Analysis and Implications of Argumentation

In discussing many different facets of argumentation, we were forced to look at the many different nuances that comprise an argument. For something as relevant as an “argument,” it would seem fairly simple to pin down the purpose and reasoning behind its utility. However, putting such analysis into words is not as easy as it initially appears. As a continuation of this analysis, I would like to address three questions posed in class regarding argumentation:

1. Is there an instance where argument is necessary?

Though argument has its logistical inefficiencies (in that it is incredibly difficult, and in some respects impossible, to change someone’s mind when they are already entrenched in their own personal predispositions), I believe it has its place in democratic politics. The foundation of a democratic society is that all individuals can have a voice in determining the way they are governed. While arguing different beliefs may not serve a great purpose in convincing people to believe similar thoughts, it certainly serves a purpose in airing individual concerns and ideas. Arguing different ideas inadvertently brings many perspectives to the forefront of society, and in turn, creates a situation where a diverse array of thoughts can be adapted and utilized in contemporary policy.

2. Is there an instance where argument is a mistake?

One thing that becomes immediately apparent to anyone who has ever been a part of an argument is that perceptions are hard to change. In instances where ideas are divisive and completely ingrained in individual thinking, argument ultimately fails to serve its main purpose. Most would say that the whole point of argument is to convince someone else that your thinking is right, but if neither side is willing to budge in their perceptions, what is the point in even having the argument in the first place? I think that these issues inevitably become problematic when neither side is necessarily wrong but unilateral action is needed urgently. Such an example of this would be in times of national emergency or national disaster, when different political parties disagree on how to fund aid efforts. Both sides agree that aid is needed, but no one can agree on how to do it. In situations such as these I find that argument creates unnecessary problems.

3. Is it possible to have a situation where argument is both necessary and a mistake?

I believe discussions on the limitations of Earth’s natural resources fall somewhere under this category. It is very apparent that we need a way to quickly curb our dependency on limited resources such as oil and coal, but it is also apparent that we have become so dependent on these things that we can’t just phase them out entirely. Consequently, I think that it is appropriate to have an argument on the different ways we can go about fixing this. There isn’t one perfect solution to this problem, so hearing a spectrum of opinions and ideas can only benefit efforts working toward a solution. Though this discourse isn’t always efficient (as mentioned above), it is one of the few ways in which we can work toward compromises that will eventually benefit everyone.

When Your House is on Fire…

This past week our class addressed an argumentative piece that perhaps had a somewhat misleading analogy. In discussing climate change, the author of this particular work suggested that climate change is much like having your own house on fire. However, when we look at this analogy a little closer, there are some logical inconsistencies that become apparent: when dealing with climate change it is important to note that a)All humans are implicated in its causes/effects (the whole world didn’t set your house on fire, nor is it responsible for putting it out) b)We cannot simply leave the damage behind, as we are stuck here on Earth (as opposed to being able to walk out the front door of a burning house) – and – c)You are directly responsible on some level for the now pending consequences of climate change (you may or may not have directly caused the fire in your own home). While the author’s intent behind using the “burning house analogy” is well-founded in principle, it is not a perfect fit as a metaphor for climate change.

And in truth, it is fairly difficult to think of a perfect metaphor for this particular situation. I must admit that I really struggled in trying to think of something better. Many of my initial thoughts on an alternative analogy were completely ill-founded in their premise, and I’m not entirely sure the analogy I thought of is any truer in its validity. For me, I envision the problem of climate change as a “Tragedy of the Commons,” where everyone implicated in a particular problem has more incentive to act in their own self-interest than in the greater good. Such a situation could be illustrated with the idea of a fisherman who lives in a village by a small lake. The only large industry in this town is fishing, and it is far and away the most pursued vocation. This particular fisherman knows that if the town continues to fish at its current rate, there will be soon be no more fish left in the lake. However, if the fisherman stops fishing entirely, he knows he will have no viable income to support his family, in addition to the fact that his competitors will just keep fishing anyway. This creates a dilemma because the fisherman knows that he is directly contributing to the problem, but will nonetheless continue to fish since everyone else knowingly does the same. The problem that arises from this is that short term personal gains are more valued than long term group interests. Consequently, the worst possible outcome occurs in the long run even though it is known that current actions will undoubtedly create this result. ¬†As a result of not directly addressing the problem in the first place, the inevitable outcome is more consequential than taking a new course of action.