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Why we need to argue more

Take a moment and think about the last time you changed your mind about something? Was it an epiphany or because of something you heard?

Of course it would be nice if we could chalk down every smart thought we have as uniquely our own, but usually, some things happen before we gain a new insight (think: What is consciousness?, How do we arrive at thought?, What is the self?) . Maybe we learn something new about a topic, maybe we speak to other people or maybe we just re-examine things we already know. What all these things have in common are that they pose in one way or another a conflict between two ideas.

At its most basic level, it is new knowledge versus old knowledge. We have a discourse, a discussion or more specifically, an argument.
Now having an argument sounds bad at first, but if we look at the actual origins of “having an argument”, we can uncover a valuable life skill.

Some of you might remember this from Logic and Argumentation, but for all others, an argument is a stance supported by evidence. A premise and a conclusion. Now, you may say this all sounds nice and fancy and all Johannes but how is this going to be of any use my daily life?

That is a fair question and I want to elaborate on the utility of arguments in general and for daily life. 

It is no overstatement when I say that argumentation is the driving force of societal, scientific and political development. When two opinions clash, in the long run it’s usually the one that is true that emerges victorious . I want to define truth in this article as the point that is most reasonable to stand for given all the evidence there is. A familiar example is the development of models of the solar system. The first model we had was geocentric, meaning the earth was in the center of the universe. Then Aristarchus of Samos came along, who was later and more famously plagiarized by Nicolaus Copernicus and banged out heliocentrism (sun is in the center). This did not sit well with the church, who, in their delusion of the grandeur of the human race, thought everything literally revolved around them. It took roughly 2200 years for the heliocentric system to be widely accepted. In this clash of opinions, the one that was closer to the truth and better argued eventually came out on top.

An argument does not necessarily have to to be fought with words; this can also be done through actions. Take as an example the Fosbury flop. (To those wondering, this is the now standard technique when it comes to high-jumping.) Before the Fosbury flop people were using techniques like the scissor jump, the straddle jump or even rolls amongst a wide variety of other techniques to jump across to bar. When Dick Fosbury started using his new technique people were laughing at him. But when he won every high-jumping competition with ease people stopped laughing and started copying him up to the point that literally ever high-jumper these days uses it. Coming back the basic principle: we have old knowledge, the scissor jump versus new knowledge, the Fosbury flop.

Arguments are what lie at the very core of science and one could consider the scientific method the epitome of argumentation. If you make a claim you better back it up otherwise it will be disregarded. Every claim made is subject to scrutiny, making sure every claim is as true as possible.

An example where science changed its status quo that impact daily life, is coffee consumption. While it used be be considered detrimental for one's health, the newest results assert that drinking a moderate amount of coffee is good for heart, liver and offers protection against cancer. (For those interested: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28826374). Why coffee was considered bad? There is a high correlation between coffee-consumption and smoking, the latter of which is and will (in all likelihood) always remain to be considered a danger to the human body.

How did this apply to everyday life though? 

Remember that discussion about philosophy you had with a friend to the other day? Remember the book that you last read? Or that YouTube video on how to do push-ups the right way? All these are examples where old knowledge collided with new knowledge. In the clash of these two we gain new insights and perspectives. Just as argumentation advances society, it advances each one of us. The other day we thought we knew everything there is to know about how to scramble the perfect egg. One Gordon Ramsay video later we question everything we thought was true about life.

Perfecting scrambled eggs might seem like a minor thing when it comes to furthering ourselves but in reality it is exactly these small decisions that determine who we are. Through implementing this mindset of argumentation we can make these small decisions better. The more we argue the more we are forced to refine our arguments. The more refined our arguments are, the more convincing they become. So if we are arguing with someone about a topic and we bring forth our points and they bring a counterargument to every single one of them, it is time to reconsider said points. Evaluate the others arguments and see if they show any cracks in their logic. If they don't then reconsider your stance and give in to the better argument.

Conflicts like this, where arguments are made to convince because they are true, are not about ego and it is totally fine to change views at a whim.

There is always something to learn from everything and everyone, no matter how weird or complicated their ideas might seem. And in the worst case, they only help to make your arguments more convincing. As social critic Christopher Hitchens put it: “There can be no progress without head-on confrontation.

PS To really drive this point home, I dare you to disagree with me.

PPS If you read this far you seem interested in the topic, so join Athena for its first ever debate today at 5.

 


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