Argument with argument

I have a bone to pick with logic. I am sick to death of putting forward great arguments backed by examples and employing a suitable amount of pathos only to be ignored because I’ve broken one of the codified rules of “logical argument”.

I have news for you Messrs Logic and Reason – nobody cares if you think I’m arguing with a “straw man” or producing some sort of syllogismic fallacy. Nobody cares if you hate analogies so much that the very presence of one as a piece of supporting evidence is enough for you to completely ignore the material at hand and instead dish out a lecture on what are essentially the “Queensbury Rules” of discourse. Nobody likes the Queensbury rules. They’re for losers who can’t fight with all the tools at their disposal.

Perhaps my line of reasoning is a straw man – but your job isn’t to point out that this invalidates my argument, it’s to correct my thinking. Perhaps my analogy isn’t perfect. Few are. A perfect analogy is like a rare pearl – hard to find and expensive.

When did the style of a debate become more important than the substance?

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

13 thoughts on “Argument with argument”

  1. Great post Nathan. ‘Rationalism’ (Queensbury or otherwise) is as capable of irrationality as any other form of human thought!

  2. I’ve always thought of the idea of not arguing with a strawman to be a basic rule of courtesy, actually – don’t argue with your (unkind/unhelpful) caricature of my argument, argue with my argument!

  3. But for some people the straw man is their actual understanding of the situation.

    Your job is to listen to them and correct them – if you want to convince them – not to dismiss their argument on the basis that is poorly formed. Even calling something a “straw man” smacks of some sort of superiority complex. Not everybody on the internet is an expert in rhetoric or argument.

  4. It’s important when someone tries to counter one of your points with a certain argument that renders you speechless and wondering “how on EARTH does that have ANYTHING to do with my previous point??”

    Otherwise, agreed, people are trying to distract from the argument.

  5. Nath, if they demonstrate that your key argument is flawed, then they are ipso facto demonstrating that you cannot rely on the truth value of your conclusion.

    For you to say “My idea is good it’s just that I can’t put forward a cogent argument to demonstrate that.” is simply you putting to burden of proof on the other person to disprove that which you assume but haven’t proved.

    Your statement about form and substance of argument demonstrates that you don’t understand (or, more likely, are choosing to ignore for the purposes of an amusing whinge) the nature of pointing out a straw man argument or a logical fallacy. In argumentation, form IS substance in this sense.

    (This is the begrudging paragraph where I admit that some people are tools and will themselves shift the onus of proof, or refuse to discuss an idea for the sake of having an argument. But conceding this is a lot less fun than having an argument with Nathan.)

  6. Ahh, but Kutz, you are not actually addressing the point I am making.

    Your whole tangent is a strawman.

    I am talking about people who use terms that people don’t understand in order to belittle their opinions and arguments.

    It’s a case of “you don’t know the rules, so you can’t participate in the game”… the rules suck.

  7. Pointing out form rather than pointing out error just makes the arguer look like a smug jackass – and does nothing about correcting someone’s false premise. A fallacy isn’t just a fallacy because you say it is. And analogies serve a purpose in the fine art of persuasion – the fact that arguing by analogy is not “arguing” by the rules does not render the exercise invalid.

    Put me in a room of 100 people and I’ll argue by analogy and convince more people (depending on the analogy) by pathos, than you will simply employing logos and telling me my argument is flawed. Well, that’s what I think anyway.

  8. Such beautiful irony I’ll nearly forgive the lack of content… ;)

    @your first post:

    Sure, some people can be tools like that. One of your options is to learn their game better than them so that you can expose their stupidity to them. Proverbs and answering a fool and all that.

    @Second post:

    I’d actually give ‘analogy’ as you call it a stronger place than even you do. The tone of that second post, however, makes you sound like a snake oil salesman. What’s your objective? To produce charmed people, or to give them a sound rational basis for a belief?

    Especially when you’ve got the gifts to give them both. What exactly is this ‘exercise’ that you’re embarking on?

    Really, we need a test case to try this out on. C’mon, give us a dialogue and we’ll subject it to all the rules of propositional calculus!!! ;)

    Seriously though, what you were saying about pointing out form instead of pointing out error doesn’t make sense if the person is actually using logic properly. As I said in my last post, poor argument form is inherently erroneous. It doesn’t invalidate the conclusion, but it certainly means you can’t assume the conclusion.

  9. Despite the critique, that last post was (obviously, I hope) all said with a smile on my face and love for my bro.

  10. My example is every conversation thread ever on the “Friendly Atheist”…

    All they do when a theist (usually Christian) comes around to talk to them is throw out their arguments on the basis of being poorly formed.

Comments are closed.