Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

An observation on discussions

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One type of argument I’ve repeatedly observed is to state assertions as proof — that is, a conclusion is stated as though merely stating the conclusion proves it.

I find it difficult to believe that this is done in good faith. The technique seems rather a bad-faith effort to push one’s views into the discussion as already established, which is inappropriate in a discussion in which the participants are in a partnership to find the truth.

I perhaps am sensitive to this because the college I attended, St. John’s College in Annapolis MD, view dialectic as an ideal, dialectic being exactly a discussion in which people cooperate in trying to determine the truth. It was exemplified in the Platonic dialogues we read in freshman seminar, and then followed in the tutorials and seminar discussions for all four years. The seminar was the core of the program: an evening discussion that began at 8:00pm on Mondays and Thursdays and lasted a little over two hours.

The discussion focused on understanding a difficult text — one of the so-called Great Books or a part of one. Led by two tutors — whose role was mainly to ask questions and keep the discussion on track — 18-22 students around a large table would try to understand what the author said and what that implied and how that fit with our experience. We had to back up our statements with sound reasons and passages from the text. And part of understanding a text is figuring out how the author reach the conclusions in the book — and many authors were careful to explain the evidence they considered and how they reasoned from that. (This was particularly evident in the math tutorials — 12 or so students and one tutor — where we studied math texts, and in the lab, where we replicated critical experiments.)

A couple of posts back, I posted Anthony Mostrom’s review of Imperium, and that book provides a crystal-clear example of an author who simply states conclusions in the hope/expectation that the reader will accept them:

A moment’s reflection shows that Liberalism is entirely negative. It is not a formative force, but always and only a disintegrating force. […] Liberalism is, in one word, weakness. […] Liberalism is an escape from hardness into softness, from masculinity into femininity, from History to herd-grazing, from reality into herbivorous dreams.

Every one of those statements is a conclusion, but the evidence and argument are missing. This is not a statement of someone wanting to participate in an effort to find the truth, but rather an effort by someone who wants to force his views on you and (presumably for good reasons) does not want to show how he reached the conclusions he presents as settled.

There’s a lot of that going around. Beware people who don’t want you (or they) to look at how they reached their conclusions.

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2023 at 12:23 pm

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