Debate Methodology - How to point out each other's errors

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Debate Methodology - How to point out each other's errors

Post by Scott » June 3rd, 2010, 1:05 am

In a thread about a different topic, Jackowens mentioned the importance of using a methodology to logically work out disagreements. I want to discuss that so I have copied some of what he wrote into this new thread and responded to it here.
Jackowens wrote:I mean as things stand now, we have no agreed-on method for identifying acknowledging and discarding errors --errors that we know must exist. That just leads to quarreling. If we have such an agreed-on method, per the plank that I suggest that we use, the likelihood of an argument disintegrating into a quarrel is lessened.
I disagree. I think we do have an effective foundation for methodologically pointing out errors. On these forums, I think with the forum rules, with the rules of logic, and with common sense and courtesy, we do have an effective flooring and from which to methodically discuss, debate, and point out perceived errors and failures in each others arguments.

As far as discussion on these forums goes, one who refuses to abide by the forum rules can be reported and can be banned. Technically speaking, fallacies of relevance such as red herrings, straw mans, ad hominems, etc. are clearly against the forum rules, and one who does not genuinely try to avoid using them can be reported and can be banned.

In accordance with the forum rules, the title and original post determine the specific topic/question to be discussed, debated and attempted to be answered.

To illustrate the lack of need for some extra methodology, we did not need to discuss methodology for me to point out the false dilemma fallacy I believe you committed in the thread from which this complaint was copied. Without any special other methodology, it's clear to both of us that you have to show that you didn't commit the fallacy or your argument fails. This is just an exercise in basic logic.

The complicating issue I don't think is methodology of finding and pointing out errors; it's just miscommunication and misunderstanding. Sometimes we inadvertently misinterpret what a person is saying as something that we believe is untrue or illogical when what they actually mean to say is something with which we would agree. But as long as both people use common courtesy and follow the forum rules, misunderstandings will be cleared up.

Anyway, what type of methodology do you have in mind, Jackowens?

Here is another threads which may be of some use: The Four Elements of a Complete Logical Argument - By extension these also represent the four categories of rebuttals to arguments, or four things that can be cause an argument to fail. The credibility of the sources can be doubted, the truth of the premises can be doubted or the logical validity of the inferences can be doubted; the conclusion itself can be proven wrong (but any claim that the conclusion is false is a claim that either the premises are false or the logic is invalid).
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Post by Jackowens » June 3rd, 2010, 3:55 am

Dear Scott,

In reply to your post of 6/3/10 (#1):
"Anyway, what type of methodology do you have in mind, Jackowens?"

1. First, we both admit that we can be mistaken; that we may be involved in an error.

2. The exchange is to be cooperative. We each have the right to pose questions to the other with the expectation that an answer will be forthcoming. And, if the question takes a "yes" or "no" answer, it will be given or an explanation of why it can't be answered with a "yes" or "no" will be given. No evasiveness. I might point out that this avoidance of giving a "yes"/"no" answer and instead giving obliquities and tangentialities is almost a standard procedure. In fact the avoidance of "yes" or "no" answers, resulting in confusion and inconclusiveness, is probably the chief obstacle to making progress in arriving at a solution to this controversy. .

3. Since there must --and I emphasize must-- be an error in contradictory propositions, we must have test-criteria for identifying it (or them). To get away from subjectivity, I suggest that we limit those test-criteria to fallacies and contradictions, nothing more. In other words, neither of us will be accused of being involved in an error unless it be a fallacy or a contradiction. And, regarding fallacies, the word is all too frequently used loosely. Fallacies have names. If the accusation of being guilty of using a fallacy is made, a) the name of the fallacy and b) how it applies will be given. Otherwise the only test-criterion of error will be contradictions.

4. Errors are to be sought on both sides of the issue. Progress will consist in seeking, identifying, acknowledging and discarding them. They will not be left inconclusive to clog up the exchange.

5. There will be no unilateral control of the discussion, something that, sooner or later, Gay Liberation ideologues seek. There will be no trying to dictate what points will or will not be discussed.

6. If there is a disagreement as to how the matter should be approached, we divide the discussion into two, separate approaches gone into concurrently and, using those differing approaches, try to identify errors. There will be no attempt at unilaterally controling approaches with the purpose of prohibiting the use of any approach unless that approach can be shown to involve the one using it in a fallacy or contradiction.

Anything there that you object to?

Regards,

Jack

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Post by Scott » June 3rd, 2010, 11:31 pm

Jackowens wrote:3. Since there must --and I emphasize must-- be an error in contradictory propositions, we must have test-criteria for identifying it (or them). To get away from subjectivity, I suggest that we limit those test-criteria to fallacies and contradictions, nothing more. In other words, neither of us will be accused of being involved in an error unless it be a fallacy or a contradiction. And, regarding fallacies, the word is all too frequently used loosely. Fallacies have names. If the accusation of being guilty of using a fallacy is made, a) the name of the fallacy and b) how it applies will be given. Otherwise the only test-criterion of error will be contradictions.
Fallacies and contradictions are not the only things that can make an argument fail. My short article The Four Main Element of A Complete Logical Argument can be used to also name the four general forms of rebuttal. Any of the premises can be false, any of the sources saying the premises are true can be non-credible or other equally credible sources claiming the opposite can be given to negate the original sources, any of the inferences can be shown to be fallacious, or the conclusion itself can be attacked (but if the conclusion is false then one must also believe that at least one of the premises is false or at least one of the inferences is a fallacy because if the argument is sound the conclusion must be true according to the rules of logic). You seem to be making the mistake of only taking into account the third type of rebuttal, showing that any of the inferences is fallacious.

I don't what more of a need for test-critera there is except for the willingness of both parties in the discussion to explain themselves, listen to the other and follow the forum rules including staying on-topic. For instance, if person A provides a complete argument then that means--as any rational person must admit--person's conclusion must be true insofar as all the premises are true and all the inferences are valid. But person B, if he disagrees with the conclusion, can argue that the argument is unsound by either attacking the truth of premises or the validity of the inferences. So person B might say, "You committed X fallacy at this point in your argument." Person A can either agree and admit his original argument was fallacious, or he can try to explain how he was misunderstood and clarify his argument or try to explain how the type of inference he made is not fallacious. Aside from the possibility of being misunderstood and needing to clarify, for two people it's not that hard. If person B says one of the premises is false, person A can either agree his original argument was unsound, or he can try to explain how he might of been misunderstood and re-clarify or he can try to argue that premise is true, usually by providing more sources or demonstrating the credibility of the sources he has already provided.
Jackowens wrote:5. There will be no unilateral control of the discussion[...] There will be no trying to dictate what points will or will not be discussed.
Well the forum rules do require all posts to be on-topic. Of course, if you have some other off-topic thing that comes up that you want to discuss you can create a new thread for that topic (or find the thread about that topic if one already exists) in the appropriate forum category or the off-topic section. The requirement to stay on-topic is what makes it against the forum rules to intentionally use ad hominems, red herrings, straw mans and otherwise commit any other fallacy or unproductively distract from or derail the discussion with off-topic remarks.

***

Let me have a demonstration here. Let's say I create a new thread and provide the following arguments (conclusion in bold):
  • 1. All people who's last name is two syllables are very nice.
    2. Hitler's last name has two syllables.
    3. Therefore, Hitler was very nice.
The conclusion cannot be false unless the argument is unsound. One who disagrees with the conclusion could point out a fallacy in the inference made in argument if such a fallacy is present. If the disagreer is correct that the argument is fallacious, then the argument is unsound. However, as is the case with the above argument, which I think we can agree is unsound, fallacies (invalid logic) is not the only thing that can make an argument unsound. In the case of the argument above, one who disagrees with the conclusion would likely contend that the argument is unsound because the first premise is false. If I had provided a source for the first premise, the disagreer could negate that by showing that that source is not credible or by providing alternative sources that are equally or more credible.
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Post by Jackowens » June 4th, 2010, 4:59 pm

Dear Scott,

In reply to your post of 6/3/10 (#3):

The main point here is whether you believe that the method I'm suggesting that we use a) has some invalidities or b) that it needs to be supplemented.

In other words, are you saying that what I've written is completely acceptable methodologically as far as it has gone; it simply needs to be supplemented by adding some provision about what is empirically determined to be factual, along with the sound reasoning of needing to avoid any fallacies and contradictions that I've already given?

Regards,

Jack

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Post by Scott » June 4th, 2010, 5:30 pm

I think your methodology needs to be supplemented. As with the case of the simplistic Hitler argument I provided as an example, the errors that can make an argument fail or be unconvincing are not just fallacies and contradictions.
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Post by Jackowens » June 5th, 2010, 2:19 am

Dear Scott,

In reply to your post of 6/4/10 (#5):
"I think your methodology needs to be supplemented."
Two points:

1. Is there anything in the method that I suggest that we use that you believe must be discarded? And I mean discarded because of not being intrinsically reasonable rather than for duplicating what the Forum rules and policies already entail.
"As with the case of the simplistic Hitler argument I provided as an example, the errors that can make an argument fail or be unconvincing are not just fallacies and contradictions."


No, and I pointed that out in my previous message: empirical errors, i.e., errors of simple sensory perception. In other words, and as an example, the major premise of the syllogism that you gave fails empirically.

2. In supplementation, do you have in mind anything beyond empirical errors and errors of reasoning?

Regards,

Jack

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Post by Santini » June 6th, 2010, 3:10 am

I seem to recall someone's once saying that there're really only a few ways to respond to an argument with which you disagree.

First, you can say that you don't understand the argument and ask for clarification or further explanation of some key term, premise, or inference.

Next, you might show that the argument is invalid; therefore, even should the premises of the argument all be true, those premises have given you no reason to believe that the conclusion of the argument is likewise true.

Alternatively, you can show that the conclusion of an argument is unworthy of belief because one or more of the argument's premises are false.

Finally, you also have the option of admitting, either publicly or tacitly, that you don't have a good reason not to believe the conclusion of some argument other than that you are a lunatic beyond the reach of rational argument.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -- Philip K. Dick

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Post by Scott » June 6th, 2010, 5:07 pm

Jackowens wrote:Is there anything in the method that I suggest that we use that you believe must be discarded? And I mean discarded because of not being intrinsically reasonable rather than for duplicating what the Forum rules and policies already entail.
Insofar as I believe I understand what you are proposing, I do not think anything needs to be discarded except your claim that the only types of errors that make an argument fail are fallacies and contradictions.
Scott wrote:As with the case of the simplistic Hitler argument I provided as an example, the errors that can make an argument fail or be unconvincing are not just fallacies and contradictions.
Jackowens wrote:No, and I pointed that out in my previous message: empirical errors, i.e., errors of simple sensory perception. In other words, and as an example, the major premise of the syllogism that you gave fails empirically.
Right, in addition to fallacies and contradictions one can also rebut an argument by showing what you call an 'empirical error,' meaning that they show that one of the premises may be false. A logical argument is only convincing insofar as the premises are believed to be true. If the premise is false, then the argument is unsound even if it contains no fallacies or contradictions. If the premise is probably false, then the argument is probably unsound even if it contains no fallacies or contradictions. If the premise may be false, then the argument may be unsound. In short, fallacies and contradictions are not the only errors in an argument that can make it fail.

***

I think Santini is saying in different words what I am saying and what Jack maybe getting at. That is, if one is to adhere to the rules of logic and attempt to actually rebut an argument that has a conclusion with which one disagrees, there's only a few different categories of possible rebuttals each of which involves attacking a crucial part of the argument: 1) the premises (which one could attack with evidence that the premise is false or unbelievable, which I assume what Jackowens calls an 'empirical error'), 2) any sources or evidence provided by the arguer in support of the premises (which can be attacked with equally credible or more credible counter-sources or counter-evidence OR by attacking the credibility of the arguer's sources or evidence) 3) the inferences/attempted-use-of-logic (which one could attack by pointing out a fallacy), 4) the conclusion (which one could attack by just demonstrating the conclusion is false as it would be contradiction for one to contend that an argument is sound if it's conclusion is false).

The four elements of a complete logical argument and, by extension, those four categories of valid rebuttals are explained in my short article, The Four Main Elements of a Complete Logical Argument.
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Post by Jackowens » June 6th, 2010, 8:57 pm

Dear Scott,

In reply to your post of 6/6/10 (#8):
"Insofar as I believe I understand what you are proposing, I do not think anything needs to be discarded except your claim that the only types of errors that make an argument fail are fallacies and contradictions."

For the third time, Scott, I'm not saying that the only errors of belief are fallacies and contradictions. If one's perceptual/sensory apparatus is off, one is in error. The most common error of that type is hallucinations.

Jackowens wrote: "No, and I pointed that out in my previous message: empirical errors, i.e., errors of simple sensory perception. In other words, and as an example, the major premise of the syllogism that you gave fails empirically."
"Right, in addition to fallacies and contradictions one can also rebut an argument by showing what you call an 'empirical error,' meaning that they show that one of the premises may be false."

In contrast to your demurral above, you seem to agree on the point. If you still fail to understand empirical errors, please (following your own recommendation) ask questions.

Alright with that established --I hope-- I'll proceed in the other threads.

Regards,

Jack

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Post by Santini » June 8th, 2010, 3:57 am

Jackowens wrote:Dear Scott,

In reply to your post of 6/6/10 (#8):
"Insofar as I believe I understand what you are proposing, I do not think anything needs to be discarded except your claim that the only types of errors that make an argument fail are fallacies and contradictions."

For the third time, Scott, I'm not saying that the only errors of belief are fallacies and contradictions. If one's perceptual/sensory apparatus is off, one is in error. The most common error of that type is hallucinations.
A premise in an argument is not in error based on the mere fact that one's perceptual/sensory apparatus is off. A premise in an argument is in error only if that premise is false.
Jackowens wrote: "No, and I pointed that out in my previous message: empirical errors, i.e., errors of simple sensory perception. In other words, and as an example, the major premise of the syllogism that you gave fails empirically."

Scott wrote: "Right, in addition to fallacies and contradictions one can also rebut an argument by showing what you call an 'empirical error,' meaning that they show that one of the premises may be false."

In contrast to your demurral above, you seem to agree on the point. If you still fail to understand empirical errors, please (following your own recommendation) ask questions.

Alright with that established --I hope-- I'll proceed in the other threads.

Regards,

Jack
Unsure of your point, here, Jacko. Scott has always acknowledged that arguments can be unsound or not cogent in only two ways: through the falsity of a premise and/or through the invalidity of the argument, of which reductio ad absurdum is a particular example.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -- Philip K. Dick

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