Saturday, July 08, 2006

My first post

To inaugurate this thing, I'm going to complain about something that has been bugging me for a long time. That's when someone attempts to refute an argument - let's call it Argument A - solely by utting something along the lines of:

"Well that's all fine in theory, but it doesn't work out in practice!"

What this really means is:

"I disagree with what you're saying, but I don't want to spend the time and effort necessary to formulate an intellectual argument against it!"

Why such harsh criticism? Well, think about it this way. Argument A likely says something along the lines of "In reality, x is true." Its opponent first admits - or at least doesn't contest - that it is true. Then, he/she says that "it doesn't work in reality" - in reality, x is not true. In other words, the counterargument amounts to: "I don't believe you, but you're wrong!"*

This is pure cowardice masquerading as an argument.

If I disagree with someone, and yet am not sure what exactly I find fault with in their argument, the proper answer is simple: "I'm not sure I agree with you on that, but I need to think about it some more. Let me get back to you later." Similarly, I have no problem with people who say, "That theory sounds nice, but it doesn't work out in reality. That's because your assumptions y and z are flawed, and so your argument is wrong." This argument offers up a reason why my argument is wrong, and is a proposition that can be debated.

Just to take a final example, look at these two arguments:

"Your theory that the earth is the center of the universe just doesn't work out in reality."

"Astronomical observations of the positions of Mars and Venus aren't consisent with your theory that the sun and the planets revolve around the earth."

Which is more plausible, or scientific?

*Or, as a character in Rand's Atlas Shrugged, in response to one of the protagonists' speeches, says:

"Oh, I can't answer you. I don't have any answers, my mind doesn't work that way, but I don't feel that you're right, so I know that you're wrong." (p. 384)

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