Arguing is a good thing. You disagree? Fantastic.

Had to get that joke out of the way. It would have plagued me for this whole post. Moving on.

Debate is great.

I love challenging perceptions and being challenged in return. It’s one of the ways I grow as a person. I come out of a good feeling invigorated. Even if my perspective turned out to be, shall we say, incorrect. I often end up questioning some of my preconceptions. I might adjust my own views on the subject and seek out more knowledge. A great argument can expand your mind and introduce you to new ideas and concepts you’ve never considered.

The problem with argument is that many people consider it a bad thing.

Why? If you consider that disagreement is so common, it’s existence is just about the only thing we can agree on. Then how can the concept of two or more people with opposing views having a discussion and presenting their individual evidences be bad?

Perhaps it’s the word. Words carry meaning, and sometimes that meaning brings its own baggage. When you think of an argument, what do you think of? Probably a married couple screaming at each other, not listening or giving an inch. Insults flying, feet stomping. Not fun.

Sure, this is a kind of argument, but it’s not the only kind. It’s certainly not the kind most people get anything worthwhile out of. An argument is defined as a series of interconnected points representing a particular viewpoint. However, the word has too much negative equity to be used effectively here. For the sake of clarity, I will substitute the word debate.

Moving on. The topic is the art of the debate, not the definition. Having a worthwhile debate is a game of finesse, skill, subtlety and eloquence.

There are many talented people who are extremely good at winning a debate, whilst simultaneously being completely wrong. The fact is that you don’t need to be right to put forward a successful position, you just need to know how to present it. You also need to be aware of some of the tools and techniques that great debaters use to defeat an opponent.

Logical fallacies

Put simply, a logical fallacy occurs when an argument fails to meet the standards of evidence, rationality or logic. There are a number of different fallacies, and a sound understanding of the different varieties will equip anyone in effective argument. Both to help recognise them when they’re used, and avoid using them.

Here are just a few of my favourites:

Strawman

The Strawman fallacy constitutes misrepresenting a person’s position on a topic, then attacking the misrepresentation instead of their original position. This is a very common one, often used by the intelligent design community to attack evolution.

Evolution is the belief that there was nothing, then something began existing for no reason, which led to humanity. Makes perfect sense. (usually said in a sarcastic tone)

This argument creates an exaggerated version of Evolution, then ridicules it.

Bandwagon

Also known as the appeal to popularity, this is an attempt to state that a claim is true, simply due to it’s popularity.

If four out of every five people believe in ghosts, they must exist. How could all those people be wrong?

A claim can be false, and have widespread belief surrounding it.

No True Scotsman

Holding the best name, a person attempts to discredit those who used to hold the same position as them, but now disagree, by claiming that they were not ‘true’ believers of the position.

Angus declares that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge, to which Lachlan points out that he is a Scotsman and puts sugar on his porridge. Furious, like a true Scot, Angus yells that no true Scotsman sugars his porridge.

A complete list of fallacies can be found at this wonderful website.

It’s not about winning

Despite what many people know about me and my approach to a debate, I’m not actually setting out to win. I’m simply trying to put my position out as clearly and rationally as possible. If the other person does the same, then we should both learn something. Provided the argument is airtight and no fallacies are employed, I am able to be convinced.

So, try me.