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How to win an argument Notes on Philosophize This! #73

Philosophize This! is a philosophy podcast.

Techniques that people use to win their arguments and how to identify them.
Hard to know how to attack an argument if you don’t know which part is wrong.

  • Find the weak points
  • Problem at foundation of argument

Faulty justifications, simplifications used over and over.


Argument from consequences

  • Argues how true or false something is based on whether they like the consequences of if that thing were true
  • If god doesn’t exist, there’s no moral accountability, therefore I believe god exists. ‘I believe that god exists, because if it doesn’t, that’s just not a world I want to live in’
  • Just because someone wants it to be true has no connection with whether it is true
  • If X then Y will happen, Y is a good outcome for me, therefore X must be true
  • Finding fallacy tricky
  • Sometimes an appropriate argument - eg appealing to consequences. Difference: Proposition for making things better rather than what we should believe is true. Consider politician campaigning for change.

Affirming the consequent

  • Just because you know that if something happened a specific consequence would happen, and you live in a world where that consequence is a reality, you can’t just assume that that one thing that could have caused it happened
  • If cashier won lottery, they would be happy. You go to shop and see they are happy, therefore they won the lottery
  • Other explanations for why
  • Wrong to use consequence to confirm antecedent
  • If someone was going to be a good president they would have seen economic downturn coming. Trump saw it coming, therefore he would make a good president. Argument doesn’t prove good or bad.
  • If god existed we would be able to see unparalleled beauty in nature, it’s all around us, therefore god exists.

Appeal to ignorance

  • We can assume that something is true simply because there is no evidence that it is not true.
  • No evidence Bigfoot doesn’t exist. Therefore Bigfoot exists
  • Cloaked in clever ways
  • Bush when running for president. Dan Rather suggesting Bush not honourable in National Guard. Bush response: using forged documents. Now: to dismiss claims, prove documents weren’t forged - but how? By the time you do argument gone off rails.
  • Hide behind stage of gathering definitive evidence. Use as shield. Know that process will be impossible or exhausting.
  • Stalemate often
  • Personal incredulity variant: believe because not disproven yet, convenient way to believe what you believe without questioning it.
  • Because it’s hard to understand they assume it must not be true.
  • What someone feels should be possible is baseless.
  • Judging what’s possible in a field of expertise they have no knowledge of.

Slippery slope fallacy

  • Make case that a position is bad because acceptance of it would bring about a sequence of events that would be horrible
  • Sidestep discussion, conclude that this thing you’re discussing will lead to this horrible outcome, then ask the person you’re arguing with to defend the horrible outcome

Straw man fallacy

  • When winning
  • Takes argument and paints simplified version of argument for easy target to attack
  • I believe in God, what you believe there’s some old guy with a beard on the sky watching over all of us?
  • I think we shouldn’t spend 600bn on military spending. Straw man back: I can’t believe you’d want to leave the country defenceless.
  • Mischaracterising an idea, making a worse argument, easier to refute, easier than understanding original argument

Ad hominem argument

  • Attack personally in attempt to discredit source of information
  • When winning
  • I don’t think it’s a good idea to throw cats off buildings - oh yeah, coming from someone who’s never had a cat before?
  • Knee jerk response
  • Diversion
  • Discredit source then don’t have to look at beliefs honestly
  • Pretend words I had said were said by someone you respect

False equivalence

  • Common in media
  • Goal to use one or two attributes to use to pretend as though both things are the same
  • Both cats and dogs fluffy, so they are the same
  • Some scientists have done experiments to say humans are causing climate change, some say they aren’t. Guess it’s a stalemate.
  • Just because both sides have done studies does not mean they are both done legimitiately, honestly, number of studies, sample sizes

Appeal to bandwagon

  • Because majority believe in something then it must be true
  • Commercials
  • 100s of people happy because they use X
  • Millions used to believe earth was flat. Millions now believe it’s not flat, that’s not what makes it true.