Saturday, September 1, 2012

Arguing With Bad Arguers

What exactly should one do when they find themselves debating some topic with someone who is not actually interested in participating in a “debate?” I recently reread A Rulebook for Arguments the 4th edition, and since then, in day-to-day conversations, watching TV and reading blogs at Talking philosophy, I have been painfully aware of many examples of bad arguing. How does one handle such things? This is not a rhetorical question and I do not have an answer, it simply baffles me. The professional Philosophers who blog on their website seem to take it seriously, but they differ in approach as well.
Some respond directly in an intellectually respectful way. That is to say, if someone writes a comment which is horribly fallacious and doesn’t really have any intellectual merit, the blogger will sometimes respond directly to the claim as if it did have merit and then easily disputes it. They will also ignore the fact that it is an example of a fallacy. The issue here can be that the commenter will not understand that they have erred, or perhaps don’t care, and continue to push their poorly phrased and thought out argument even after the response. So how far do you take polite refutations?
Another situation which will happen on their blog is that they will get commenters who will simply make a statement that is jam filled with rhetoric and insults. How much respect do you give this person? Some philosophers on the site will politely respond to their point intelligently and give them a warning. If they persist with that type of “debate,” then they get booted from the site. Some, don’t issue warnings, some issue many.
Is ignoring them the answer? Because even if the person is proposing their case in such a way that is unhelpful, offensive,etc. they may have a legitimate point buried beneath the rhetoric. So it seems we should probably give them the courtesy of the benefit of the doubt. Say we do give them that, and they respond again in a similar way. How many benefits do we give them before it is appropriate to stop responding?
There are also folks out there who simply are not interested in having an intelligent, two-way debate about something. They have a stance on a particular topic and they are not going to budge. They don’t care how poorly they make their case or how you make yours. How are you supposed to react to that? You can ignore them or you can keep responding in well thought out ways and perhaps they will get the point. But perhaps not. If you address their fallacy they continue to make them, if you ignore it, they continue to make them. It seems like a no win situation.
As an armchair/desk chair philosopher, I enjoy philosophical debate and think that it’s the  path to insight and self reflection. But what do you do with people who aren’t willing to participate, only to angrily make their points and ignore yours? Perhaps it’s to educate them. Treat them as if they were participating properly in hopes that they will. That doesn’t always work though. For me, I simply avoid those people, and discussing philosophical topics with them because they’re not interested in progress. Only in telling me how it is according to them. There’s no such thing as a one-way debate.

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