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Argue Better

For my sins, no doubt, as faithful readers of this blog know, I have been an attorney for 35 years.  The below video is a fascinating look at the Cathy Newman “interview” of Jordan Peterson in which he made her look like an absolute fool:

 

 

From my time in court, and from being a paid advocate in general, here is a few additional tips for winning an argument:

 

1.  Listen carefully to what your opponent is saying.  Sounds simple but most people do not do it, too wrapped up in what they are going to say.

2.  Restate what the other person says if what they are saying helps your position, especially if they do not know the import of what they are saying.

3.  Make your opponent deal in concrete situations, and do not allow them the refuge of vague abstractions.

4.  Keep your emotions in check, especially if your adversary gets emotional.

5.  Be as concise as you can be.

6.  Be unafraid of thinking before saying something.

7.  If you can, plan out the argument in advance.  Most people can’t plan well to save their souls, at least when it comes to arguments.

8.  Figure out what it will take to win the argument and work backward from that point.

9.  Do not be distracted by red herrings and the other types of false arguments that people tend to be fond of.

10. When you have won the argument, move on.  You have usually won a point, not the battle of Waterloo.  There is more to do, so be about it.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

12 Comments

  1. Good tips – to elaborate on No. 9, there are usually just one or two (stretching it, maybe three) really key points in almost any dispute. Focus on those, and let minor things go.

  2. Mote and bailey is a popular one– conflate something very few folks oppose (being polite) with something that most people oppose (pretending a dude wearing a dress is female).
    Or Charity with Communism.
    etc.

  3. There is only one point I would add to Donald’s: concentrate on exposing the weak points of one’s opponent’s argument and, if possible, avoid setting up a counter-argument of one’s own.
    In the legendary debate between C S Lewis and Miss Anscombe at the Oxford Socratic Society in 1948, Miss Anscombe won convincingly, by concentrating entirely on four key weaknesses in Lewis’s argument and not even hinting at any alternative theory of her own.

    In court, an advocate should always avoid leaving the jury to choose between two alternative explanations; it is enough for him to show that his opponent has not established his own explanation

  4. Another tip is study hard common fallacies in natural language arguments in order to recognize and refute them.
    I had a discussion with someone over the weekend she committed the non sequitur fallacy in an attempt to just “win”, then the straw man fallacy, then committed the ad hominem fallacy when she realized she was losing. The sad part is this person has a masters degree in education and she thought she was arguing correctly!

  5. Art Deco

    Yes, the debate and the effect on Lewis was certainly exaggerated and I am sure Miss Anscombe was right, when she said in the preface to her paper in her published works that it was, “an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms, which Lewis’ rethinking and rewriting showed he thought were accurate.”

    However, anyone reading that paper as a critique of Chapter III of “Miracles” (before Lewis’s revisions) will appreciate its force.

    It remains a fine example of an argument that not only convinced her audience, but Lewis himself, who re-wrote it.

    Of the revision, Miss Anscombe says, “The argument of the second edition has much to criticize in it, but it certainly does correspond more to the actual depth and difficulty of the questions being discussed. I think we haven’t yet an answer to the question I have quoted from him: ‘What is the connection between grounds and the actual occurrence of the belief?'”

    Miss Anscombe’s paper can be accessed here
    http://www.larrygilman.net/misc_documents/Anscombe_vs_CSL.pdf
    It is an excellent piece of forensic dialectic and her discussion of “irrational causes” and her criticism of the term “the validity of reason” are of permanent philosophical interest, quite apart from the debate which occasioned them

  6. David WS wrote,” Another tip is study hard common fallacies in natural language arguments.”
    Aristotle’s De Sophisticis Elenchis is still well worth reading. Non-philosophers should not be put off; it is very easy going, even for the general reader.

  7. The dilemma for rational people; the left ignores logic and truth, by pushing fallen man’s worst buttons (emotion, fear, greed, lust, license as freedom etc.) and thus, they continue to make inroads into destroying western civilization.
    Unfortunately, our morally-softened society hardly cares about who wins the debate with truth and fact. However, good people will still fight the good fight. Your list is top notch–I’m sending it to my grandson who loves to debate for the sake of proving what is right–a rarity in these days of confusion and relativity.

  8. Unfortunately, our morally-softened society hardly cares about who wins the debate with truth and fact.

    Take heart, Don L– just because the news declares someone ‘won’ doesn’t mean that it actually happened, especially when they’ve had to be more and more open about threats of violence to get their desired “win” state. (Which is: the other guy shuts up.)

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