Friday, 22 August 2014

How to argue - the outcome-comparative method ("And then what? Compared with what?")


The proper way to evaluate an argument in real life situations is to accept the validity of premises (provisionally) and follow them through to their conclusions - then to evaluate the premises in light of the conclusions by comparison with the outcome of other premises.

In other words - two maxims are combined: "And then what?" followed by "Compared with what?"

On the lines of: "Assuming this is true; then what it implies is that... Whereas if this is true; it implies that..."


The outcome-comparative method is is contrast with the usual method of arguing-against; which is to reject premises on absolute grounds, as being biased or incomplete (but then all premises are biased and incomplete...).

And to argue-against using absolute standards: when if an argument has any (apparent) flaws, by abstract and impartial standards, then it is rejected (but then all arguments are flawed).


The point is that the premises you already believe and argue from may be more biased and incomplete than the premises you are evaluating; the argument you have already accepted may be more flawed than the argument you reject - and this will become apparent further downstream, when the consequences are compared.


The usual methods of arguing are simply pseudo objective, pseudo-rational excuses for holding-onto what we already believe, or changing our beliefs to whatever we happen to want to believe; methods to ensure that any other arguments (and I mean any other argument) can be rejected, without any problem whatsoever.

The usual methods are, in fact, characteristic of 'clever silly' people; and perhaps become more common with increasing cleverness.

Most typical is the person who prides himself (preens himself) on being rational, logical, skeptical, evidence-based - but whose opinions are effortlessly dictated by the zig-zags of fashion, group-think, status-seeking and psycho-social expediency.


One big difficulty in doing what I recommend is that bad arguments typically obscure their premises, deny their true premises, or present false premises. The real premises may be very obvious - but will seldom be explicit.

Indeed, people will tend to state as premises what are in fact their conclusions - or state as premises what are actually their intentions - their hoped-for outcomes.

So the outcome-comparative method is not instant, not easy, nor is it uncontroversial; and it may be actively confrontational, since it entails disbelieving other-peoples' accounts of their beliefs, and telling others what they really believe.

This doesn't matter when thinking in private, but in public discourse it can be problematic. But of course, in the end, real-thinking is something that everybody has to do for themselves.

Or not.


It is therefore often necessary to infer the premises of an argument which is being evaluated; and to check whether this fits with what people actually do, how they actually proceed. And ignore what they say they are doing.

I have noticed that argument in the usual style of argument pretends to objectivity, while in practice enforcing the most extreme subjectivity. It prevents a person from ever getting to the point of making an overall comparison of the arguments in the sense of how they work-out in their consequences.

In other words, the usual style of argument serves permanently to block even very clear and obvious truth and reality.

IF, however, you can get past the usual method, and compare the outcomes of rival premises, then things are, sometimes, very much clearer and comprehensible.


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