Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.
OPINION – We need to argue more. Or to be precise; as a society, we need to argue more intelligently.
Once upon a time, argumentation was the primary method of sorting out the pros and cons of an issue, with an exchange of evidence and ideas and persuasion by facts and reason providing the framework that could lead to understanding. This no longer appears to be in vogue.
Anytime a highly charged issue is being discussed or debated, our ability to remain clear-headed can be challenged. In a culture where perception is regarded as reality, our understanding is too often based upon the parroting of short, carefully selected sound bites that are spoon-fed to us via the media.
When this occurs, our view of the bigger picture is often incomplete and therefore the conclusions we draw may or may not be valid. Instead of trying to rely upon mere emotional association, we can use logic to help us gain a more clear view of the issue at hand.
Aristotle is generally credited with the invention of classical logic in his work “Organon” meaning tool. He taught the importance of defining one’s terms, classifying statements, syllogisms—or argument structures that by design appear to be indisputably valid, and finally, proofs by which an argument could be tested.
Let’s use his Square of Oppositions tool to provide a contemporary example of why logical thinking is a helpful tool in understanding the issues we discuss. We’ll start with two universal statements:
- All illegal aliens are criminals.
- No illegal alien is a criminal.
Would a rational person argue that these statements of absolutes are perfectly true? Not likely. The reason for this is that if so much as one exception exists, then the statements are not entirely factual. However, when we present the statements as particular forms, they become much more plausible:
- Some illegal aliens may be guilty of criminal activity.
- Not all illegal aliens are guilty of criminal wrongdoing.
See the difference? By framing the statements in more particular forms, it’s much more difficult to disprove the statement. By not choosing to frame the debate in highly emotional terms, we set the stage for a more productive discussion that’s less likely to devolve into sticks and stones.
Using particular forms to argue requires us to think in terms other than absolutes, but also offers more valid arguments than their universal counterparts. To those who prefer to think in black and white, this kind of logical thinking can be extremely challenging, but like defiant children who’ve been asked to eat their broccoli, they’ll find that it’s actually quite good for them, even if they don’t particularly like it.
It helps to remember that logic cannot tell us what is true or false in reality. Logic alone cannot create a valid argument, and it cannot make an argument more convincing. It can, however, tell us if an argument is valid or not. Logic is valuable not because it will win every argument for us, but because it causes us to better order our thinking and to instinctively test statements for their validity without simply buying into them. It allows us to examine our own arguments with greater precision and to express our viewpoints more effectively.
When Abraham Lincoln was a struggling law student, his professor told him that until he could “demonstrate” his arguments he would never be a lawyer. Lincoln went home and studied Euclidian geometry until he could give the first 173 proofs at sight.
This ability to use proofs gave Lincoln an indisputable logical edge over his opponents. His most famous opponent, Stephen Douglas, often found himself in complete disagreement, but entirely unable to respond to Lincoln’s points because of the logical manner in which they were presented.
With logical thinking, you won’t always be right. But you won’t be wrong very often either. Vigorous yet civil discussion and debate are essential to expanding our intellect and understanding. But don’t mistake desperate demonizing for the kind of debate that can actually help solve problems.
By arguing intelligently, it won’t matter who wins or loses the exchange. We’ll still have learned from it.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.