Saturday, June 06, 2009

Right From The Start

As the question of what constitutes a proper persuasive post on a blog site has come up recently, readers might find my entries from the very first month I blogged interesting. The related posts on "Discerning Reasonableness" in that month touch on the same point that came up this month - that the type of argument people put forward is as important as the content itself in determining whose judgment can be trusted. In the older posts, I use a completely nonpolitical controversy as my example, in order to get political bias (mine or theirs) out of the picture.

For those few of you who have followed this site for years, you will see that this is a recurring theme for me. Few of us are expert enough in many subjects to evaluate the information presented. If someone insists that the wheat crop in Russia is collapsing, while the next commenter insists it is increasing, I have little way of knowing which is correct. The sources I might consult are presumably known to both disputants, who have taken that info into account. I am forced back onto other means of discerning reasonableness, such as previous reliability, any fit with other things I know to be true, and credibility of other sources.

I take as my special focus a set of related aspects of the argument itself:
1. What are the basic grounds of the argument? (Appeal to authority, first principles, social acceptability, emotionality, first hand experience, anecdote, statistics, history)
2. Is the logic sound and consistent?
3. Is there emotional leakage in the presentation that suggests some other motive is in play?
4. How do the disputants respond to being challenged? What counterarguments do they use? Do they seem to be reading and understanding the other side?


Terro said...

This topic is really important. Logical thinking does not appear to be taught or learned in schools anymore. So many people hold strong, entrenched opinions based on false premises and inaccurate information. And we tend not to read much with which we disagree.

These are pitfalls I see within myself also. It takes a conscious effort to fact check and listen to an opposing viewpoint.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I swear Terro is not a sock puppet or a shill. Thanks. And a good added caution.

Buz said...

Actually, I thought the idea of persuasive blog posts intertwined quite well with the "Orphanages and Terrorists" post. We all view a debate as something we want to win, however, sizing up that post gave me the other insight ... the one about "whether you want to win or hurt someone".

It appears to me that quite often, when backed into a corner, by someone with a superior argument, that some posters fall back to the idea of "well if I hurt them bad enough, then they won't want to fight me again," and thus resort to vociforous personal attacks or just vulgar language. "When we run out of cannon balls, fill the cannons with garbage."


Donna B. said...

What I find so odd on some blogs I read is that the writer is capable of logical thought in some areas and completely blinded in others.

This confuses me to no end, as it makes me question my own logic in both areas.

I suppose that's not a bad thing.

Gringo said...

This is a comment I just left for Copithorne on another thread, which I will post here because it points out another issue of rhetoric: speaking when one doesn't know the facts.

I don’t perceive Barack Obama as opposed to nuclear power…. What is the obstacle to nuclear power in this country and what can the federal government do to help remove it?

For starters, one obstacle to nuclear power is Obama pulling the plug on Yucca Mountain. You DO know what Yucca Mountain is about, do you not? Harry Reid, the NIMBY Senator from Nevada, certainly does.

Boethius said...

I did not know how to present an argument until I went to college and studied philosophy. I never learned any of that in high school. I suppose that is my own fault as I never signed up for the debate team.

I countered the problem while raising my own children by making sure we argued (debated) all issues. I played devil's advocate with them and let them hone their skills on me. Of course, all three of them have surpassed me in their abilities to logical debate any issue and often leave me in the dust, choking on my own words. Rather than being humbled by this torture I beam with pride every time they defeat me. The process and the banter is oh, so much fun.

copithorne said...

Oh, hey, Gringo. I did respond to your other remark that fell off the map. I don’t know if you caught it. I actually did want to add something.

My response earlier was to salute your willingness to discuss public policy. (Though the sarcasm and insults are meaningless ‘emotional leaking’.) And to agree with you. Your remark challenged me to confirm that the Yucca Mountain plan was consistent with my ideas of safety and if I were king, I would make it so. So, I agree with you and disagree with Barack Obama.

That is the primary obstacle to nuclear power. I think NIMBY is a hard force to overcome. It was telling in your article that John McCain supported Yucca Mountain but would prohibit waste being transported across Arizona.

It is understandable that Nevada would object to being a toxic waste site. It seems as though it so happens that they have the political power to uphold that objection.

The main reason I wanted to reply again was that I found a very insightful article that answered the questions I had and I wanted to share it with you. The analysis is that the real problem with nuclear power is cost:

How to solve that is tricky.

copithorne said...

Can I get the link here, just by pasting?

copithorne said...

Well, let's try this. Fancy.

The High Cost of Nuclear Power.

Carl said...

Related thoughts here.