Different things piss off different people on OS. I know what gets to me, but what gets to me isn’t usually the same set of things that seems to get to others. What gets to me most is when I see what I view as violations of intellectual integrity, so I’m thinking that maybe I should explore that topic. I have my own ideas but they are of course subject to change; after all, being subject to change is part of having intellectual integrity. These are the rules I can come up with at the moment. They aren’t preconceived. I have very little idea of what I’m about to write. I’ll find out as I do. I’ll enumerate, which I do habitually, just because it helps my ADHD-addled brain keep track of things. I’ll edit as I go and afterward.
I am not saying that I never violate any of these. I am saying that I’m wrong when I do.
1. The goal, ultimately, is to be right, which is to say to get your position as close to the truth (or to its ramifications) as you can. Not to look right, to be right. In other words, if you find yourself wrong, you’re in the wrong place. Move. Even if it’s embarrassing. Take your lumps, admit you were wrong, and proceed immediately to where you’ve figured out you belong.
2. If part of a position is wrong, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the whole position is wrong. I may be a liberal, but that doesn’t mean I think that conservatives are wrong about everything. That gets determined point by point, not globally. Be careful about babies and bathwater.
3. Figure out what the position actually consists of before evaluating it. If “most people” who have views similar to mine also hold positions I haven’t actually presented, it doesn’t follow that I also hold those positions, so I am not obligated to defend them.
4. Base your views on your standards and not on the object to which those standards are being applied. There are times when your enemy meets your standard and your friend does not. Attacking your enemy is fine, but not on the basis of a standard which he/she is meeting. Defending your friend is fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with your friend all the time. If your friend violates your standards at someone else’s expense, a comment may be in order – what friendship buys in this case may be a comment made in private rather than in public. On a macro level rather than an interpersonal level, a public admission that the party you favor is doing something wrong (or the party you don’t is doing something right) may be indicated. Generally speaking, I advise it, if for no other reason than that such an admission will enhance your reputation for intellectual integrity which, under the circumstances, you’ll deserve.
5. Answer the question. Don’t avoid it. Don’t approximate it and hope your audience won’t notice. Answer it. Really answer it. Preferably all of it. If there is something invalid about the question, explain why. If that invalid aspect makes the question unanswerable, explain why. Running from a question can be an indicator of intellectual cowardice.
6. Discrediting a source does not discredit that source’s argument. Discrediting a source’s facts can, but that’s different than discrediting the source itself. Even child-molesting axe murderers can be right about some things. Logic stands on its own. People who get a fact wrong don’t necessarily get all their facts wrong, so there is a difference between discrediting a source’s fact and discrediting all of that source’s facts. (If a source is found to make up facts on a regular basis, the argument doesn’t necessarily get discredited automatically but the burden of proof can shift.) Opinions and facts can sometimes be confused; separating the two is very important when determining the veracity of a source. Trying to discredit an argument by discrediting its source is another indicator of intellectual cowardice. Notice a theme here?
7. Discrediting a source’s friends or associates does not come close to discrediting that source’s argument. In other words, Guilt By Association is nothing but a cheap, ultimately cowardly tactic.
8. Conjecture about a source’s motivation does not discredit that source’s argument. There’s a fairly low probability of your being psychic. If that’s what your argument depends on, face it: your position sucks.
9. There is no such thing as Logic By Association. In other words, the fact that I harbor any given views does not mean you know why I harbor them, and I am not responsible for your assumptions on this topic – you are, nor am I responsible for the logic used by my allies. I am strictly responsible for my own. Logic By Association comes pretty close to conjecture about a source’s motivation.
10. Phony outrage is the antithesis of integrity. If you’re angry about something, make the case about that. Phony outrage is mainly a distraction. (And what does deliberate distraction indicate?) Can you name a single person in the United States whose primary objection to President Obama is that they think he was born in Kenya? As in: “Aside from that, even if I disagree with him, it’s not like I hate the guy”? Enough with the distractions and get to your real issue.
11. Solid arguments are ultimately strengthened by dealing openly with their weaknesses, even your own arguments. Allowing those weaknesses to be discussed sets a standard for allowing the weaknesses of all arguments to be discussed rather than hidden, which will yield a more valid solution. If you have the stronger position, this is a standard you want. If you have the weaker position, see point 1 above.
12. If you’re going to tear the crap out of a position, be prepared to defend an alternative. If you aren’t, we can all assume that the position out of which you’re tearing the crap is the best available position in spite of what you’re doing to it. The alternative doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the alternative doesn’t even have to be good – it just has to be an improvement over that out of which you’re tearing the crap. (Given that grammatical construction, maybe I was German in another life.) Playing offense all the time is easy. Refusing to play defense ever is, well, to alter my vocabulary so as not to harp on one phrase, chickensh*t.
I may end up editing this list at some point. If one of you makes a great case for another point or against one of these, I have no objection to changing this list. Talk me into it.
July 9:Margaret Feike talked me into it. After reading her objections and adding them to others I've gotten, I've come to the conclusion that I've presented the list from a less than optimal viewpoint. The implication here is that people should follow this list of rules. I didn't go around with this list; I made up the list as I wrote the post (which I say at the outset), so there's no way I could have been following this list consciously as a list. So, I'm probably going to rewrite this, though as a new post because there's too much to change. Working title:
A Dozen Ways People Screw Up Their Arguments
and rephrase them to fit that format. I'm not changing any of them; I'm good with the whole list up until now, in spite of the disagreements I've gotten.