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.