Facts: Methodology

Facts can be determined based upon four categories of methods:

1.    Personally observed.

2.    Personally determined or calculated.

3.    Sourced Facts

4.    Assumed and Unsupported

 

PERSONALLY OBSERVED

These facts have been determined based upon the arguer’s actual experience as determined by one or more of the five senses.  Example:  I went into this parking lot and there were four red cars.

PERSONALLY DETERMINED OR CALCULATED

These facts have bee personally ascertained, not through the exercise of the five senses, but rather arrived at based upon a calculation, estimation, or ascertain using other necessary but separate facts.  For example, I can calculate the area of a square if I know the length of the radius.  

SOURCED FACTS

The facts have been claimed by another person or authority.  Often this is the most common source of facts for us in life as well as argument.  We rely upon information given to us by others.

ASSUMED AND UNSUPPORTED FACTS

These facts have been determined using no acceptable form of methodology.

The Basic Anatomy of an Argument

Argumentsare conclusions reached by applying rules to premises.

Each underlying premise may itself be a conclusion that is supported by underlying premises.  I suppose, it would be possible to reduce each argument to a never ending series of premises turned to conclusions, but that endeavor would induce debilitating headaches.  

Every argument, decision, dispute, or declaration can be reduced to the following equation:

C = I (F/M X R/M)

In the above equation:

C = Conclusion.

I = Issue

F = Determined Facts

R = Adopted Rule

M = Methodology used to Determine the Facts or Adopt the Rule

There may be a lot of extra words that add flourish and frill to an argument, but in the end every house, from the Hut to the White House is made up of the same elements - walls, floors, doors, and roof.  The rest is ornament that may add or detract from how well you convey these premises and conclusion to your audience.

Because conclusions are the logical (one hopes) results of two or more premises, you will understand that premises make up the vast bulk of any argument.  Because a conclusion is dependent upon the premise, your best bet for articulating, defending, or attacking any argument is to fanatically focus on the disclosed facts and rules as well as force out the hidden unarticulated facts or rules that must necessarily exist to support the end-point conclusion.

Finally, Conclusions must be related to the goal you have adopted for that argument.  You want someone to believe something, do something, consider something, or merely understand something.  Make that part of your conclusion.  That should be the starting point before any argument.

Know Your Audience

It's not always who you are arguing against.   

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In any argument your goal will determine your audience.  While it is possible that you may have more than one audience, typically one will be primary.  When I am in Court my goal is to persuade a Judge to rule in my favor.  He or She is my audience.  Secondarily my client is also an audience because, even if I lose, it will be important that I my client sees that I have made the best possible argument in his or her favor.   

Rarely is your audience the person against which you argue.  How few minds have been changed in Facebook debates!  That's true if you consider only the minds of the antagonist and protagonist.  However the onlookers, the bystanders who read your arguments may be persuaded. 

Once you know your audience you know how to tailor your argument, what words to use, what tone to adopt, and what "buttons" to push.  In some ways it can be like the famed game Apples to Apples, or it's more naughty and races counterpart - Cards Against Humanity.  You pick a card that may not make sense to you, or even to the group, but rather you pick the card that you think the person having to choose is most likely to relate.  

 

The Goal of the Argument

Any argument that results in you meeting your goal, is an argument you have won.  

"Winning" an argument does not necessarily mean that you have compelled, through logic and eloquence, the opposition to concede.  

Since setting a goal in an argument determines nearly every aspect of the argument that follows, it is crucial to understand the proper goals of an argument and keep them constantly in mind.  In certain cases your goal may be readily and apparently achievable - you will know then that you have accomplished what you sought to achieve.  In many cases, a long time may pass before you find out, if at all, that your argument succeeded.  In some cases, certain goals are simply not achievable - ever.  

It is an unalterable fact of human existence, that you cannot make an argument that will achieve every possible goal you may select.  In the face of this reality, the first step to any argument, and the most important, is to recognize and select a proper goal that you may actually achieve.

Proper Goals of an argument include:

  • Changing the opposition's mind to adopt your position on the argument.  This is, I suspect, what most people think that their goal should be when entering an argument.  Unfortunately it is the goal that you are least likely to achieve.
  • Altering the position of a spectator of the argument.  In this case, you seek to convince the audience, not your opponent, to adopt your position.  Political Debates, are classic examples of this type of goal.  You will never get your political opponent to publicly agree you are the best candidate, however you have a chance with those who witness the debate.
  • Change Behavior.  The distinction between change someone's mind, and changing his or her behavior is not difficult.  Change someone's mind, their behavior follows as a result.  Sometimes, however, it is not possible, or time-effective to alter someone's beliefs, and instead persuade him or her to follow your instructions even if he or she does not believe or adopt the reason why.  Most parents eventually reach this goal when they say, "Because I said so."
  • Speaking up to confront an improper action or statement or to defend a person or ideal that has been attacked.  You may be presented with an action, or statement, that requires you to speak up and confront the statement so that (1) your silence is not taken as agreement; or (2) you have a moral duty to confront a statement or action you perceive as wrong.   You perceive that someone, or something, is getting attacked, and you wish to defend that person, or idea.  
  • The Pleasure of Intellectual Debate.  There is a rare person who actually enjoys the argument and the debate.  It is a form of sport, a logical challenge, and a pleasure that has been enjoyed since antiquity.  Argument can be like virtual chess, honing your ability to listen, dissect, and respond. Older than chess, argument requires you examine your own beliefs, and anticipate your opponent's next move.
  • Explain your Position or Rationale.  When accused of something, or asked why you took an action, or adopted a position, you may seek merely to state your position so that it is understood - even if you do not hope to persuade.

INVALID GOALS

  • Portraying yourself as an intelligent individual with "the Answer."  Rare is the individual, who does not desire to be the individual with most intelligence.  You can solve all problems, explain all mysteries, and hopefully, others will appreciate your brilliance.  This sort of vanity bodes poorly for you.
  • Belittle, Mock, Demean, Intimidate.  Some view argument as a means to attack, and assert petty dominance.  If that is your goal, then put this book down.  It isn't for you.  I would recommend any number of sarcastic books teaching you the art of the put-down.  This book will not help you.

Introduction

An argument is a conclusion derived from applying adopted rules to determined facts relevant to resolve a specific issue in order to accomplish a goal.  

There are a number of components to this definition:

1.     Your Goal in making the argument

2.    The issue at hand

3.      Your Adopted Rules

4.      Your Determined Facts

5.    Your Conclusion

 

Arguments can be mind numbingly layered, because each of the above components is itself a Conclusion that rests upon other determined facts and conclusions.  

For example: 

I assert that If you drink the contents of this bottle - you will die.  This is my conclusion.

This Bottle contains Bleach.  - This is an determined fact.

Bleach is a poison - This is a determined fact.

Poisons can kill you - This is an adopted rule.

The Determined Fact that “This Bottle contains Bleach” is also a conclusion. How do I know the bottle contains bleach?  What facts do I rely upon to determine that it does, in fact, contain bleach?  The Label? The smell? Someone’s say so?  When analyzing arguments, it is important to understand that each conclusion rests upon other conclusions.  

 

Challenging arguments is the task of identifying those conclusions which are vulnerable to attack.