Thursday, September 05, 2013

This is how I responded to a student's second attempt at producing an argument for me:

Arguments are involved things, messy things, ways of trying to convince someone, sometimes a very messy person, that believing something they don't yet believe will, somehow, be a better thing for them than continuing to believe the wrong things. Even a very bad argument is nevertheless at least as intentional as an attempt at polishing off what cannot get clean.
Thinking about it this way, do you think someone will want to change their mind about what you're arguing for after reading what you sent me this second time?
As you start to think about how to motivate a person to shift their stance, you will start to see how arguments are more than just statements about what to believe. They are insight into how belief works, and specifically beliefs inside a person, a very messy person. And the better you understand how the mess looks from the inside, the better you get at crafting an argument, because you learn why we messy persons live in the messes we do, and thus what will motivate us to get comfortable with the new mess.

I learned how to argue by doing it, over and over, with a variety of people. But there are some arguments that you know you should lose, and there are some arguments you know you want to lose, and some arguments you do lose because you're fearful of the alternative. It is a great skill to know when to argue, when to lose, and when to win at all costs because losing to flatter a less skillful person will end up damaging their soul.

It is a dangerous philosophy to argue for something more than a conclusion, but it is the only way to love wisdom.

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