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The Beauty of Argument

Adeline, that tiny ray of sunshine in an otherwise cold and inhospitable world, has written a very eloquent description of why she enjoys arguing. It is a treatise that, in short, I agree with. It is, in fact, something I have been trying to explain to people for a long time now.

To quote Adeline, "those of you who know me will also know that I love a good argument". This might not be quite how you would put it. You would probably say something more along the lines of "fercrissake, that pedantic bastard just won't let a point go", or worse. And, indeed, maybe I do tend to push things a bit far, but it is always because of this same love of argument.

I know what I think, and what I believe. And I know why I think these things, and on what grounds my beliefs rest. I like to think that I have thought everything through, and have found a consistent, logical world view. If somebody disagrees with me, then it is not merely a "difference of opinion". We are rational, intelligent human beings. I firmly believe that if two people are both in possession of the same information - the same premises, if you will - then they will come to the same conclusion. So, when I find somebody that disagrees with me, I want to explain my reasons for holding my belief, and I want them to explain theirs. I want to find the discrepancy in the foundations of our thoughts, and to discuss the two different versions, and discover which one is better. And I know that I will change my beliefs if I find that the other one is better. I hope that the opposite will be true.

It is not about trying to force the other guy to accept your opinion. In fact, I suppose it's not even about trying to find the best out of the two opinions. It is a process of dialectic. I present a thesis, you present an antithesis. We discuss. Eventually, we reach a common ground - a synthesis. Through our giving and taking of ideas, we refine our thoughts and eventually reach a point on which we agree.

Not everything can be dealt with like this. Aesthetics are a matter of personal taste - you can't argue about whether something tastes good, or whether a sound is pleasant. Experience is also something that cannot be shared - if I have an experience that you do not, this will alter my thoughts or beliefs, and no amount of discussion will change how we felt these experiences. However, setting aside these most subjective of factors, I really do believe that through discussion and argumentation, two people can refine their models of what they think, and most importantly, why they think it, until they agree.

I'll say that again - the most important thing is why you hold your beliefs. Without knowing this, you cannot argue. You can just repeat your point again and again, until the loudest one wins. However, more importantly, without knowing why you hold your beliefs, you cannot call them true beliefs. Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. An unexamined belief is not worth holding, either.

I've lost count of the number times I've been called a pedant. And they say it like it's a bad thing. Yes, I'm pedantic. Yes, I correct errors where I see them. That's just another way of saying "I try to be correct in everything I do, and where things are not right, I try to make them right". How can striving for perfection be bad? I probably go over the top. In fact, I know I do - I push this to extreme lengths, I get heated, I raise my voice in excitement. I'm not the perfect Discussion Artiste, by any means. But I cannot, cannot understand somebody who does not see the value of two rational human beings exchanging their ideas in order to come to a greater understanding, and who does not understand the beauty of argument.

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