Arguing Successfully

by blackspanielgallery

Make logical arguments in a calm manner and you will succeed more often. Anger is not a part of forming an argument.

There is a branch of philosophy that deals with logic, and since mathematics has evolved from this branch of philosophy logic is also taught in mathematics. The focus of logic, the desired result, is to determine when an argument is valid, and when it is invalid. Once some basic concepts are mastered one can determine if an argument makes sense when presented by another person, and when an argument might be convincing to another person.

To set the rules for arguing successfully it should be noted at the outset that emotion is not only unnecessary, but may hinder a well presented argument. Having a listener receptive is a first step, so avoid an unwanted reaction by remaining calm.

Begin with One Or More Premise.

A premise, also referred to as a hypothesis, is something both sides agree to.  Unless there is a common starting point futility will follow.  So, find common ground and make certain both the presenter and the receiver of the argument agree.  This is important.


For an argument to be valid the conclusion, or point being made, must follow from the premises.  There must be no way to get to the conclusion whenever at least one premise is false.


Some Known Forms of Valid Arguments

Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens

These two forms involve the conditional, a statement that can be put into the form “If x, then y.”  If the conditional is true, and the antecedent is also true, the x above, then the consequent, or y above, must follow.


As an example, a person could make the following statements that are agreed to by all.  If it rains, I will get wet.  It rains.  Then the statement I am wet follows, and this is a valid argument. 


Equivalent to the statement, “If it rains, I get wet,” is the statement “If I do not get wet, it is not raining.” 


Using the first form is called Modus Ponens, and the second is Modus Tollens.  Arguments in these forms are considered valid.  It is expected if two people agree on the premises, they agree the conclusion is true.


Invalid Arguments

Fallacy of the Converse, and Fallacy of the inverse

Again, we have two equivalent forms, one using “not” while the other does not.  Unfortunately, their appearances are very close to the valid arguments. 


One example is to use “If it rains, I get wet,” and “I get wet,” as the premises, and claim “It is raining,” would follow.  Here we can agree on the premises, but the conclusion statement does not necessarily mean it is raining.  I might have walked under a sprinkler or fallen into a pond. 


If there is a way for the conclusion to be false and the premises true the argument is called invalid.

Disjunctive Syllogism

If I claim x is true or y is true, and then I claim one of these is not true, the other must be true, and can be claimed so as the conclusion. 


Reasoning by Transitivity

If we string conditionals we can reduce them to one conditional.  So, if we agree that “If I build a house, I have a place to keep furniture,” and “If I have a place to keep furniture, I have a place to keep my table,” we can say that the claim “If I build a house, I will have a place to keep my table,” follows, and thus I have a valid argument.

The English Language

Using the above is just a start, but two things often make things difficult. 


One is the conditional changes meaning when the word “only” is used.  It is raining only if I am getting wet really means if it is raining I am getting wet.  Notice how “only” moves the word “if.”


The other problem is with the word “or.”  In English there is an inclusive “or” and an exclusive “or.”  The key here is the exclusive “or” usually is accompanied by the word “either.”


If I say “I will study, or I will go to the mall,” I might very well do both, so being found at the mall means nothing regarding having studied or not.  But, if I say “I will either study, or I will go to the mall” I imply I will do exactly one thing, so being at the mall is evidence I did not study.


Other Arguments

Many arguments follow a known form, but many others do not.  The test you can use is to ask is there a way the conclusion is true other than when the premises are all true.  If the answer is yes, the argument is invalid, but if it is no the argument is valid and the conclusion is accepted.

Religion and Politics

Many heated arguments come about over religion and politics.  The reason is quite simple.  Before making an argument all involved must agree with all of the premises.  A religion argument that starts with the premise Jesus is God might work with those who believe this, but Jewish and Moslem people would not accept the premise. 


Religious dialogue must start with common beliefs, and precede in a calm manner.  If it is your intent to convince another of your position you must not place your listener on the defensive.  Screaming is counterproductive. 


Politics is even worse.  Again everyone must believe the same premises to be true or the argument is a waste of time.  But, in the United States, and many other countries, we have political parties who seem to believe if the other party comes up with a valid idea they still must challenge it.  So, candidates and elected officials stand for a multitude of things.  At the national level defense, social justice, law and order, taxes, spending priorities, and abortion are just some of the issues.  Most people do not support all a candidate stands for, but choose the most important issue or issues in making a selection.  Another person might even stand for the same issues, but weigh them differently.  So, how can two people come to a consensus on accepting a set of premises to begin a dialogue?  If there are no agreed to premises, there is futility in constructing a conclusion for an argument.


Develop the Skill of Logical Thought

The game of chess is an excellent learning tool in measuring logical arguments.   I do not mean learning to move the pieces, but in thinking what must happen in response to a move, then to that response and so on.  The further ahead one can see events being forced the better the chance of winning the game.  And, it is a fun way to learn.


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Updated: 06/11/2017, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 09/01/2017

In math it is easier to find a counter-example and prove something false, for proving something is true cannot be done with example.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/01/2017

blackspanielgallery, Do you prefer an argument from a negative or a positive statement? A couple of days ago, I re-saw the film The Double with Richard Gere and Topher Grace. It quite dramatically shows a conclusion on the identity of the elusive Cassius as If X is not Cassius then he will not be in all of the crime scene photos because Cassius always returns to the scene of the crime.

blackspanielgallery on 06/14/2017

Lack of agreement to the hypotheses is why so many arguments get so cantankerous. People think they are making a point by screaming. Actually, many assume the conclusion to be a hypothesis. Closed minds are the real problem.

frankbeswick on 06/14/2017

G.K.Chesterton would debate with anyone except the occultist Alistair Crowley, for Chesterton required that everyone with whom he debated should share his fundamental premise that the good is fundamental, but Crowley was committed to evil and did not share Chesterton's premise.

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