With debates like this representing much of the argument that makes it through to the public, it is inevitable that people will become disenchanted with argument.
Just to remind us of what argument could be, let’s take a look at some of it’s virtues.
The many uses of Argument
1) To find the right conclusion
Logic is possibly the most reliable way of predicting what our senses will show us. Argument is a key way for us to communicate and harness this logical ability. Using argument to find correct conclusions is possibly its most obvious use.
2) Help one understand a concept (know why you believe something)
It is hard to underestimate the value of knowing WHY you believe something. Without that knowledge the door is open to all kinds of unfortunate and self-defeating things. For example, imagine a man physically attacking another to defend the idea of non-violence. Or more trivially, imagine a child believing potting soil to have the same value as chocolate because it looks similar. One good way to know why you believe something is to understand a good argument for it. This is especially useful for more complex beliefs such as the importance of a free press in a democratic society.
3) Avoid Belief Perseverance
People have a tendency to continue believing things even when they are aware of contradicting evidence. They even continue to believe something when all the reasons that lead them to initially accept that belief are no longer valid. This effect is called belief preference and seems to be a characteristic of human cognition.
If we forget the argument that lead us to believe something, how are we to know when that argument is no longer valid? It is important to periodically make sure that the arguments we once found convincing still apply. Not knowing when to stop believing can be a very costly mistake. For example a method of determining which stocks will rise in 1998 may bankrupt one today.
4) Knowing why other’s believe
Bad arguments can also be quite useful. Usually they convince someone and sometimes they convince a great deal of people. Knowing at least part of why other people believe things can allow you to see their motives on a deeper level. Knowledge of bad arguments is also invaluable if you endeavor to convince people otherwise.
However, possibly the most useful aspect of knowing why others hold certain beliefs is that it helps you predict what they are going to do in the future. If the argument they believe is especially misleading it also helps you predict where their actions will lead them astray.
Logical argument has the potential to help us solve many of the world’s present problems. However, in order to use this tool properly it is important to know why one is arguing (number 2). Without knowing why argument is so valuable we could end up just yelling at each other.