5 April 2008

How Not to Argue, part ii

I said in an earlier post that argument is difficult in this era. Few people know logic these days, and therefore few can tell when a point is proven or disproven. In the days of the medieval debate, a conclusion could only be reached when both sides had demonstrated they understood the other's points. Generally speaking, this is only possible when the two side share the same premises.

Premises are the bases upon which we build our logic. As such, they are not in themselves logical: they either are, or they are not. They are accepted, or they are not. They cannot be proven. If a premise can be proven, it is actually a conclusion which has its own premise. If we were to use the standard form of a syllogism, A+B=C, A and B are the premises, C is the logical conclusion of premises A and B.

When premises are not shared debate breaks down almost immediately. Think of the old Miller Lite commercials: "Tastes great!" "Less Filling!" "Tastes great!" "Less Filling!" The argument is endless, because neither side can prove anything against the other. Their premises have become their conclusions, and the argument is now a fight.

Or take a far more contentious disagreement: The abortion debate. Personally, I believe the term "debate" is a misnomer. Both sides have their premises - Right to Life, Right to Choose- and there it ends. It is nearly impossible to prove definitively using logic one right or the other, I'm sorry to say. The right can only be assumed, or not. Now, in my opinion, if a debate were to happen, it would be over the use of the term both sides share- right. What is a right? who decides? The problem is that once that question is opened up, who can say where it will go?

Before I go on, I believe abortion is an absolute wrong.

I say this about premises because today I allowed myself to get caught in a debate with someone with whom I did not share premises. The debate went nowhere, because it had nowhere to go. It is now over. The other fellow has left the building so to speak, his final shot that I had stepped too far. Perhaps. If so, my apologies. I've left his comment as the last one on the thread; I see no point in refuting it. To me, I see no points to refute; and to him, no refutation is possible. If he returns, so be it. But that debate is over. Indeed, no debate ever really happened.

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