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Discussions of Purpose and How to Have Them

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If you've ever viewed an internet forum before, you've likely have been witness to many, many (many many) ineffectual discussions, reasonings, arguments, fights, and debates about all kinds of subject matter. You may have also noticed that many (many many) problems go unsolved due to the lack of general consensus.
This thread will exist as a resource for others to utilize in order to come to better conclusions, seek resolutions to their discussions, and most importantly find the truth of any matter they may be discussing.

Let me clear something up first: Arguments are not a bad thing, and are not to be confused with online fights. Arguments are discussions in which each side provides opposing reason and justification for their position, while fights are simply arguments gone wrong.
Fights can be normally identified by the following attributes:
1.) One or more of the people involved are trying to prove themselves correct
2.) One or more of the people involved are trying to prove their opponents wrong
3.) One or more of the people involved are trying to avoid admitting fallibility to one or more of their claims
4.) One or more of the people involved are trying to attack the opposing person or opinion rather than the reasoning supporting it

So, what is the point of an argument? This is asked often. But let me put it out there that it is often asked in varying contexts. While some people may be bringing large egos to the table, the purpose of having an argumentative discussion is not to prove themselves right and others wrong, nor is it to dance around the point and outright not making an effort to create a solution to a problem. The point of each discussion is to resolve an issue (or plural, issues) raised by a participant in a discussion. This is expected to be done in a manner that is either the best possible outcome for everyone or the next best alternative. Disagreement is to be expected, and there are points in discussion where they become polemic, and are no longer seeking to find the true ideal outcome of a situation, as often the participants in the argument may no longer be focused on discussing which position is better or has more support, and often it devolves into a fight amongst themselves on who has the better idea.

An ideal position shouldn't attempt to disguise its weaknesses. By exposing your viewpoints to the public eye, you allow others to be invited into the discussion in order to discuss the merits and vulnerabilities of your arguments. You must be able to accept you will not have the objective truth in all cases nor the best resolution to an issue, if any at all, and by openly and honestly revealing the flaws of your own reasoning to others you allow others the opportunity to discuss such weaknesses and give yourself the benefit of third-party input to assist you gain better perspective on a subject matter. One of the most admirable and honest things you can do in an argument is to present a reasonable counter-argument against a position you agree with. This is not easy, understandably, as it requires specific amounts of awareness regarding the subject matter to be able to visualize for others effectively. This, however, allows proponents for/against the idea to gather more evidence/testimony/information for their position, or it gives them the opportunity to alter their position to make it closer to the ideal. This is a way to visualize for someone else on how to compromise, but may not be easy visualization for those who are generally inexperienced in a subject matter they are invested in, yet hold a specific position on the matter anyway.

I present the basic ideas and concepts of the Code of Intellectual Conduct as taken from T. Edward Damer's Attacking Faulty Reasoning, which should (hopefully) be the base from which you build your arguments.
Standards for the Code itself:

  • The rules that, when followed, most often lead to 1) the successful resolution of issues, 2) the most rationally endorsed beliefs and, we hope, 3) truth.
      • In all arguments, the most pressing reason to continue any debate is to find the truth of the matter. Failing that, the aim of the debate should be to find an the best answer to the solution, which is by most standards, the position with the most relevant, important, and powerful reasoning. In cases where there each position is equally flawed, supported, or intrinsically correct, the argument should at least bring forth an acceptable and successful resolution of issues.


  • The rules that, when followed, constrain our behavior within contexts of disagreement in light of what we owe to others and to ourselves (i.e. these rules describe the best way to be and behave in a certain sphere of human life)
      • While it is important to seek the truth in all arguments, you must remain conscious of your opponent; you are not arguing against them AT ALL, you are presenting reasoning and rebuttals against 1) their position, 2) their reasoning, or 3) their opinion or idea.


  • The Fallibility Principle
    • Each participant in a discussion of a disputed issue should be willing to accept the fact that he or she is fallible, which means that one must acknowledge that one’s own initial view may not be the most defensible position on the question.
        • The TL;DR of this principle is that 'if you're wrong, admit it, and move on.' Don't spend all of your time defending an idea that you cannot honestly believe is the best solution just because your ego prevents you from admitting you're incorrect. Don't let yourself waste your time and that of others just because you don't wish for your opponent to be right.


  • The Truth-Seeking Principle
    • Each participant should be committed to the task of earnestly searching for the truth or at least the most defensible position on the issue at stake. Therefore, one should be willing to examine alternative positions seriously, look for insights in the positions of others, and allow other participants to present arguments of or raise objections to any position held on an issue.
        • As I mentioned before, the sole purpose of an argument should be to find the most reasonable truth possible. If someone presents a solution that is different from your idea (even if it has similarities) you should be willing to consider it, because, as the Fallibility Principle states, you do have the ability to be incorrect in your opinions.


  • The Clarity Principle
    • The formulations of all positions, defenses, and attacks should be free of any kind of linguistic confusion and clearly separated from other positions or issues.
        • Don't be a Politician. Adding overly colorful vocabulary in an effort to bullshit your way into a position of authority on the topic is a disgusting tactic, and against the nature of truth-seeking in the first place. If you are intentionally trying to confuse an opponent in a discussion, then you are not actually trying to find the best resolution or truth, you are trying to prove them wrong or prove yourself right.


  • The Burden-of-Proof Principle
    • The burden of proof for any position usually rests on the participant who sets forth the position. If and when an opponent asks, the proponent should provide an argument for that position.
        • If I say that 2 + 2 = 4, and someone disagrees with me, I should provide my reasoning for this idea. Just because something is "simple logic" to you, doesn't mean that it is inherently flawless to everyone else. Again, make sure you follow the Fallibility Principle, and don't be afraid to concede the point if you don't have relevant, factual, truthful, or strong enough evidence to support your position, and your opponent does.

          It should be kept in mind that the Burden of Proof changes quite rapidly in a conversation. If I say "Religion is full of lies," and someone responds with "What is your reasoning, because I disagree," then I would have to respond with an acceptable reason, but would immediately be able to ask THEM for THEIR reason. In that situation, I might respond with "Because miracles aren't physically possible, there's no way Adam, Eve, and the following generations could live to be 900 years old, and because religious texts are more often than not written by a follower of the religion, not the deity the religion is based upon. What are your reasonings for disagreeing with me?" at which point the Burden of Proof becomes switched.


  • The Principle of Charity
    • If a participant’s argument is reformulated by an opponent, it should be carefully expressed in its strongest possible version that is consistent with what is believed to be the original intention of the arguer. If there is any question about that intention or about any implicit part of the argument, the arguer should be given the benefit of the doubt in the reformulation and/or, when possible, given the opportunity to amend it.
        • Give your opponent the benefit of the doubt when quoting them. Don't intentionally misquote them in order to make your own argument stronger. If they say "I had a dream where I wished everyone was dead, and it terrified me. I would never want something like that," and you quote them to say "I [wish] everyone was dead... want something like that," then you're not only being an asshole, but you're also violating your argumentative integrity, and ought to be ashamed of yourself for twisting their words.


  • The Structural Principle
    • One who argues for or against a position should use an argument that meets the fundamental structural requirements of a well-formed argument. Such an argument does not use reasons that contradict each other, that contradict the conclusion, or that explicitly or implicitly assume the truth of the conclusion. Neither does it draw any invalid deductive inferences.
        • Examples of this would be "Jesus Christ is the son of God because he said so," (The reason assumes the truth of the argument), "Beethoven's music is bad because he was deaf," (That is unfounded, and is an invalid deductive inference), or "Gravity is fake because when I spit into the air, it comes back down," (The evidence and reasoning contradicts the conclusion).


  • The Relevance Principle
    • One who presents an argument for or against a position should set forth only reasons whose truth provides some evidence for the truth of the conclusion.
        • "Oranges are better than cats because aliens are allergic to cowboy hats." While there's a chance (however small) that all of these statements are true, they are unrelated and thus cannot provide evidence for the truth of each other.


  • The Acceptability Principle
    • One who presents an argument for or against a position should provide reasons that are likely to be accepted by a mature, rational person and that meet standard criteria of acceptability.
      • A claim that is a matter of undisputed common knowledge
    • A claim that is confirmed by one’s personal experience or observation
  • A claim that is adequately defended in the context of the argument or at least is capable of being adequately defended by some other accessible source
An uncontroverted eyewitness testimony An uncontroverted claim from a relevant authority The conclusion of another good argument A relatively minor claim that seems to be a reasonable assumption in the context of the argument A claim that contradicts credible evidence, a well-established claim, or a legitimate authority A claim that is inconsistent with one’s own experience or observations A questionable claim that is not adequately defended in the context of the argument or not capable of being adequately defended by evidence in some other accessible source A claim that is self-contradictory or linguistically confusing A claim that is based on another unstated but highly questionable assumption
        • This speaks for itself, so I won't go over it at all.


  • The Sufficiency Principle
    • One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to provide relevant and acceptable reasons of the right kind, that together are sufficient in number and weight to justify the acceptance of the conclusion.
        • This simply means that you can't say 2 + 2 = 5, because 2.49999 can be rounded down to 2 and can thus be considered 2, and when 2.499999 is added to 2.499999, the answer is 4.99999998, which can be rounded up to 5.


  • The Rebuttal Principle
    • One who presents an argument for or against a position should include in the argument an effective rebuttal to all anticipated serious criticisms of the argument that may be brought against it or against the position it supports.
        • This one is obvious, but it pretty much means that you can't present an argument like "2 + 2 =/= 4", because the obvious rebuttal is "Yes it is, you dipshit. Please don't ever reproduce," and you should have anticipated that.


  • The Suspension-of-Judgment Principle
    • If no position is defended by a good argument, or if two or more positions seem to be defended with equal strength, one should, in most cases, suspend judgment about the issue. If practical considerations seem to require a more immediate decision, one should weight the relative benefits or harm connected with the consequences of suspending judgment and decide the issue on those grounds.
        • One of the best examples is the Apples vs Oranges argument. You can present arguments saying that Apples are much better because blah, blah, blah, and blah, and you can also present arguments saying that Oranges are much better because bleh, bleh, bleh, and bleh, but because the arguments for each side are equally strong, you can make no unbiased decision.


  • The Resolution Principle
    • As issue should be considered resolved if the argument for one of the alternative positions is a structurally sound one that uses relevant and acceptable reasons that together provide sufficient grounds to justify the conclusion and that also includes an effective rebuttal to all serious criticisms of the argument and/or the position it supports. Unless one can demonstrate that the argument has not met these conditions more successfully than any argument presented for alternative positions, one is obligated to accept its conclusion and consider the issue to be settled. If the argument is subsequently found by any participant to be flawed in a way that raises new doubts about the merit of the position it supports, one is obligated to reopen the issue for further consideration and resolution.
        • If one side of the argument is obviously better defended, and the other side has no other possible terms for contention, and all other possibilities for alternatives to the more accepted position have been dismissed with effective rebuttals, then you shouldn't continue arguing, as the matter has been successfully solved.
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Here is a tip that does not require you to read and memorize 10 pages of thesis about ethical discussion. Literally stop.

Keep track of how emotionally engaged in an argument you are, and when it gets too far, simply stop. Take a step or two back. Reassess the problem that the argument is trying to solve. And see about actually solving that. Alternatively track how many times you've had to repeat yourself, or someone else has had to repeat themselves.

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The 10 page thesis is more than a bit much in retrospect, I apologize for that. It does seem very pretentious but that is not the intent. I just feel like people should have better intentions when entering a discussion. I.e., not just focusing on what they alone have to say and pushing that idea only as the only option.

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