We live in a society where most people respect the power of arguments more than they do the force of violence. You don’t win a heated debate by smacking your opponent in the face. Rather, you out-duel them, beating them with the power, reason, and logic of your arguments.
Argumentation, however, isn’t something we learn in school. Unless you joined a debating society, you probably didn’t have much experience of this essential craft when you were growing up. And so you go through your life being carried along by the tide of public opinion, never really plotting a course for yourself.
Stepping out and creating arguments is an act of bravery. When you attempt to break new ground in relationships, you automatically make yourself vulnerable to criticism and attack. If you’re saying anything of value, you’ll immediately raise the ire of people opposed to your position, whether in the comments section on YouTube or in the news media itself.
Argumentation, therefore, is fundamentally an act of courage. You have to overcome your fears of rejection and disapproval to make your case. You need to move beyond considerations of yourself and use ideals as an anchor to weather the storm.
Just being merely argumentative, however, isn’t sufficient. You can’t just waltz into a discussion and forcefully make your case. The whole point of argumentation is to establish ground rules and work to gain the agreement of others. The scientific method is essentially this very process in action. You build a case and get others to agree.
We should all apply this method in our own lives, and shirk other tactics, like manipulation and ridicule. We need to defend our positions powerfully using reason and evidence. Those are the only honest tools we have. Everything else is just propaganda.
So how do you craft a compelling argument? What is the bedrock of a powerful appeal? Why are some people so convincing?
Understand Your Assumptions
Before you even begin to make your case, you need to get comfortable with the assumptions inherent in your position.
In the act of argument, we must all accept some fundamental propositions. You cannot, for instance, argue that language has no meaning while also using English to make that very point. Your opponent can turn around and say that your argument is internally inconsistent. It is a snake that eats its own tail. It fundamentally makes no sense. The act of argumentation implies that you accept that the words coming out of your mouth say something.
Argument also implies that there is some sort of objective reality out there you can use as a medium for a discussion. Our senses don’t have to be perfect, but they must be able to discern the words of others tolerably accurately. If they don’t, then, again, debate is futile.
Beyond that, you need to get comfortable with your metaphysical position and the deeper assumption you make about logic and reality. You need to know what these are before you construct an argument from the ground up. If you don’t, you’re on very shaky foundations, and expert debaters will expose you in an instant.
Take Reason And Evidence Seriously
When you get involved in a heated debate, reason, and evidence can often go out of the window. As people, it is all too easy to unwittingly fall back on emotional appeals and, sometimes, outright manipulation. But that is no way to win an argument. Bullying your opponent is not an argument at all. It is just a form of attack. Any concessions you do get are pyrrhic. They’re not lasting.
Taking reason and evidence seriously requires holding them at the center of your life. You must surrender to both. You can’t afford bias in your thinking. You must take the lessons of logic and the senses seriously and practice responding to them. If you don’t, then you cannot claim that others are biased. You have no anchor.
Get An Education
Some of you will have been fortunate enough to get an education in the art of the argument. But most of you won’t.
That doesn’t mean, though, that you have no options. There are still plenty of people out there actively engaging students in methods of valid argumentation, giving you the tools you need to navigate a hectic and challenging world.
If you check out the classroom options online, you’ll soon discover that deep philosophical education is available. Here you can gather the tools you need to punch through the nonsense and see the world for what it really is.
Knowing yourself is one of the hardest challenges in all of personal growth. But it is essential if you want to craft beautiful, convincing, and world-beating arguments.
People who don’t know themselves have a problem. They can’t tell the difference between what their dysfunction is telling them to say, and what the evidence of their senses suggests they should say. They might be dedicated scientists in their particular field of study. But the moment something normative comes to the fore, like ethics, they’re suddenly a bundle of rage and emotion.
You’ve seen this sort of thing in politics, time and time again. People get furious and upset. Something triggers them, and they’re off. The reason and logic that is so important in their professional lives suddenly go out of the window.
Knowing yourself, though, helps to neuter this sort of response. When you understand who you are and become secure in your positions, the words of other people matter less. Even if they say something incendiary, you don’t have to respond in kind. Instead, you can use the power of argument to skewer them in a way that is much more powerful than appeals to emotion.
Crafting a compelling argument, therefore, is something we all need to learn how to do. Emotions are helpful pieces of information, but we can’t base values on how we feel. We must learn to reason through our notions of justice and bias. If we don’t, then we’re on shaky foundations, and the people on the other side will continue to win big.