At some point you are likely to hear about how giving arguments is rude and we would all get along better without arguing. Arguing is often thought to be a shouting match or hostile disagreement of some sort. However, argumentation is central to thinking rationally and critical thinking. The success of natural science could not exist without it. Yes, some arguments are disrespectful, but not all of them are.
Arguments are reasons given to believe something. For example—“All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.” In this case the first two statements of the argument are a reason to believe that Socrates is mortal (the conclusion). If we know that “all men are mortal” and that “Socrates is a man,” then we can also know that “Socrates is mortal.”
Is it rude to present the above argument about why we should believe that Socrates is mortal? Doesn’t seem like it. Is it part of a shouting match or hostile disagreement? That seems unlikely. In this case the argument could be considered to be “rational persuasion.” Being capable of giving good arguments and seeing flaws in poor arguments is central to thinking rationally and being capable of critical thinking.
Even so, arguments can be disrespectful and manipulative. Imagine that someone argues, “Republicans just want to keep assault weapons legal because they want to use them to murder people.” That is insulting to Republicans and it fails to account for the best arguments given by Republicans to keep assault weapons legal. We could imagine this manipulative argument to be used during a shouting match or hostile disagreement. Manipulative arguments are used during so-called political debates and they are used as propaganda for a television commercials. Manipulative arguments should not be considered to be rational persuasion.
Arguments should generally be intended to be rational persuasion. There’s nothing disrespectful about trying to persuade people to believe something based on good reasoning. In fact, science, logic, and philosophy would all be impossible without rational persuasion. The only reason that science can tell us anything about the world is because scientists can tell us how the evidence available is a good reason to believe something is true about the world (or refutes certain beliefs about the world).
It is true that any argument—including good arguments—can make people feel bad. A lot of people feel like they need to win every debate and that being proven wrong makes them look bad. They hate being proven wrong. They could get angry at anyone who disagrees with them and anyone who gives rational arguments with the “wrong conclusions.” Good arguments can motivate a great deal of anger and hostility, and they can be part of a “shouting match” or “hostile disagreement” when someone doesn’t take kindly to them. Insults are often thrown around by those who don’t like others who try to prove them wrong.
However, we should be ashamed of ourselves to reacting badly to good arguments (or even an attempt to give good arguments). It is perfectly respectful to expect people to want to hear good arguments—to want to know what we should believe and why we should believe it. Human beings are capable of rationality and generally do care about what we should believe. To assume that a person doesn’t want to know what we should is disrespectful. Such a person would be seen as “irrational.”
Moreover, psychologists have proven that people are very biased. Even scientists. Perhaps the worst bias we all suffer from is the “confirmation bias”—we too quickly accept evidence that supports our beliefs and we don’t take counter-evidence as seriously as we should. One reason that science is so successful is because of peer review—scientists who give poor arguments and have biased experiments will likely be refuted by others at some point. Science is self-correcting in this way. But it’s not just scientists that can benefit from peer review. We are all likely to justify our beliefs inadequately and reason poorly now and then. But if we tell other people about our reasoning process by giving arguments for our beliefs, then they are likely to be able to find flaws in our reasoning. We are much better at finding flaws in the reasoning of others than in the reasoning of ourselves.
In conclusion, arguments can be disrespectful and they can result in a hostile disagreement, but we should try to give rationally persuasive arguments anyway. It is perfectly respectful to assume that people in general want to know what we should believe, and giving arguments to others is a good way for them to help find flaws in our reasoning.
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