0. The Art of Holding a Dialectic

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There is an express reason why this is numbered ‘0’. It is because, before you can even consider a theory, any theory, you must understand the difference between an argument and a dialectic.

A good starting point is examining why people disagree. After all we’re all honourable people, and thus if we employ good reason and good faith we must come to the same conclusions. Logic will take you down the same path, no matter who is taking the path. Hence, two reasonable people should agree on everything, correct? Then why do people disagree? It’s because their assumptions are different. The only way two reasonable people can disagree is if their starting assumptions are different. Different assumptions lead to different logical conclusions. If you differ, try to clarifying the implicit assumptions in the arguments presented.

Do you Argue or do you hold a Dialectic?

Think back to the last time you admitted you were wrong. Think back to the last time you refused to admit you were wrong but were proved wrong in the end. Why do so many arguments end in resentment instead of agreement. We’re so good at disagreeing that we need to consciously make an effort to agree. In particular, we could try delineating the divide between an argument and a dialectic.

An argument is generally what a debate evolves into. Both parties have decided beforehand that they are correct and the other side is dead wrong. People simply talk past each other because they come from different perspectives. They do not try to understand the reasons behind the other party’s argument. The debate comes more extreme and devolves into personal attacks, which only increase the feeling of indignation and self-righteousness. Now, even more than before, both sides feel their position is the correct one because they feel vindicated by the perceived stupidity of the other side. This is an argument. A discussion certain to failure from the beginning.

How can we engage in a dialectic instead of an argument? The first step is to separate the assertion from the person making the assertion. If someone says “the Earth is flat” then instead of going “a pox on you”, one would ideally consider the assertion and not the person proposing it. Can you, right now, give me a few scientific reasons for why the Earth is round and not flat?

You’re going to roll your eyes when I say this but keep an open mind. I’ve seen very intelligent people, who would consider themselves open minded, react involuntarily and block a line of argument even before considering it because they’ve mentally shut themselves off to that possibility. Really, if you want to learn, at the least give reasoned consideration before passing on. Think, what is this person trying to tell me?

The last part, and the trickiest, is to try to look inside yourself and understand why you want be to right. Often times, people’s arguments spring from what they want in life and how they want the world to be, and not from reason. A list of cognitive biases and logical fallacies is useful here.

It’s worth remembering that we’re always wrong since there’s no way of knowing objective truth. In a dialectic, the key is remembering this. That both parties are not opponents in an argument, but are partners in the journey, and that by probing each others’ arguments and helping each other refine our arguments we can get ever closer to the truth.

>>Next: 1. Modes of Thought

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