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Old 04-29-2010, 06:11 PM
ZenitYerkes's Avatar
ZenitYerkes - Progress means expanding everyone's freedom
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Default The Way We (Should) Debate.

Let me begin saying that most of postures follow this scheme

Reality -> Observation (Facts) -> Interpretation (Opinions) -> Theorization (Theories&Reactions)
  • Facts: they are tangible elements happened in reality. In case of debating about facts, we should question when and where the information was taken in order to prove its relevance and rightness. It's the bare basis of a posture, the more true facts it includes, the easier it would be to defend it.

    EG: "John was murdered" is not the same as "John was murdered by a policeman because he tried to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London".

    Since the second one has more true facts in it (that also change completely the view we have on the event), we must choose it over the first one.

  • Opinions: they aren't tangible and are based on abstract concepts. And they depend greatly on the education given, the way of thinking every person has and the facts available to make an opinion. This leads to a situation in which several different postures raise from maybe a single event or fact. In this case it's important to take in count their relevance and the truth of the facts included in them.

    Following the previous example, a misinformed person would have deduced that he was a poor fellow that was killed by some bastard. A fully informed person instead would have seen John as a burglar. And another fully informed person would suggest the officer shouldn't have killed John. Thus we have three different postures: two that defend John and one that is against him.

    We completely take out the first one since the person is not fully informed. The second and the third are bearable and must be kept in the debate.

  • Theories and Reactions: they are schemes of action that take in count both opinions and facts, and suggest different ways to react to the event depending on previous cases, the current situation,... Again, we have to take care of choosing the most relevant to the point we're discussing and the rightest of them.

    The second posture we mentioned before would say "People like John should be severely punished, and our Jewels must have a higher security level"

    The third posture would answer "But there is no way burglars (who are persons after all) should be killed in order to protect any thing, a life is more worth than all the gold of this world; John should have been kept alive and sent to prison instead".

    Since both are valid, we take out the third (unfortunately for poor John): the most relevant to the case is the second one since this is not a human rights discussion. #3, you'd better make another thread for that.

The rightest posture, then, will be the one which has the highest amount of true facts and proofs to demonstrate them (a large basis), and the most elaborated opinions and theories; the one that's exclusively focused on the subject -or, if it includes external information, will immediately relate it to the event-; and also, the one that doesn't want to prove wrong the rest of postures taking as a reference itself (that would lead to a "I am right you are wrong"-like debate), but rather the truth, based in those facts.

The problem with debates most of the times is that most of people are misinformed by the media (that has already interpreted the information, leading to the adoption of "prefabricated" postures), or just discuss over and over again about opinions and theories without even questioning their basis ("How did you manage to think this way? What facts led you to?").

It's more important to contrast the real information before doing so with opinions and theories: misinformation leads to error.

I hope this made any kind of sense; I'm completely new in the philosophy business.
I love Plato, but I love Truth more - Aristotle

Last edited by ZenitYerkes; 04-29-2010 at 11:25 PM.
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:32 PM
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Toruk Makto, Admin
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Excellent post. Stuck.
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Old 04-30-2010, 06:36 AM
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I might add to this that oftentimes people attack each other when they really should be discussing the assumptions that the other person made with which they disagree. For example, John asserts "A is right." Jane says "John is a jerk for believing A." What John didn't say was "A is right if X is true." He just asserted A.

On the surface this is just simple ad hominem and nothing more. However, let's delve a little deeper into what could be causing this little outburst. John didn't clarify on what basis he held A to be true. Though Jane's attack is still invalid, she might have reacted differently should John have said "Assuming X is true, A." Now, let's say X is a dubious assumption. Run the scenario again, and have John be a little more forthcoming:
John: If X is true, A.
Jane: But X is not true, so A cannot be true based on X.

Now, A could still be true. However, if X is false it cannot justify A.

A little background on my debating style (people have seen it mostly in the thread about eating meat that showed up a month or two ago): I took a class in formal logic this summer. I'm not going to claim this makes me the be-all-end-all. I will say, however, that it improved my debating style in a very large way. The most important things I learned from it (and use here as well as other places including face-to-face ) are:
- State all of your assumptions. Even if you think "Oh that's obvious" it may not be so "obvious" to someone else. This is especially true with emotional/controversial topics. For example: "The [Obama] healthcare bill will reduce costs" is not as strong of an argument as "The healthcare bill will reduce costs because it reduces the number of people using the emergency room for free medical care."
- Mark opinions clearly. Many political pundits (and poor debaters) try to mix opinion with facts or observations to lend these opinions greater credibility. This is not only logically invalid in most cases, but it is also intellectually disingenuous.
- Avoid common fallacies. There's a whole list of fallacies on Wikipedia, but the ones most often used are probably "Affirming the consequent" and "Denying the antecedent." Valid logic follows this pattern:
Assume A is true. If A, B. A is true by assumption, so B is also true. This is modus ponens. Inversely, modus tollens allows us to reverse the situation. Assume B is false. If A, B. B is false by assumption, so we can infer not A.

Affirming the consequent is the mistake of assuming that if A is true and A implies B that B also implies A. This type of reverse relationship doesn't always work, in fact it often fails spectacularly. For example, "If it rains, the ground is wet" is true. However, inferring "The ground is wet, therefore it rained" is not valid logic.

Denying the antecedent is sort of the reverse. On the basis of A being true and A implying B, this fallacy involves using A being false to imply that B is also false, even though we only have A->B. For example, "If Quaritch is dead, Neytiri is alive" does not allow us to infer "If Quaritch is alive, Neytiri is dead."

The last fallacy takes many forms, but can be summed up as appeal to emotion. This doesn't mean emotions aren't important or should be ignored, it just means that one's feelings on the subject cannot be used as premises. Example: I feel eating meat is wrong, therefore eating meat is wrong. Strength of emotional or moral convictions alone cannot substantiate a formal argument.

The short version brings to mind the old quote "Small minds discuss people. Great minds discuss ideas." Don't go after people. Go after their assumptions. If one's premise(s) can be shown to be false, then the argument falls apart since in order to have a logically valid conclusion, one must have premises whose result is necessarily that conclusion.

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Old 04-30-2010, 07:11 AM
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Ikran Makto
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Ooh good. My post focuses on the fundamentals whereas yours focus on the specifics. You are a learned character Zenit, well done.
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