Is it best to use a person's logic against them in an argument?

If the use is valid. This is called argumentum ad absurdum. You take the person’s argument to its logical extreme. For example, David Hume argued that a wise person will always reject a claim when there is an extremely low probability that it happened, regardless of the evidence. However, on that logic, we should reject the claim that David Hume existed, since his birth was of an astronomically low probability (as is that of any given individual).

Well, I think most arguments are pretty pointless, but the one that comes to mind was with a popular member of this site. This was maybe nine years ago, and we were talking about about a TV show. Please don’t ask me for details about the person or the show. I won’t give them. I have no interest in humiliating anyone. And if someone does a search posts details in comments, I will delete them.

I mentioned in an answer that I didn’t enjoy a particular TV comedy, and this guy commented that anyone who doesn’t like it must be mentally ill. I figured he was using hyperbole—no one really believes ther

Well, I think most arguments are pretty pointless, but the one that comes to mind was with a popular member of this site. This was maybe nine years ago, and we were talking about about a TV show. Please don’t ask me for details about the person or the show. I won’t give them. I have no interest in humiliating anyone. And if someone does a search posts details in comments, I will delete them.

I mentioned in an answer that I didn’t enjoy a particular TV comedy, and this guy commented that anyone who doesn’t like it must be mentally ill. I figured he was using hyperbole—no one really believes there are shows that are so objectively good, the only explanation for not liking them is mental illness! Do they? I figured he meant it like “You hate the Beatles? Man! You’re nuts!”

But I was curious about his point-of-view, so I asked him about it, and it turns out that—no—he actually believed I was mentally ill. And it wasn’t just a belief. He was extremely confident about it. You don’t like a show I like; therefor you have a mental illness.

This wasn’t some random weirdo. This was a notable guy on the site with thousands of followers. He and I had had multiple friendly exchanges before this. The best I could reckon was that this was a sincere belief of his. But what a strange belief!

I don’t know if you’d call what happened next an argument, because I never got agitated. It’s very hard to rile me up. I was more baffled and curious than anything else. But the more I pressed him for details about what he thought was wrong with me—and why—the more angry he got. And the more insistent he got that mental illness was the only explanation for why anyone would not like the show.

I tried two lines of reasoning with him. First, I told him that I’d been in therapy for many years, and I’d never been diagnosed with any sort of mental illness. Second, I was able to articulate exactly what I didn’t like about the show and why I didn’t like it. I mean, it was kind of like someone saying, “I’m sure The Exorcist is a well-made horror movie, but scary movies give me nightmares, so I wouldn’t like it” and hearing “No! That can’t be it. If you don’t like the Exorcist, there’s no other possible explanation besides you being mentally ill!”

I’m 99% sure he wasn’t trolling me, because that’s not the sort of thing he did. And, in general, he wasn’t an irrational person. He was a very good writer and a clear thinker. This was just some weird corner of his psyche, and somehow I wandered into it.

My contribution to the craziness was a refusal to let it go. I wasn’t upset that he thought I was mentally ill. I was just really, really curious about why he thought that I was was. And—well, maybe this is a mental illness—when I get curious about something, I can be insatiable. I just wouldn’t let it drop. (Again, I’ll pretend this was a discussion about The Exorcist to avoid giving away searchable details.)

Me: Forget about me for a minute. Haven’t you ever met a mentally-healthy person who just didn’t enjoy scary movies?

Him: Yes! But you don’t get it. This isn’t just a scary movie. It’s the Exorcist! It’s literally impossible to dislike it unless something is seriously wrong with your brain.

Me: Well, can you imagine someone who is so un-religious he just can’t take the film seriously?

Him: No! I’m an atheist. That doesn’t matter.

Me: Okay, but some atheists are able to suspend their disbelief for the duration of the movie. Others aren’t.

Him: Right. Ones with mental illnesses.

Me: What kind of mental illness do you imagine this is? Like, schizophrenia? bipolar disorder? depression?

Him: I’m not a psychiatrist. I have no idea.

Me: Well, then what makes you so confident it’s a mental illness rather than, you know, just a difference in personal tastes.

Him: It’s just obvious! There’s no way a mentally-healthy person could dislike that movie. No way. It’s impossible.

At one point, I mentioned that I have autism, and he pounced on that: “Ah! See! See! I knew it!”

I pointed out that lots of autistic people liked the show. I also pointed out that there were non-autistic people who dislike it. “Yeah, well. They have something else wrong with them.”

I seem to remember we had this same argument twice, like a year apart. At some point, long after the first one, he contacted me, I think because he felt bad about how we left it. I told him not to feel bad, and that he hadn’t offended me. Which is true. He hadn’t. I said, “I wasn’t offended. I was just baffled as to how you could possibly think disliking a show is a sign of mental illness.”

And boom! We were off again!

“Not any show. That show! That show! You can’t dislike that show unless there’s something seriously wrong with your brain. Some sort of personality disorder or neurological issue. There is no other explanation.”

I should say none of this is verbatim. It’s the sort of exchange we had, filtered through the lens of my memory.

I do remember others chiming in at various points:

“I don’t like the show, either, and I’m not mentally ill.”

“Can you point to the page of the DSM where this mental illness is listed?”

As you can imagine, it didn’t help. He was unshakable in his belief.


Now that I’ve written all this, one other incident comes to mind—a similar one—but from about 25 years before this, when I was in college, living in the dorms. Since I’m now writing about a second arguments, it will probably seem like I have these sorts of nutty exchanges all the time, but, actually, these two stand out in my mind because they were so out of the ordinary. They’re the only two arguments like this I can ever remember having.

Anyway, I was friends with this girl who lived on the floor above me. I’ll call her Sally. One day she got really sick. All her friends were concerned about her, because she was running a 103-degree fever. But she refused to do anything about it.

At some point, I remember a bunch of us gathered in her room and urged her to let us drive her to the hospital.

“No! Stop making such a fuss over nothing.”

“It’s not nothing. You have a dangerously-high fever.”

“Stop acting like a bunch of moms. I don’t need a mom. I already have one.”

“We’re not trying to be your mom. We’re your friends. We love you. We’re really worried about you.”

When we said this, Sally got really angry: “No you don’t! No you don’t! You don’t give a shit about me. You’re just enjoying the drama. This is a big melodrama for you, and you’re all enjoying playing the hero. Don’t tell me you care about me. That’s bullshit!”

Eventually, with a lot of protests, we got her to go to the hospital. I forget what was wrong with her, but it was serious. This would have gotten way worse if she hadn’t had medical attention.

At the time, I put her attitude down to fever-induced delirium, because her rage at us was so out of character. She was normally a sweet, trusting person. She wasn’t ultra-independent. She both gave and accepted help from her friends all the time. It seemed like she’d become possessed by some angry spirit.

A few months later—when she was healthy again—I gently brought it up. I said, “Hey, I’m sorry we cornered you when you were sick. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do. I respect your autonomy. But I hope you know that, even if we made the wrong decision, we did it out of love for you.”

And then it was like the spirit leapt back into her body: “No you don’t! Don’t you dare say that! What you and the others did that night had nothing to do with love for me. Nothing. It was all a big game to you. That’s all it was. It was a play you were putting on and you were using me as a prop. So don’t give me that shit. Don’t pretend you were concerned about me at all!”

After that, she and I remained friends for years—we still chat every now and then—and nothing like that ever reoccurred. She went back to being her sweet-natured self. But I never brought up her the day she was sick, again.

This is a very interesting question but we need to resolve the two questions in the details before we can answer the main question. I’m going to answer this as if I was your debate coach and you were my student.

how can I learn to make other people second-guess their opinions and arguments that they glue themselves to in ignorance of a bigger picture?

I assume the bigger picture that you’re referring is some piece of counter-argumentation, that is mutually exclusive with their argumentation (i.e. you and your opponent’s arguments can’t simultaneously be true). This is going to be very difficult

This is a very interesting question but we need to resolve the two questions in the details before we can answer the main question. I’m going to answer this as if I was your debate coach and you were my student.

how can I learn to make other people second-guess their opinions and arguments that they glue themselves to in ignorance of a bigger picture?

I assume the bigger picture that you’re referring is some piece of counter-argumentation, that is mutually exclusive with their argumentation (i.e. you and your opponent’s arguments can’t simultaneously be true). This is going to be very difficult for you to do—people are glued to their opinions and if they do so out of intentional ignorance, it will be nearly impossible to convince them they are wrong. They have forsaken what is true with what they want to be true which is a dangerous feature of their argumentation.

Remember, don’t argue with an idiot because they’ll bring you down to their level and beat you with experience. Additionally, most people hate to be wrong and even though you aren't trying to tell them that you are correct, but rather trying to get them to interrogate their beliefs you will still find difficulty trying to create this self-reflection.

What mechanisms or forms of questioning can I keep in mind to prevent me from losing my cool or tripping over myself in my attempts to communicate myself?

This is a great question and one that I could fill a book with answering. In debate terms, you are someone who has difficulty articulating your arguments (i.e. you aren’t a pretty speaker). This is something that is possible to move past but you’ll need to keep some tips in mind. Since you asked about cross examination (when you question your opponent), I’ll give you tips for that.

  • Keep your questions short and seek to establish middle ground. Don’t start your questioning with “So you’d agree that you’re wrong because…”. This sounds funny but so many people do this—your opponent spent time articulating an argument so they aren't going to concede you’re right. It’s better to ask small leading questions.

So Korsgaard says that morality is action guiding right?

Yes.

And for something to be action guiding, it must have a way to motivate moral agents, right?

Yes.

So if I can prove that there is something internally inconsistent with Korsgaard which makes her arguments not action guiding, then this argument is false right? I’m not say it is true, just that if it is true then Korsgaard is false.

Yes.

That is important because it establishes common ground and couching your questions in “if” statements allows you to get them to concede the implications of your arguments.

  • Execute a strategy in cross examination. A lot of people just ask random questions but you need to have a goal. What are you trying to get them to concede? What is not necessary for you to win? Answer those two questions and they should be able to guide what questions you should ask in CX.

How can I learn to refute another's logic in an argument or debate, without having knowledge of the topic?

Here is the main question and I think there is sufficent background to answer it. The answer is rather simple but might be controversial; you can’t—at least in a way that is effective.

Pointing out a hole in someone’s argument or even a fallacy doesn't mean their argument is wrong it merely means that there articulation is wrong. For example, if I say “People in the Special Forces are steely-eyed killers.” you could point out that “Special Forces” refers specifically to the Army’s Green Berets and technically they mostly do work with indigenous populations. My argument isn’t wrong but rather my articulation because all I will have to say is “Ok, well the forces that comprise Joint Special Operations Command are steely-eyed killers” which would then be technically correct. This is something that is important because a lot of people think that finding an argument that is poorly articulated means that the argument is false but rather it allows your opponent to re-articulate the argument to avoid your indictment.

Even in the example above, you would need information about a topic. It will be impossible to engage someone on the content of their argument if you don't have counter-evidence to their claim. You can contest the implication of an argument (i.e. is it sufficient to prove their claim) without evidence but it isn't easy to do and is difficult to win.

Depends on the issue being debated. If it is a debate about beliefs concerning factual material you have a pretty good chance of changing the other person’s mind if the facts are on your side. If it’s a debate about attitudes toward some subject matter — whether we are positively or negatively predisposed toward that subject matter, changing minds gets tougher. If it is a debate about values — what we believe is good/bad, moral/immoral, holy/evil, good luck with that. It is extremely difficult to change others’ values.

Here’s an example. You might debate somebody about the frequency of gay wedd

Depends on the issue being debated. If it is a debate about beliefs concerning factual material you have a pretty good chance of changing the other person’s mind if the facts are on your side. If it’s a debate about attitudes toward some subject matter — whether we are positively or negatively predisposed toward that subject matter, changing minds gets tougher. If it is a debate about values — what we believe is good/bad, moral/immoral, holy/evil, good luck with that. It is extremely difficult to change others’ values.

Here’s an example. You might debate somebody about the frequency of gay wedding ceremonies that were held last year. Whichever of you can produce a data source that both of you agree is credible will likely close the debate, and maybe change the other person’s belief about the frequency of gay weddings.

If you are debating whether that number of gay weddings is something to feel positive or negative about, that is a tougher debate. Arguments and evidence can be perceived as stronger or weaker. References to data or others’ arguments are themselves debatable. Even fact-based data may be argued to be more or less relevant to one’s attitudes about gay marriage. Simply put, people don’t give up their attitudes as easily as fact-based beliefs.

And values are a whole ‘nuther thing. That’s why gay marriage is still (hard to believe) a divisive political issue. A subset of people (and by god you know who you are) still tie sexual preferences to morality (i.e., fundamental values), and their morality is dictated by their particular flavor of deity. There are practically no arguments in the world that will change their fundamental values.

The relationship to changing belief-attitudes-values and behavior is also important to consider. Changing beliefs doesn’t change behavior that much. Getting people to live more healthy lives after giving them the facts about smoking, drinking, sun exposure, lack of exercise, sedentary life, etc., doesn’t always get them to change their behavior. Changing their attitudes about those things is more likely to get them to change their behavior. This is why having kids or grandkids can change health-related behavior. You already knew what the risks were concerning those behaviors, but now with kids in your life, maintaining your health becomes something you have a more positive attitude about.

But if you can tie all of those behavioral changes to fundamental values, you can effect big changes in their behavior. If people start to believe it is immoral to live an unhealthy life, they will change their lives drastically. That’s how some people become vegetarian. They start to associate eating animals with morality.

Aristotle wrote that there are three modes of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos.

Logos is logic or, at least, the semblance of it. This is, of course, useless in a dispute with someone incapable of being rational. If your interlocutor rejects Occam's razor and insists that all the evidence that 9/11 was not an inside job was faked by a global conspiracy, for example, they have jettisoned any part of their brain that would respond to anything approaching logos.

Ethos is an appeal to the authority of the speaker. This can be quite effective in persuading an irrational debater. It can be paired

Aristotle wrote that there are three modes of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos.

Logos is logic or, at least, the semblance of it. This is, of course, useless in a dispute with someone incapable of being rational. If your interlocutor rejects Occam's razor and insists that all the evidence that 9/11 was not an inside job was faked by a global conspiracy, for example, they have jettisoned any part of their brain that would respond to anything approaching logos.

Ethos is an appeal to the authority of the speaker. This can be quite effective in persuading an irrational debater. It can be paired with logos to enhance it; someone that appears knowledgeable will have an enhanced aura of authority. If you can pull this off, saying, for instance, that only you can fix your audience's problems, you will often have someone chanting your name quite readily.

Pathos is an appeal to emotion. This is probably your primary weapon in a debate against the basket of irrationals. This mode of persuasion stirs the soul and motivates in ways that logos simply cannot. For example, if you make your audience fear people who aren't like them (maybe they don't look like them or maybe they speak a different languages), you can persuade them to take almost any step to save them from the xenos, the stranger, even when they cleave to a religion with a central parable on the virtue of caring for those unlike you.

So there you go. To persuade the irrational, discard logos and embrace ethos and pathos.

Thank you for the A2A.

To avoid confusion over the expression “argument,” it might be better to put the question in terms of disagreement:

How does one resolve a disagreement by resort to logic?

Logic is a matter of constructing and evaluating arguments. An argument consists of premises and a conclusion. If the premises entail the conclusion, that is, if the conclusion follows, then the argument is valid, and if, in addition, all the premises are true, then the argument is sound, in which case the conclusion must be true.

To answer your question, in outline it is simple, but in practice it tends t

Thank you for the A2A.

To avoid confusion over the expression “argument,” it might be better to put the question in terms of disagreement:

How does one resolve a disagreement by resort to logic?

Logic is a matter of constructing and evaluating arguments. An argument consists of premises and a conclusion. If the premises entail the conclusion, that is, if the conclusion follows, then the argument is valid, and if, in addition, all the premises are true, then the argument is sound, in which case the conclusion must be true.

To answer your question, in outline it is simple, but in practice it tends to get complicated and difficult.

Step 1

Identify points of agreement. With luck, these can be put to use as premises.

Step 2

Draw a conclusion from them by logical inference.

Here is an example:

The question is whether it is better for you or your wife to take charge.

Step 1

Through detailed discussion, you come to agreement on the following points:

> With few if any exceptions, things work out better when you take charge in areas A, B, and C, and they work out better when she takes charge in areas D, E, and F.

> The important thing is to make sound decisions, because that creates a better situation for both of you. Social convention does not enter into it, and neither does ego.

As for this first point, here are a few examples from my own life:

I am much better at analyzing and clearing up subtle misunderstandings between us, and she is much better at dealing with others, outsiders, as it were. I am much better at driving, and she is much better at navigating through a big city on foot (most often, for us, Osaka). I am much better at putting the house in order, and she is much better—practically speaking, infinitely better—at getting things done by smartphone.

At length, then, perhaps at great length, you come to agreement on these two points. What conclusion follows, then, if any? That is to say, what valid argument can you construct?

It is pretty obvious, I think:

You should take charge in areas A, B, and C, and she in areas D, E, and F, because things will work out better that way. That is the logical inference.

In my case, I deal with misunderstandings between us, do the driving, and keep the house in order, and she deals with others, leads me by the hand through the labyrinth of the city as if I were a little child, and does wonders by smartphone. I do not even have one.

That answers your question, I think. But note several things:

> You must do all of this honestly.

> You must do it skillfully, and very few people have bothered to develop skill at logic.

> In various ways, the process can get very complicated. Something essential might go unnoticed by either of you. You might interpret things differently in subtle ways, and not even notice that you have done so. You might fall for common fallacies—they count as fallacies, after all, because people tend to fall for them. You might have to establish S in order to establish R in order to establish Q. And so on.

> Even if you agree, it might well happen that you are mistaken. In order to get it right, you must do more than to agree. You must agree at the truth. Your premises (the points on which you agree) must be well-formulated and true in fact, and the conclusion must follow.

Crocodiles and zebras do not have these problems, but life as a human is interesting.

The Donkey and the Tiger

The donkey told the tiger: ′′The grass is blue".

The tiger replied: ′′No, the grass is green".

The discussion became heated, and the two decided to submit the issue to the lion, King of the Jungle.

Before reaching the clearing in the forest where the lion was sitting on his throne, the donkey started braying: ′′Your Highness, is it true that grass is blue?".

The lion replied: "True, the grass is blue".

The donkey rushed forward and continued: ′′The tiger disagrees with me and contradicts me and annoys me please punish him".

The king then declared: ′′The tiger will be punished

The Donkey and the Tiger

The donkey told the tiger: ′′The grass is blue".

The tiger replied: ′′No, the grass is green".

The discussion became heated, and the two decided to submit the issue to the lion, King of the Jungle.

Before reaching the clearing in the forest where the lion was sitting on his throne, the donkey started braying: ′′Your Highness, is it true that grass is blue?".

The lion replied: "True, the grass is blue".

The donkey rushed forward and continued: ′′The tiger disagrees with me and contradicts me and annoys me please punish him".

The king then declared: ′′The tiger will be punished with 5 years of silence".

The donkey jumped for joy and went on his way, content and repeating: ′′The grass is blue"...

The tiger accepted his punishment, but he asked the lion: ′′Your Majesty, why have you punished me, after all, the grass is green?"

The lion replied: ′′In fact, the grass is green".

The tiger asked: ′′So why do you punish me?"

The lion replied: ′′The punishment has nothing to do with the question of whether the grass is blue or green. The punishment is because you, a brave, intelligent creature, waste time arguing with a donkey, and then come and bother me with a silly question".

Author unknown

What makes someone good at argument,

It rather depends on the subject & whether or not they are making a claim or challenging one. If they are making one they need to be capable of making people understand why it’s likely to be true & preferably definitely true & it’s impossible to generalize about how they go about doing that because there’s no single way to cover every topic under the sun as each has different means of being ‘sold’. When it comes to challenging a claim it’s the opposite - they have to be able to undermine a claim & show that it’s actually very weak or even impossible.

and how

What makes someone good at argument,

It rather depends on the subject & whether or not they are making a claim or challenging one. If they are making one they need to be capable of making people understand why it’s likely to be true & preferably definitely true & it’s impossible to generalize about how they go about doing that because there’s no single way to cover every topic under the sun as each has different means of being ‘sold’. When it comes to challenging a claim it’s the opposite - they have to be able to undermine a claim & show that it’s actually very weak or even impossible.

and how important is logic in an argument?

It should be absolutely essential but unfortunately it may not be at all. That’s because many people can make a point which seems perfectly logical or at least genuinely plausible even if it’s not entirely but still convince people you have a decent point when really you don’t. A good opponent to such tactics can often reveal the conceit & bring down the house of cards in front of everyone with a careful deconstruction of what’s been said & show people how the trick was done. Sam Harris is very good at doing this on occasion. So is Matt Dillahunty too. Here are a couple of examples which are pretty entertaining!

That depends on what you mean by an argument. There are two types of 'argument’ and you can 'get in' (or into) either.

There is the kind of argument that you make and there is an argument that you have.

Making an argument (albeit a controversial one) is where you state your opinion followed by 'because’ and then you give your reasons for your opinion. Then you can wait for a counterargument. Once you hear the counterargument, that's your cue to 'get into’ the kind of argument that you can have.

The kind of argument that you have is usually one where the premises and the subject and the case put f

That depends on what you mean by an argument. There are two types of 'argument’ and you can 'get in' (or into) either.

There is the kind of argument that you make and there is an argument that you have.

Making an argument (albeit a controversial one) is where you state your opinion followed by 'because’ and then you give your reasons for your opinion. Then you can wait for a counterargument. Once you hear the counterargument, that's your cue to 'get into’ the kind of argument that you can have.

The kind of argument that you have is usually one where the premises and the subject and the case put forward are pale in comparison with your desire to have the final word (win).

A more constructive alternative to both is to have a 'debate’ which is more structured and there are third parties that judge the strengths of each side's arguments.

As for how you get into one, here are some ideas:

  • Join a debating society
  • Find a controversial topic and gently mention it when you are with a group of people (preferably friends). For example, “I want to join the flat earth society”
  • If you want it to have the potential to escalate, you will need to find a topic that evokes more emotional responses. For example, “I think that X race is inferior to Y race"

I cannot be sure if this is what the question means but perhaps the key word is “counterexample”.

Suppose there is an argument A proposed by some bright kid, and you think this argument is in fact not valid. However, given how argument A is phrased, it may be hard to tell. So, maybe you could apply the same argument to another situation, perhaps simpler, perhaps more explicit, so that it becomes clearer whether argument A is valid or not.

You only need to find one situation to which to apply the argument you think is false. If the argument is obviously false once you apply it to this particular

I cannot be sure if this is what the question means but perhaps the key word is “counterexample”.

Suppose there is an argument A proposed by some bright kid, and you think this argument is in fact not valid. However, given how argument A is phrased, it may be hard to tell. So, maybe you could apply the same argument to another situation, perhaps simpler, perhaps more explicit, so that it becomes clearer whether argument A is valid or not.

You only need to find one situation to which to apply the argument you think is false. If the argument is obviously false once you apply it to this particular situation, that is it, you have proved the argument is false. The crucial point here is that you need to find a situation which makes the argument not just false, but obviously false. Unlike logical implications, arguments need to be convincing, not just valid.

A counterexample is the cheapest way to prove the logic of an argument wrong. If some bright kid say “All left-landed people are clumsy, so no one left-handed person can play tennis well”, all you have to say is “John McEnroe” (Nadal, well, he was born right-handed).