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I'd like to ask you all: have you ever had a conversation where you had a position, and the other person had a position, and you came out with your position changed?

Occasionally. Very occasionally. But quite frequently I've come out with my position nuanced... even just a little bit. And with enough nuancings... you eventually end up with a quite different position.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 08:31:41 PM EST
Yeah, that's the sense I get.  I wonder, though, if one takes a non-adversarial approach, if the nuancings can't be speeded up...into synthesis!  (Ah!  I do enjoy synthesis!)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 08:38:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Synthesis may be useful and desirable, but not always. It may be relevant, it may not. It may be possible, it may not.

Reductio ad absurdum:

I am in favour of chopping rg into tiny bits.

My opponent thinks rg should remain whole.

Synthesis? OK, let's cut rg into quarters.

It's admittedly desperate as an example, particularly for rg, but there are positions that don't admit synthesis.

Oppositional debate can also serve as a means of setting out the arguments for and against, of adducing evidence, in other words, of providing information.

On the other hand, endless argumentativeness and logic-chopping, sophistry, eristic...

eristic a & n  (art or exponent) of disputation; (of argument or arguer) aimed or aiming at victory rather than truth [f. Gk eristikos (erizo wrangle f. eris strife)...] (Concise Oxford Dictionary)

is tedious and unproductive. (Meaning <scream raaaarggghh enough stop!>)

And it would be good if we developed other ways here of being productive in the way ideas are shared. Maieutics is one way; collaborative work towards a position and/or a text is another... Though it has to be said that these don't "draw" like a big fight; and that they suppose a fairly high degree of like-mindedness. And there we will get accusations of "groupthink" and "comfort zones", and calls for openness to contrary points of view... And therefore disputation and strife... The good ship ET has navigated between this Scylla and this Charybdis since the beginning.

So: when ideas are antithetical or at least very different, how do you discuss them productively without confronting them? Propositions welcome.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 03:32:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Synthesis may be useful and desirable, but not always

As I understand it, synthesis is the creation of a higher level agreement from two seemingly irreconcilable positions; so the agreement about chopping moi to pieces wouldn't (as I understand it) be about how big the bits I'm chopped into might be, but rather--"Hey, why don't we keep him as a slave?"  Solving both needs.  

Oppositional debate can also serve as a means of setting out the arguments for and against, of adducing evidence, in other words, of providing information.

Yeah, I think this is its role; making sure the nuances (as Jake had it) have been dealt with; but I suddenly had a doubt--it sounds good in principle, but I wondered: has anyone here ever had an opinion that was changed by this setting out of the arguments, with evidence, etc?  It seems that those who believe homosexuality is an illness, or that there were WMD, or that nuclear power is dangerous, or whatever the position might be....just on the internets there must be the same arguments argued a hundred thousand different ways, but I don't think people are changing their minds...

Although--having said that, for the undecideds or the "I never knew about this topic, didn't realise there were issues, tell me more", a well worded and researched argument may win out against something less well argued, or researched--

--David Icke comes to mind, all his pages of information--have you read Them, by Jon Ronson?  He discovers the Bilderberg group really does exist; that there really is a large stone owl, that there really is a ceremony where they burn an effigy of...etc....

heh!  Maybe I'm thinking of myself, trying to tidy the intellectual map, shaking off the crumbs, see what's been mapped, see better where the irreconcilables lie...

...and yes, a good fight draws the attention, so we'll all keep throwing sticks at each other....!

So: when ideas are antithetical or at least very different, how do you discuss them productively without confronting them? Propositions welcome.

I do like the idea of a person studying the weakest part of his or her own side's argument--it's sorta anti the "We need guns because they have guns" logic--

So...I think ideas can be confronted, positions stated.  I like the idea of finding agreement on specific issues (as opposed to a strange agreement that it's best not to discuss some issues, which as you say reduces an argument to "me and my mates agreeing about things we agree about"...

Ach zo, senor afew!  I have proposed ze thesis, you have proposed an antithesis, and now--

hey, I've learned some great new words already!  Gotta love euhemerism!

So...synthesis: I get to learn some new greek words that lead me to new concepts from which I can better view the terrain....a tweaking of ze mental map!

But yeah, the danger is that all discusssion reduces to, "Well, let us define is--and then we can go from there!"

On t'other hand, I have my moments where I think that if we really did all stop and ponder what is is (do all cultures have it? What are its roots?  It's one of our oldest concepts, maybe--How has its function changed over time....)--er....

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 04:42:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You know, it does occur to me as well that some people simply enjoy shouting at each other--whose skin crawls when everyone around them puts on their shiny happy faces--a good argument clears the tubes.

But, as King Neptune had it, "Wands!  Wands!"

--using a wand, though, to fight a person with a sword....heh...

Do you know this one?



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 05:14:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
rg:
I do like the idea of a person studying the weakest part of his or her own side's argument--it's sorta anti the "We need guns because they have guns" logic--

OK, good idea. But one that requires (like maieutics or collaborative research and editing) a certain degree of like-mindedness or at least of shared good faith. I'm all for it. But it's like the photo negative of trying to put forward the strong points. It can still be an argumentative fight, unless everyone involved plays the game in a positive spirit.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 06:00:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You make me think of the competition to be the humblest:

"You're the humblest."
"Oh, no!  You're much more humble than me!"

Heh...Yack yack!  The danger with any such approaches is, as you say, bad faith--

But I do like the idea that before we (of course I include moi!) open our blowholes to expel mighty spouts of what we believe to be the case--by God!--onto the heads of our enemies...

I dunno, if we go about pointing out the structural weaknesses in each others houses, when and how do we go about making our own ever more pleasantly habitable?  (I suppose another line of thought would be that we should fix the structural weaknesses in the other person's house--"Hey, in your argument you're missing a key point: if you add this detail, my word!  It becomes formidable!")

yes, yes!

And with those another series of propositions....heh....

Back to reality!

TG: Well we had it tough.  We used to have to get up out of the shoebox
    at twelve o'clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues.
    We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four
    hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we
    got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife.
EI: Right.  I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night,
    half an hour before I went to bed, (pause for laughter), eat a lump
    of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill
    owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home,
    our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves
    singing "Hallelujah."
MP: But you try and tell the young people today that... and they won't
    believe ya'.
ALL: Nope, nope..



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 06:57:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
has anyone here ever had an opinion that was changed by this setting out of the arguments, with evidence, etc?

I can name a very simple one: I used to think that deposing Saddam Hussein was a good idea, because he was a Bad Guy. Then somebody pointed out that Bush the Lesser had started pushing the smaller members of the UNSC around by blackmailing them with threats of withdrawing foreign aid, and I went "hey, waitaminnit - you don't get to do that! You've got a case, why do you have to bribe and blackmail to make the other guys come around to your point of view."

Similarly, I used to think about Afghanistan "well, it worked fine enough for Kosova..." Until some kind chap pointed me to a declassified MI6 analysis that said that the official British story about Kosova (which the Danish press had plagiarised wholesale) was basically a load of crap. Now, if the Russian spies say that the official British version of events is full of crap, I take that with a grain of salt. But when the British spies say it...

Of course, when you have a position that you've spent a long time thinking through, spent a lot of energy nuancing and spent a lot of debating hours refining, the chance that a single argument will shatter it wholesale is much smaller. No doubt it's partly because you have a greater emotional attachment to the idea and the narratives you use to justify it. But I think it would be silly to discount the fact that the position has already been changed and refined quite a lot.

In principle it's possible that someone can point me to an argument that completely justifies slavery. In principle, it is also possible that someone will provide me with data that conclusively proves that Maxwell's equations are wrong. But it has to be really, really good, because there's rather a lot of data and theory to support Maxwell's equations, and slavery violates most of my principles. So proving Maxwell's equations wrong would entail finding another model that describes all these volumes of data, and convincing me that slavery is right, would involve convincing me that most of my principles are wrong.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 07:09:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Of course, when you have a position that you've spent a long time thinking through, spent a lot of energy nuancing and spent a lot of debating hours refining, the chance that a single argument will shatter it wholesale is much smaller. No doubt it's partly because you have a greater emotional attachment to the idea and the narratives you use to justify it. But I think it would be silly to discount the fact that the position has already been changed and refined quite a lot.

I agree, so it's not just that one becomes more dogmatic as one gets older (though that can happen of course :-)), but that one has reviewed a lot more evidence, countered a lot more oppositional arguments - a bit like an experienced chess player.

As Popper pointed out there is value in a certain amount of what might seem like dogmatism in order to ensure that a theory is adequately defended; one shouldn't just abandon a theory due to the first bit of counter evidence without considering that supposed evidence critically.  I think he cited Newton as having rejected some observations which seemed to contradict his theories, explaining them as due to abberations in lenses, etc. - correctly.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 08:35:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bush the Lesser had started pushing the smaller members of the UNSC around by blackmailing them with threats of withdrawing foreign aid

Yes. Authorization to do this was part of the American Servicemembers Protection Act, introduced as an amendment to an important appropriations bill by Jesse Helms. Bush's "coalition of the willing" is more likely termed the "coalition of the coerced/bribed." Or how we got international powerhouses like Costa Rica, Georgia, Romania, Iceland, Thailand, Honduras and Mongolia to give some sort of half-assed diplomatic cover for his war of aggression.

It has been pointed out (by a Russian, btw) that the lack of support for the war by any continental European country pretty much predicted how disastrous this was would turn out. Which speaks volumes about the international perception that Britain merely follows in Washington's footsteps.

"Coalition of the Willing." Rhetoric at its worst.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 10:12:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS:
Similarly, I used to think about Afghanistan "well, it worked fine enough for Kosova..." Until some kind chap pointed me to a declassified MI6 analysis that said that the official British story about Kosova (which the Danish press had plagiarised wholesale) was basically a load of crap.

And this would be why I generally spend quite some time trying to understand why people believe what they believe. If that kind chap had not understood the reason behind your thinking about Afghanistan, he might have delivered a thousand reasons why invading Afghanistan would be wrong, that you would not have accepted as they would not have been relevant to your reasoning.

You can always heap arguments of why something or another is wrong, but to convince you need first to understand. And if you can convince then you can change stuff.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Dec 5th, 2008 at 04:47:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the debate where it came up was about the Kosova crisis, not the invasion of Afghanistan, so the psychological analysis wasn't quite as convoluted as might appear - I made the jump from Kosova to Afghanistan more or less myself...

But the wider point is well taken, and applies just as well to the kind of evidence that I would find acceptable in the Kosova case. It's certainly true that if he'd argued solely that it was A Bad Idea from a geostrategic point of view, I would have been less (read: Not at all) persuaded. Whereas I suppose for others it's their analysis of geostrategic advantage that matters.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Dec 5th, 2008 at 05:33:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the dialectical process, Hegelian, Marxian, etc., a synthesis is not simply the mid-point between antithetical positions, but their resolution at a HIGHER levl, transcending the apparent opposition. So a synthesis of your "desperate example" might be agreement that neither of you had a right to decide what should be done with rg (though he might be assigned a bit more homework to inform his diary :-))

"how do you discuss them productively without confronting them?"

As you might have guessed, I'm not against confrontation :-) and don't see it as necessarily unproductive. Confrontation happens in science very often and can be fruitful and science indicates how most discussions can be made more productive. That is one doesn't just state one's opinions, but, where appropriate (e.g. not in cases where one is just reporting one's feelings) one also supports them with evidence, an indication of how they fit into a rational understanding of the issue in general (which would at least imply what would count as refutation), provides citations so one's evidence and its context can be checked. Such argument might lead to minds being changed, if not ValD's :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 08:03:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah yes, can you believe it passed me by on first read through?  No?  heh....!

Eristic!  A new word to me--I think it was what I meant when I wrote "rhetoric".

These are great words I'm learning!

And...Eris!

Eris Nancy Discordia (Born -9900,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, Died Tomorrow) was a 'Big Ol' Dyke' deity, and became e=]4tyg1st President of the United States after st75e3kig Cthulhu in a closely fought game of go-moku. She was sometimes known as a Sacred Chao. Her Vice President (President of Vice) was J.R. "Bob" Dobbs. She is also widely known for Her authorship of the humorous text, The BibleFNORD, the creation of Golden Delicious apples, and the defeat of the Illuminati in ancient Atlanta. Many statues in the Britains, known as Sheelanagig, depicting a hideous woman pulling open her vagina, are based on the impression Eris left in the minds of the Human Race.

Eris works part time as the Greek Goddess of Confusion and Chaos, or She What Done It All, and part time at a Dairy Queen in Towson, MD. In traditional Greek mythology, she created Forgetfulness, Lies, Quarrels, and lots of other things the ancient Greeks weren't particularly fond of. The Principia Discordia states:

"One day Mal-2 consulted his Pineal Gland and asked Eris if she had really created all of those terrible things. She told him that She had always liked the Old Greeks, but that they cannot be trusted with historic matt -]#['p098h7yfdt86561/8+fz cbi7rs. 'They were,' She added, 'victims of indigestion, you know.'" However, Eris isn't really malicious and evil, but she tends to be mischievous and at times, a bit bitchy. It was the Goddess Eris who threw the Golden Apple and started that silly little war... you know, the one with the Trojans and such.

Heh....Eris.

Eris (Greek Ἔρις, "Strife") is the Greek goddess of strife, her name being translated into Latin as Discordia. Her Greek opposite is Harmonia, whose Latin counterpart is Concordia. Homer equated her with the war-goddess Enyo. Eris, the solar system's largest known dwarf planet, is named after the goddess.

[...]

The most famous tale of Eris recounts her initiating the Trojan War. The goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite had been invited along with the rest of Olympus to the forced wedding of Peleus and Thetis, who would become the parents of Achilles, but Eris had been snubbed because of her troublemaking inclinations.

She therefore (in a fragment from the Kypria as part of a plan hatched by Zeus and Themis) tossed into the party the Apple of Discord, a golden apple inscribed Kallisti - "For the most beautiful one", or "To the Fairest One" - provoking the goddesses to begin quarreling about the appropriate recipient. The hapless Paris, Prince of Troy, was appointed to select the most beautiful by Zeus. Each of the three goddesses immediately attempted to bribe Paris to choose her. Hera offered political power; Athena promised skill in battle; and Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta. While Greek culture placed a greater emphasis on prowess and power, Paris chose to award the apple to Aphrodite, thereby dooming his city, which was destroyed in the war that ensued.

Eristic!  Excellent!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 07:27:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS:
But quite frequently I've come out with my position nuanced... even just a little bit. And with enough nuancings... you eventually end up with a quite different position.

That's almost exactly my experience. Giant world-changing epiphanies are rare, although they do happen occasionally. But it's not so rare to find positions changing with counter-arguments.

It also works from the other side. Trying to put together a coherent argument takes some thought, and often I'll find that my beliefs and positions change, or at least become clearer, as I try to do that.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 12:33:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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