flying”. The example i presented doesn’t necessarily prove that teleportation is better than flying, it only proves that flying can be done through multiple teleportations, there is a subtle difference.To “win” an argument, you need your opponent to agree on smaller points before jumping to the main point. So you need to make sure the other side agrees to the example you presented BEFORE claiming or jumping to another point. Again announce agreements when they happen, or ask for it explicitly. say, “do you agree that if i can teleport then i can fly?” the answer might surprise you.

So every now and then, take a step back and figure out what you or the other side are trying to prove at that specific moment. Because that’s when people usually argue against each other even though they are on the same side. They started on the opposite sides, but with the shift they became on the same side, but neither side realized that because they are both focused on the whole war rather this specific battle.

5: Define expressions and words
This is really important as well. Many words we use in our life have very stretchy meaning such as terrorist, religious, idiot, smart, rich, generous…etc. Basically any qualitative characteristic is not defined clearly and can easily differ in meaning between two people. So before you argue whether America is a Christian country or not, define what does “Christian country” mean. You will be surprised of how many arguments are solved by agreeing on a definition. Many times i saw arguments of two people who in meaning agree with each other, but since they both have different definition they continue to argue. it happened to me several times before i learned how to detect it.

6:The use of examples
As i have stated before, you need to be careful with the use of examples. Some arguments can only be proved by examples, others it do nothing to mention examples. Proving observations or practicality of something can be proved by examples. If someone claimed that older people don’t enjoy roller coasters. Mentioning the people who you know who are old and hate roller coaster can help you. To disprove this, you will need examples as well. Now there is a common mistake thinking that in practical world you only need ONE counter example to disprove a theory. Unlike math and pure logic languages, real life theories don’t have to be true all the time to be true. It is sufficient to be true most of the time. so if 10 old people hate roller coasters while only 2 liked it. then this shows that the initial theory that old people hate roller coaster is correct.

When discussing logical reasons behind observation, then examples start losing its strength. Like if someone said the reason old people hate roller coasters because the older brains get dizzy easier. Then you have to prove scientifically that is true. Saying that my grandpa said so doesn’t really prove that point since self observations are really inaccurate. It is a tricky line, but i hope i conveyed the general idea. I have to mention one more extremely common example. if someone discussing a religion, mentioning examples doesn’t help at all. Religion doesn’t control the actions of the followers. Examples can’t prove theoretical or logical points like religion or math or any scientific explanation. they can, however, prove that religious people act specific way.

Another important point in examples, that when you mention an example to clarify a specific point by analogy, you are NOT allowed to discuss a different aspects of the example. For example, if you say “this homework is as easy as getting candy from a kid”. The other party is NOT allowed to respond with “But the the kid already licked the candy, so it will make you sick, same thing the homework will make you sick”. I know this is not the best example, but the idea is, the example was mentioned to describe the easiness of the task, you cannot use other aspects of the same analogy. Actually it is strongly recommended to not discuss any part of the analogy/example. After all it was mentioned to clarify a point, not to change the discussion point.

7:Your self observation is usually wrong
This is more specific for arguments about some characteristic you do or do not have. For example if someone said you look fat. You can’t counter this argument by telling them your BMI is not bad, or you are big boned. Same thing goes if someone claimed that you get angry fast. You can’t consider your self-observation as part of the argument because those characteristics BY DEFINITION depends on other people’s perspective of you. So if people say you look fat, then you do look fat. The only valid way to counter this by asking other people. In general, humans are pretty bad at evaluating themselves accurately so be accepting for other people’s criticism.

8: Believe others
To have a useful argument, you HAVE to assume that the person in front of you is not lying or idiot. For example, if someone said “i checked this site and it says the show starts at 8:00” but you checked it as well and it said 7:00. you can’t assume that you are right just because the information came from you. If you reach a deadlock in such arguments, then STOP IT. You can’t prove the site said 7:00 without checking it again. Assuming that the other guy is mistaken because you trust your own eyes more than his is NOT a valid reasoning at all. Same thing with logic, you need to assume that the other person knows what he is talking about to have a constructive argument, otherwise you will never accept any information he conveys if you think he is an idiot thus useless argument.

9:Recognize a deadlock
Not every argument need to be settled. Actually most things in life do NOT have one correct answer. You are ALLOWED to disagree with another person and both be correct. Not everything is black and white. The trick is to know exactly where the difference is and then announce that point as the main difference point, and it cannot be settled then stop arguing. If two people trying to compare what is better, running or biking as a sports. You can mention many points for each, but it might hang on which is funner to do, running or biking and if that was the difference point, then you are in a deadlock and the argument NEED to be stopped immediately even though both sides are correct. There is no right answer of which is funner. I have seen people trying to argue about opinionated points. That’s just wrong. Opinions don’t have right and wrong. It is always better to define words by quantitative values to avoid such issues like “which burns more calories if done for the same specific of time, biking or running”.

That’s the points that i can think of for now. if i thought of any other important points i might add them later. I skipped all the common knowledge points like, don’t insult the other person, don’t belittle the other opinion, listen to the other argument before responding, don’t be defensive and don’t take it personally or scream …etc. I thought those are well known and pretty intuitive.

If you disagree with some of those points or you think you have a useful addition, please share it with us. i am interested to see what other thinks about these.


8 thoughts on “The art of arguing

  1. Brilliant post! i can really use this post to better myself in arguments, i usually fail at it because i deviate from the original point to sub arguments ( the candy from a kid example).

    i could use some practice arguments with you if we ever meet in jordan again 😉

  2. I will stick to honesty.

    This was a total waste of my time, and probably yours. 😀 I believe that any non-ignorant person who reaches 20 years of age will have noticed these points by himself/herself. Don’t you think?

    The Believe the other side point didn’t make much sense. However, I do see the idea behind it. This isn’t really compatible with arrognats or double-checkers.

    I believe that we need to write a manual on how to win a discussion, regardless of whether you’re right or wrong. That is an aspect that I’ve been far more interested in and I feel I have actively noticed improvements in to the moment, i.e you never seem to master it. Trickery, psychological influences and cunning seem to play a major part rather than solid facts. Would you consider helping me assemble hints?

    1. NO, i won;t help you assemble that. that’s why i wrote this post. I most definitely don’t think this post was a waste of time. I can see, however, from your comment that it was waste for your time. But as almost everything, it is not meant for everybody.

      By the way, i am POSITIVE not everyone really knows these points well enough to use them during argument. they are intuitive points, but in the heat of arguments, people don’t think rationally enough. same idea if you asked a person “what would u do if this happen to you?” many will provide an answer much different than their real action. not because they are lying, but because their logic is different once u r in the situation.

      Again, i am not interested in winning more discussions. Doing so will reduce the amount of correct information in my system and i do not have any useful reason to reduce the correctness of my information.

      1. You are 100% correct when you say that we can’t summon all these points into our active consciousness when we are in the middle of an argument. Still, I’m casting my own doubts over the fact that labelling these points will aid people in doing so. I’m sorry for my use of harsh language. It was just a teaser. You’re a big boy, you understand 😛

        Winning an argument for the sake of winning isn’t always the wrong thing to do. In addition, you can muster these steps to help yourself win an argument in which you have the correct point of view but still do not possess the tools to win it fairly. I know I’m not one to mention the last point 🙂 but these techniques can be put to good use.

        Anyways, I believe spelling them in front of those I argue with most of the time will leave me exposed to distrust when using them.

        1. I am not upset by the language, i appreciate honesty.

          On this point “in addition, you can muster these steps to help yourself win an argument in which you have the correct point of view but still do not possess the tools to win it fairly”
          I think going into an argument thinking/knowing you are right is a mistake in the first place. What is the point if i win an argument by deceiving the other. the idea of argument to convince the other, not to make him shut up. Not every argument has practical use.

          I guess we have different point of views. You think winning an argument is a plus, i see it as a hollow worthless thing to stroke the self ego(My ego is big enough, maybe too big already).

          About whether stating these things out loud would help people or not. i don’t really know. i think it would, but this require practical results which neither of us posses.

        2. Another point. In general nobody thinks they are wrong, because if they think that, then they would’ve changed their opinion. Saying this, then everybody (almost) comes to arguments thinking that they are right, so if we went through your idea, we will never find out when we are wrong.

          So tell me, what is the best way to realize that you are wrong? My answer was to not assume you are 100% correct and be mentally ready to accept the other opinion( which is illustrated by this post), so what is your way of realizing when you are wrong?

          You say “help yourself win an argument in which you have the correct point of view”. How you can be sure that your opinion is the correct one? if you have a legit reasoning, then you should be able to convey it through normal techniques. If your reason is not bulletproof, then you shouldn’t assume it is absolutely correct.

      1. Well, I haven’t read any particular tips presented by academics on this subject but believe you me, there are things that would sound stupid on paper that can wreak mental havoc upon your opponents

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