If you want to take down somebody else’s argument, a certain familiarity with the nature of intellectual or philosophical (as opposed to playground) argument is required, so that you can construct your own counter-argument.  In an intellectual argument, the person putting forth an argument sets out a number of premises (statements of facts), which, when you add them together, at best makes it impossible for their conclusion to be false (deductive argument), or at least makes it much more likely that their conclusion is true (inductive argument).

If you want to show that somebody’s argument is wrongity wrong, there are two, and only two, tactics allowed:

  1. Show that at least one of the premises of the argument is untrue.
  2. Show that even if the premises of the argument are true, the conclusion does not follow logically and/or inductively.

Tactic #1 requires good research skills, including the ability to find good sources, and the consideration to provide links and references so that others can evaluate those sources.  Research does not include saying, “Well it’s never happened to me, and nobody whose opinion I consider valid has every described anything like this to me, therefore the person recounting their experience must be mistaken.”

Tactic #2 requires an understanding of formal logic and logical fallacies, as well as an understanding of inductive reasoning, for example, the scientific method and statistical inference.  Be sure you know what a Straw Man argument is, both so you don’t make one, and so you don’t go calling somebody else’s argument a straw man incorrectly.  Be familiar with Ad Hominem and Ad Hominem Tu Quoque fallacies, and again, refrain from using them, and don’t go accusing others of using them, unless you actually know what they are.  Understand that correlation does not equal causation, but that scientific research can still draw meaningful conclusions even if not all of it can meet the gold standard of perfectly-designed, randomly-assigned, double-blinded, longitudinal, etc etc etc experiments.

I know, I know… that’s a lot to ask of somebody who just wants to assert that their knee-jerk, market-wisdom-based, common-sense, status-quo-supporting opinion is Truth.  Especially since going through the work of checking facts and reading the research may prove you wrong, and then what do you do.

Advertisements