PHIL 323 / INDS 323
The University of Arizona
Why would you want to do it better?
How you can do it better.
by Elizabeth Willott
You want some thing or state of affairs. Generally, to get that, you need to negotiate with other people. Improving your communication skills, i.e., improving your arguing skills, will help. So, to get what you want is one reason for arguing. Other reasons to argue are to find out what you believe and what other people believe and why.
Note: getting what you want does not have to be about strictly selfish wantsYou may want your spouse/friend/relative to understand you better, or you to understand them better; your children to examine their own beliefs and make their own decisions; etc.
A Good Argument:
1. Shows what position a person holds
2. Allows others to present their point of view
3. Helps arguers reach and understand new views and reasons for those views
4. Does not stomp on people
A key reference for these notes is Michael A. Gilberts How to Win an Argument: Surefire strategies for getting your point across, 2nd edition, 1996, New York, John Wiley, 194 p.
Michael Gilbert writes,
Are there reasons NOT to become a better arguer?
Some people use argument skills to browbeat others. However, this isnt a necessary consequence of learning to become a better arguerthis is abuse of the learning. You dont have to become obnoxious.
Michael Gilbert writes, "Unlike arming people with guns or bombs, no one will die from being armed with the techniques of argument. Instead, real communication will be increased through greater awareness of the complexities and subtleties of argument." p.7
What IS an argument? A disagreement? Typicallybut not necessarily. I might formulate an argument to explain why I hold a certain position. You might hold that same position and just want to know more about why I hold it. No disagreement: We might argue to discover more about each others beliefs.
What IS an argument? An argument, in philosophy, is a claim that is backed by reasons.
At the start of this page I made the claim that you could benefit from becoming a better arguer. I backed that claim with some reasons why you would benefit: you could become more knowledgeable about your views, other peoples views, and be more able to influence others.
Sometimes arguing is difficult. Either you or your co-arguer may be too attached to a position or claim. Then it is difficult to make much progress. Creative argument involves being open to examining your beliefs and the reasons you hold them. That is what these notes address. Although you might not enjoy having your beliefs knocked about, you can benefit from the experience.
My aim in writing this is that some of you likely are hesitant about participating in arguments and speaking out in class. I want to plant a seedgive you reasons why it is in your interests to develop your skill in speaking out and in examining your beliefs. One of our objectives for this class is to provide a forum for you to safely test out speaking out and arguing and thereby improve your skills. We strongly encourage you to participate.
Listen carefully to arguments presented and formulate your own. Set your ego aside and look for truth or at least discover different ways of looking at issues and situations.
Some key pointers to arguing effectively:
1. Know why you are arguing: What is your purpose? Do you believe you can achieve your purpose? If you are arguing with a fanatic, its unreal to believe you will change his/her mindbut you might have some fun, and you might benefit because you can examine your own claims and reasons in the process of arguing. At other times, you may be arguing because you do want to convince someone to change their mindyou wish to convince them that your reasons support a substantially different conclusion than the conclusion they currently hold.
2. Know what you are arguing about: What is the topic? What is YOUR claim? What is your co-arguers claim? What reasons support your claim? your co-arguers claim?
3. Come to know your blind spotsif you cant be dispassionate, then perhaps its time to exit that argument for a while, but note that you could benefit from exploring that topic in the future.
Learn defensive arguing techniques
Technique #1: Know where you are going
1. If the disagreement is about a fact, dont argue Agree on what will serve as the source to resolve the issue. Find a source you both pre-agree will be authoritative: Whats the capital of Canada? What was the high temperature yesterdayas recorded at the Tucson airport? These arent worthy of "argument".
2. If you are engaged in healthy arguing, most of your arguments will be about opinions and complex issuesWhat is the best car to buy? Context is importantif you have 5 kids and like camping the answer is likely to be different than if you are 85 years old and need it for driving to church, shopping, and doctors appointments. How dependable does it have to be? Is gas mileage important? Is impressing other people important? In these cases, part of determining best is going to hinge on drawing out all the factors that need to be weighed in the decision. If you are arguing to reach some sort of conclusion, then you will need to explore many different facets of the situation. Most of the topics we cover in environmental ethics fit this categorythe issues are multi-faceted.
Technique #2: Know what is involved in productive arguing