Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Touch of Gravitas: LearnedFoot Explores the Art of Argumentation and How Some People Suck at It, Part 1

EDITOR'S NOTE: I am aware that the title of this post, "A Touch of Gravitas" is strikingly similar to Sisyphus' continuing art bloviation series "A Touch of Class". There are those who might accuse me of hypocrisy given KAR's aggressive defense of our, ahem, intellectual property while at the same time we brazenly steal that of others (see e.g. the Kool Aid Guy above). Consider this your first lesson in the art of argument: playing the hypocrisy card is not a valid argument. Lefties do it all the time, and it is apropos of nothing. For example, if I posit "stealing is wrong" as I hotwire a car, does my action undermine the essential truth of my statement? No. It merely compels you to firmly affix The Club to your steering wheel while I am in the same locale as you. This is just further evidence that liberals are stupid. Besides, hypocrites are always half right, which is much better than being all wrong.

PART ONE: The Framework

An effective argument is comprised of three indispensable components. First, the argument must be anchored in some essential truth, or premise. Second, an argument must advance a conclusion; that is the ultimate point of the argument. This conclusion must represent the debater's assertion of what would be revealed as an essential truth given the evolution of human thought and discovery. Finally, an argument must be supported by facts, observations and logic that connect the essential truth to the argument's conclusion.

Think of it as a bridge: anchored at one end with a universal truth, spanning the chasm of ignorance with logic, terminating at the other end - the purported truth. If any part of the bridge is weak, it either collapses, or at best, augurs care when determining whether to traverse it ("buy the argument").

For example, in the past year, we have seen arguments undermined by faulty premises: "The Arab people are not ready for democracy"; that have been undermined by faulty evidence or logic: "we cannot authenticate the memos"; and there are those that have been undermined by a conclusion that defies logic, is not based on any fact, and cannot be tied to any essential truth: "Ever since the press brought down President Richard Nixon, Republicans have followed policies intended to neuter the press and the good of the country be damned".

If you can undermine the integrity of any one aspect of an argument, you can collapse the whole bridge. Bloggers tend to focus on the span, or the fact-based aspect.

Here's an illustration. Remember that little snippet about Teresa Kerry's latest moonbat statement that I posted yesterday:

Teresa Heinz Kerry is openly skeptical about results from November's election, the SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER reports, particularly in sections of the country where optical scanners were used to record votes.

"Two brothers own 80 percent of the machines used in the United States," Heinz Kerry said. She identified both as "hard-right" Republicans.

She argued that it is "very easy to hack into the mother machines." Heinz Kerry did not offer any specific evidence that votes on the machines were altered. "We in the United States are not a banana republic," added Heinz Kerry during a fundraiser in Seattle.

Let's deconstruct this, working somewhat backwards. First, what is her conclusion; the thing she posits will be known as truth once everything is known? That's right, she is saying that the last election was hijacked by the Republican party (yawn, I grow weary of you people). OK, let's walk the bridge backwards. What facts or logic does Kerry employ to support her conclusion? 80% of the voting machines are owned by two brothers that are Republicans.


I'm not going to go into all the problems with Kerry's "evidence". It's pretty self evident. Let's assume for the time being that she can get past summary judgment with that "evidence".

What is her premise? Where is the essential truth upon which her argument is anchored?

There isn't one. Or, more specifically, there isn't one in the real world. In Heinz-Kerry's world (that would be the Planet Fleegor) an essential truth of the matter might exist (that there was any major fraud in the last election at all attributable to Republicans). Here on Earth, the Heinz-Kerry bridge is collapsing into the ravine.

While most debates revolve around the support aspect of the constituent arguments, this is not the only battlefield. The most contentious, intractable and ongoing debates involve sharp differences in the applicable premise. Think of it as "dueling truths". I'll illustrate with a familiar controversy: the abortion thing.

Breaking down the debate to it's essence yields the following:

Pro Life Faction:

Conclusion: Abortion should be illegal (with few / no exceptions)
Support: Life begins at conception; thus a human fetus is a human being; killing a human being without a legitimate justification (i.e. self-defense) is murder; thus abortion is murder.
Premise: All human life is sacred.

Pro Abortion Faction:

Conclusion: Abortion should always be legal (with few / no exceptions)
Support: A human fetus is not really a human until it can live outside the mother's body (viability); until the fetus is viable, it is merely a part of the mother's body.
Premise: Women (or all persons) have a natural right to determine what to do with their own bodies.

As you can see there both conclusions are well connected to their respective premises with a discernible chain of logic. This is a case of the battle of the truths - the winner of this argument will have to demonstrate that one premise is subordinate to the other. That will probably turn on a resolution of the "when life begins" question, which at this point is more philosophical than scientific. Thus, we all all going to be condemned to live in the Pro Life - Pro Death conflict hell for many years to come.

OK, the boring part is out of the way. Stay tuned for the final two installments which I promise will be much more fun:

PART 2: Analyzing an actual piece of MSM advocacy writing using the template set out above;

PART 3: So LearnedFoot, what the hell is your point?

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