Most people I see do not know how to argue or really even know what a proper argument is. It is common to think that arguments are a waste of time since nothing comes of them, but this is the opposite of the truth since arguments are the only way to resolve issues and help each other learn. People often say this because they see arguments are angry and not organised, when arguments should be calm, open minded, and explanatory. Arguments are not angry name calling and insults, they are sharing and analysing information with the purpose of explaining a point so that everyone understands.
If we cannot understand and reason with each other then we resort to forcing others to comply with our beliefs.
There are two relevant meanings of arguments. The first is the more important definition, which is when two sides who disagree on something explain their reasoning and analyse the other’s reasoning. The second definition is when two people have a discussion that involved them getting angry.
Argument as in a heated debate is not a useful thing to do. When two people disagree on something, they should try to resolve the issue. There are certain steps which can be taken to do this.
What not to do
I have seen many disagreements that end badly because one person thinks they know what the other means, but they are actually impatient and overconfident in their analysis. People often don’t say what they mean and instead accidentally imply something completely different, or just different enough that it makes an important difference. An example of this is saying you don’t like math, but what you meant was that you don’t like math as a class in school, not that you dislike the whole field of mathematics. Someone might interpret that as you not appreciating the meaning or usefulness of math, and judge you as impractical or oblivious to the reasons you should appreciate math. If this is not clarified explicitly then the rest of the argument can diverge into them trying to explain how useful math is and you explaining how math as a class was boring and how you’ve never used it since you studied it. This discrepancy might become obvious after enough discussion, but this split in understanding will create two arguments that do not understand each other, and often leads to one of the sides giving up because the other side has not understood their argument. In reality, neither side knew what the other was trying to say because they did not make the issue and their opinion on it clear at the start, so they were not really arguing with each other, they were arguing with what they thought the other meant.
Another example is if someone misunderstand something; if you tell someone that you “do not understand their logic”, they might misinterpret that as you thinking that everyone has their own personal, subjective version of the field of logic. Logic however is obviously objective, it does not differ between people based on opinions. Logic is simply a tool that that we use to determine relations. What the person here did not understand is that you meant you did not understand the thought process and reasoning behind what they said. “Logic” in this sense is used to refer to a specific application and process of logic; more like not understanding the work done on mathematical equations, rather than not understanding math in general. This can lead to the person thinking that you do not understand the objectivity of logic, and that you instead are more subjective in your beliefs, which in reality is not justified.
What to do
To fix this, one should be very careful when going into an argument. It is common for someone to hear someone say something, and be alarmed by how wrong they think it is. It is vitally important that instead of directly trying to tell that person that they are wrong, that they instead ask the person what they mean by that, and they explicitly ask if they meant one of the various interpretations one could get from what they said. So when someone says they do not like math, you should not tell them that they should like math, instead you should ask what they mean by “not liking math”. Preferably one should also ask if they mean math as a school course or as the entire field of study. It is common that people will enjoy learning about something, but not enjoy the mandatory class taught for examinations or a degree.
Once you’ve clarified what the person meant, if you still disagree then you need to understand why they think the way they do. This is best done by asking them questions about what you think is incorrect so they can explain why they think it is in fact correct.
What not to do
Once you know what they mean, you should not directly argue against it. If you do that, you are choosing to ignore their reasoning. They can respond to your argument by giving their reasons, but they might instead try to defend their point of view irrationally, get angry, or just think less of you because you disagree. To avoid this, it is best to directly ask them for their reasons behind what they think. That way it is clear that you wish to understand them rather than fight them.
What to do
Ask them questions until you arrive at the root of their reasoning. Once you have reached such a fundamental level, you can say that you understand the argument to a reasonable degree, and can move on to debate.
Once you understand their argument to as much of an extent as is feasible, you can either then explain your point of view to the same extent, or simply say that you disagree with them on specific points in their logic.
What not to do
Don’t think that you’ve discovered the fundamental flaw in their logic, and expect the other person to immediately realise it and realise they were wrong. You might have found a flaw in their logic, or you might be misinterpreting it or you don’t have enough information to say that. If you were correct, you should not demand that they immediately change their ways or opinions based on that alone. Most justifications for an opinion are based on long chains of thought which take time to arrive at. It is not reasonable for you to expect someone to suddenly agree with you simply because part of their argument is wrong. When other person agrees that their reasoning is flawed, they need time to reformulate their reasoning based on the corrected information. If they do not agree though, that should not be seen as close mindedness.
What to do
When you see something that looks like a flaw, you should point it out so that the other person has a chance to justify or explain it. You might be incorrect in having thought that was a flaw, perhaps because of some technicality or imprecision on their part. When you’ve pointed out the flaw, and you’ve argued as to why it is indeed a flaw, the other person should consider that argument, and if they agree with it then they should be given time to reformulate their reasoning based on this corrected information. The fact that you’ve shown a person that they were wrong is a good thing, as it lets them correct their mistakes.
What to do
Disagreeing is a natural part of arguments, so when someone disagrees with any point you make, they should explain why they disagree. This can be discussed rationally until the two sides come to a mutual understanding. Opinions are rarely so shallow as to only have one layer of reasoning; most often complex opinions such as political and philosophical issues are based on reasons which are based on other reasons, and so on. It is only by exposing the entire tree of reasoning that one can accurately understand the issue.
What not to do
Never think that someone who continues to disagree with you, even after you have explained yourself, is close minded, arrogant, or stubborn.
Even worse, do not think that they are incapable of understanding. This is baseless unless there is some objective reason, such as a mental disability, that would suggest as much.
These are both assumptions born out of impatience and arrogance. People tend to think more differently than one would imagine because of the complexity of human thought, so it is natural that it will take a lot of explanation to counter the many layers and reasons that someone has for their beliefs.
If you assume that you know enough about the reason for the issue, and think that looking further into it is a waste of time, you might be right or you might not. If you try to argue based on this assumed issue and you’re wrong, the argument will likely go nowhere.
Arguments do not have to end in a clear solution. As stated before, both parties need to explain their sides clearly so that the other can understand and consider their ideas. Having more knowledge always helps to arrive at the truth, which is the purpose of arguments and why they help us. At this point, both sides can agree to stop the argument and have time to consider each other’s ideass, and to reformulate their own ideas given the new information, especially if they were shown to be wrong about something.
Arguments help build upon what we think we know. Every time we have a rational argument we learn more information, verify more of our own information, and become smarter so we can make better decisions. We can always come back with the improved information we have received from previous arguments and continue with them to eventually come to a point where we both agree.
Most people I see do not know how to argue or really even know what a proper argument is. It is common to think that arguments are a waste of time since nothing comes of them, but this is the opposite of the truth since arguments are the only way to resolve issues and help each other learn. People often say this because they see arguments are angry and not organised, when arguments should be calm, open minded, and explanatory.
We argue do not argue to win or be proven right or let out our anger, we do so to understand and help one another by arriving at the truth.