More on Argument   1 comment

Corey and I were having a discussion over Gale recently, and during a conversation he said this:

“In my highschool philosophy class, we had a Professor (or an Associate Professor?) from a school (I think it was UMKC) come in and talk about framework arguments one day, asserting that most every argument you’ll ever hear is a framework argument, and unless you can get past that you’re wanking.  That’s what it seems to me that 99% of internet “debates” are.  You know?”

Corey’s right.

For those not dabbling in philosophy, syllogistic logic, or argumentation theory, a framework argument goes something like this: “I believe in a class of thought (liberalism, libertarianism, free-market capitalism, Zoroastrianism, logical positivism, whatever).  Your point is contraindicated by some premise in my class of thought.  Ergo, your point is wrong.”  You see this a *lot* in political discourse.  You also see the inevitable related behaviors: “Your point is a point that is commonly associated with a class of thought with which I disagree, ergo I will assume that you are a believer in that class of thought and argue against the class of thought, rather than the point (which I will coincidentally ignore completely, as it is inconvenient),” and “Your point is a point that is commonly associated with a class of thought with which I agree, ergo I will assume that you are a believer in that class of thought and assume all base principles are true in our discussion.”  There’s also my most favoritist extended version of this, “Your point is a point that may or may not be associated with the fringe of a class of thought with which I disagree, but I will counter your point by using a badly-constructed reductio ad absurdum to imply you’re a loony.”

Not to give reductio ad absurdum a bad name in general, but it’s so grossly misapplied in today’s discourse I would like to see a two year moratorium just on the principle of forcing people who misuse it to find something else to abuse horribly.

This is annoying when you’re not a liberal, and conservatives assume that you are because you are discussing a political stance that is commonly associated with liberalism, or vice versa.

It’s deuced rare to see anyone acknowledge that this is even a problem in today’s “discourse”, much less write a couple of thoughtful posts on the subject.  From the first link:

This is critical – free market advocates, particularly in recent months, have tended to adopt pretty straightforward anarcho-capitalist rhetoric even though precious few of those advocates are actually anarcho-capitalists. The reason this is such a problematic line of attack is that anarcho-capitalist rhetoric only makes sense if you’re willing to go the Full Monty in favor of anarcho-capitalism.  If you’re not willing to go that far, then you have to be able to argue against a particular government proposal for intervention or in favor of a particular proposed deregulation on terms specific to that proposal.  Simply assuming that what already exists is in some way more of a free market than what would exist if a particular government action were taken too often ignores the way in which the very system one is defending is already dependent on any number of government interventions. [ed. note: emphasis mine]

I suspect that Mr. Thompson and I might disagree on a topic or two, but at the very least arguing with him over beer and peanuts would likely be the sort of discussion that would be worth having in the first place.


Posted August 24, 2009 by padraic2112 in philosophy, politics, rants, religion, science

One response to “More on Argument

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  1. It’s even worse than that. Apparently the human brain is actually specifically wired to be vulnerable to certain types of assumption making. This has a lot to do with (cover your ears please, ID people) the adaptive strategies used by our primitive hunter-gatherer ancestors thousands of years ago. Though the most rigorous hypothesis testing is within the capabilities of the human mind, the act of taking an extended time to explore the validity of your assumptions and the probable outcomes of your actions is maladaptive in a world where quick decisions might be required to, say, avoid a natural hazard like a sabertooth tiger or rockslide. It probably doesn’t help that the US educational system doesn’t emphasize critical thinking prior to collegiate studies, even in math and science.

    This is, perhaps, one of the reasons that we collectively don’t respond well to vague security threats such as the DHS have been making for years. We’re programmed by adaptive instinct not to question the validity of a potential threat because in many cases the survival value of treating a risk as real without question is much higher than questioning every threat. In the former case, you may waste time and resources responding to a threat that isn’t there. In the latter you don’t respond to *any* threat until it is validated, but the first time you encounter a hazard that requires quick action to avoid you will potentially be injured or killed.

    The news media and politicians know this and have been exploiting it for centuries. A candidate or pundit says, “You are at risk of X!” and as long as X seems plausible when run through our internal filter of what *could* happen (not what is *likely* to happen) we tend to respond as if that threat was real. The smart orator then makes a connection between avoiding X and a particular course of action (i.e. voting for them) in order to directly influence our behavior. At no point does the typical consumer of data spend significant time questioning the assumptions implicit or explicit in the initial declaration of risk. Try an experiment next time you have an argument with someone- get them to explicitly lay out their assumptions, then ask them how they tested (or even researched) those assumptions. The usual response seems to be either indignation or the deer in the headlights.

    Though it’s a difficult thing to adjust to, I find more and more often that probabilistic thinking tends to lead toward more ‘honest’ results, especially when tempered with the willingness to incorporate any new data (no matter how much it seems to violate one’s preconceptions) into your model.

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