To argue or not to argue?

In class today, we got into a complex and somewhat confusing discussion about argument. Ultimately, all I can conclude is that arguing is incredibly difficult. What you are arguing about, who you are arguing with, and what are their expectations and orientation on the issue have to be considered.

We were all asked to respond to the following questions.

Is there ever an instance in which an argument is necessary?

Argumentation is necessary in order to make objective rational decisions. If people never argued, the world would operate by groupthink and we would disregard alternatives to certain decisions and overlook errors in our ways. I can think of numerous instances in history in which arguments should have been made. Take for instance the collective agreement amongst senior officers stationed at Pearl Harbor that the warnings of an invasion were not serious. Opposition is usually a good thing, because it forces you to check yourself. You may resolve the argument by realizing you were wrong, or, you may end up feeling more confident in your beliefs.

Is an argument ever a mistake?

In my opinion, arguing is rarely a mistake, however, it can sometimes strongly offend other people. I am not saying that arguing is a mistake when it hurts other people’s feelings, rather, I mean that it is a mistake when the person you want to argue with is not willing or motivated to engage with you or hear you out. This is often the case when the topic of the argument is based on religious or cultural beliefs in which people tend to be firmly grounded.

Another situation in which arguing is a mistake is when the act of arguing itself undermines your cause. I am particularly thinking about the climate change debate. The act of arguing is time consuming, and reversing climate change is dependent on time. If you believe that the extinction of humans is imminent, you are not going to want to wade around and consider your options (if only we had global groupthink on divestment).

Can you have both at the same time?

The topic of climate change- whether or not it is a problem and what the appropriate response to it should be- is particularly frustrating because, as I just stated, there is no time for arguing about it, and at the same time, arguing about it is inevitable. We cannot avoid arguing about climate change because it simply does not make sense to a rational human being to stop driving to work or to stop using the heating system in their homes (especially in these frigid temperatures) without examining other options.

2 thoughts to “To argue or not to argue?”

  1. Hi Maddy,

    I agree with all of your points here, except for one that I have a few thoughts on. I think that offending your opponent in an argument is definitely something that should be avoided because it tends to make the offended party shut down and not want to continue the argument. In that case, you end up with a one-sided argument anyway. I just think that it’s important to be tactful whenever possible so as to keep the argument alive.



  2. Hi Evan,

    I had trouble writing what I was trying to say and I agree with you. Offending someone in an argument should be avoided. I was going to say that an argument that hurts your opponents feelings is a mistake, but then I thought about a time when my feelings were hurt in an argument, and in the end, I learned something valuable from it and changed my stance in the argument. So this particular experience changed my mind. I can’t claim that arguments in which you offend your opponent are a mistake and should always be avoided, but I agree that it can sometimes shut down the conversation altogether.
    Thanks for commenting and helping me clear that up!

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