Dialectic (Argumentation)

Dialectic is the exchange of arguments to find the truth

Contents
Dialectic
  • Progress in philosophy is often made through dialectic, the exchange of arguments to find the truth.
  • Examples:
    1. After a philosopher reads a paper at a philosophy conference, e.g. conferences held by the American Philosophical Association, a commentator reads a critique and the audience gets involved.
    2. A paper published in a philosophic journal, like the Journal of Philosophy  or The Philosophical Review, may lead to responses and replies to the responses. For example, Edmund Gettier’s three-page 1963 paper “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” led to the publication of hundreds of papers over the course of a decade.
    3. From the history of philosophy:
      • Plato’s works consist of dialogues in which the Socrates character, representing Plato, engages in dialectic with often bewildered opponents.
      • Immanuel Kant developed his philosophic system as an “answer to Hume,” responding to David Hume’s skeptical critique of metaphysics.
      • Contemporary analytic philosophy is in part a reaction to the crazy metaphysics of the 19th century.
Responding to a Claim
Ways of Responding to a Claim
  1. Request clarification of the claim.
  2. Present an argument to refute the claim
  3. Request an argument for the claim
  4. Bypass the claim by making a counterclaim
  5. Divert attention with an irrelevant comment
Examples
  • Claim
    • A person comes into being at conception as a single-celled human zygote.
  • Responses:
    1. Clarification
      • N/A
    2. Refutation
      • Persons are conscious. But, without a brain, a human zygote is not even sentient.
    3. Request Argument
      • What’s your reason for thinking that a person comes into being at conception rather than later in fetal development?
    4. Counterclaim
      • You’re wrong. A person comes into being when they develop a functioning brain.
    5. Irrelevant Comment
      • Let me guess. You’re an evangelical.
Ways of Requesting an Argument for a Claim C
  • How do you know C?
  • Why do you believe C?
  • Is there any credible evidence that C is true?
  • What are your reasons for believing C?
  • What’s the evidence for C?
  • What’s the basis for your assertion that C?
  • Is there any proof of C?
  • What’s your argument for C?
  • Can you back up your statement that C?
  • What justifies your belief that C?
Requesting an Argument, Example
What evidence do you have?”
Lester Holt
  • In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in 2016, Trump claimed that Clinton’s email server had been hacked?  Lester Holt asked “What evidence do you have?” When he got no response, Holt asked again, “But is there any evidence that it was hacked other than routine phishing?” Trump finally said that he heard or read about Clinton’s email being successfully hacked. Asked where he got that information, Trump said, “I will report back to you. I’ll give it to you.” (factcheck.org)
  • A person making a claim has the burden of proof, the burden of producing an argument.
Refuting a Claim, Example
That’s not true, Sir.”
Chris Wallace
  • Fox Transcript: ‘Fox News Sunday’ interview with President Trump (foxnews.com)
    • TRUMP: I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.
    • WALLACE:  That’s not true, sir.
    • WALLACE VOICE OVER: All right. It’s a little complicated. But bear with us.  We went with numbers from Johns Hopkins University which charted the mortality rate for 20 countries hit by the virus. The US ranked 7th, better than the United Kingdom but worse than Brazil and Russia.
      • [Wallace’s refutation of Trump’s claim]
    • WALLACE VOICE OVER: The White House went with this chart from the European CDC which shows Italy and Spain doing worse. But countries like Brazil and South Korea doing better. Other countries doing better like Russia aren’t included in the White House chart.
      • [Wallace’s criticism of Trump’s argument]

White House Graph
Case Fatality Rate

Our World Data
Allows users to select countries

Wallace’s Graph
Mortality Rate

Johns Hopkins
Does not allow users to select countries

Advantage of Requesting an Argument over Attempting a Refutation
  • When you try to refute a claim you assume the burden of proof. But requesting an argument puts the burden of proof on your opponent.
  • Suppose the claim is that the Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.
  • To refute the claim you would need to prove the election legitimate, a time-consuming task.
  • It’s easier to request an argument, for example:
    • A: The Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.
    • B: What’s the evidence?
    • A: There were a lot of voting irregularities and many questions have been raised.
    • B: With so many irregularities, you should be able give me one confirmed case of significant voter fraud.
    • A: Sure. I can even give you proof: 2000 Mules.
    • B: Great. Let’s take a look at factcheck.org/2022/06/evidence-gaps-in-2000-mules/
  • Alternative ending:
    • B: With so many irregularities, you should be able give me one confirmed case of significant voter fraud.
    • A: But here’s the thing. With election fraud, especially vote-by-mail, you’ll never have proof.
    • B: Why would you believe something — something really important — without proof beyond a reasonable doubt?
Responding to an Argument
Ways of Responding to an Argument
  1. Request clarification of the argument
  2. Present an argument to refute one of the premises
  3. Request an argument for one of the premises
  4. Present an argument to refute the conclusion
  5. Show that the conclusion doesn’t follow from, or is not supported by, the premises.
  6. Bypass the argument by making a counterargument or counterclaim
  7. Divert attention with an irrelevant comment
Examples
  1. Request clarification of the argument
    • Argument
      • Capital Punishment is wrong because two wrongs don’t make a right.
    • Response.
      • I’m puzzled by the figure of speech “two wrongs don’t make a right.”  The first wrong is the crime.  So the second wrong is the execution.  Are you then saying that because execution is wrong it isn’t right? That’s trivially true.  Can you say what you mean without using a figure of speech?
  2. Present an argument to refute one of the premises
  3. Request an argument for one of the premises
    • Argument
      • We need stringent voter fraud laws so that the next presidential election won’t be stolen like the last.
    • Response
      • What’s the evidence that the last election was stolen?
  4. Show that the conclusion doesn’t follow from, or is not supported by, the premises.
    • Argument
      • A person comes into being at conception because the human zygote has the full complement of 23 pairs of human chromosomes.
    • Response
      • A red blood cell also has 23 pairs of chromosomes but it’s not a person.  So the fact that a zygote has 23 pairs of chromosomes doesn’t mean it’s a person.
  5. Present an argument to refute the conclusion
    • Argument
      • Killing a person is wrong because it deprives the victim of a future conscious life yours and mine. Abortion is wrong for the same reason: that it deprives the fetus of a future conscious life like yours and mine.
    • Response
      • The problem with your argument is that killing a fetus is not morally wrong because a fetus is not yet a person.
  6. Bypass the argument by making a counterargument or counterclaim
    • Argument
      • Killing a person is wrong because it deprives the victim of a future conscious life yours and mine. Abortion is wrong for the same reason, that it deprives the fetus of a future conscious life like yours and mine.
    • Response
      • You forget that a woman has a right to control her body and her pregnancy.
  7. Divert attention with an irrelevant comment
    • Argument
      • Killing a person is wrong because it deprives the victim of a future conscious life yours and mine. Abortion is wrong for the same reason: that it deprives the fetus of a future conscious life like yours and mine.
    • Response
      • That’s a silly academic argument. Abortion is a real problem with real consequences.

Irrelevant Comments

  • Ad Hominem
    • An ad hominem is a remark directed at a person’s character, motives, beliefs, predispositions, biases, or other personal attributes rather than to the substance of their claim, proposal, or argument.
  • Ignoratio Elenchi
    • Ignoratio Elenchi (Irrelevant Refutation, Irrelevant Conclusion) is an attempted refutation that fails because it’s irrelevant to the claim or argument set forth.
    • View Ignoratio Elenchi
  • Red Herring
    • A remark intended to distract from the matter at hand.
    • View Red Herring
  • Whataboutism
    • Diverting attention from a criticism by alleging it applies to others as well.
    • View Whataboutism

View Artifices of Deception and Distraction

Common Missteps

  • Common Missteps
    • Bypassing opponent’s claims and arguments
    • Extraneous Remarks
    • Ad Hominem
  • Dialectic Example, Annotated
    • Person C
      • In our democracy it’s the citizens, through their elected representatives, who decide whether murder, euthanasia, rape, suicide, and other conduct violates moral standards and should be punished as a crime.  The same is true for abortion.
        • [Citizens decide in a democracy]
    • Person L
      • The vast citizenry of America are NOT in favor of banning abortion.
        • [Most US citizens are against banning abortion]
      • To find out what the kinds of abortion laws people want, there should be a referendum in all states on the extent of abortion restrictions people want in each state.
      • [Proposal for state referenda, Extraneous Remark]
    • Person C
      • Congress passing a national abortion law would be unconstitutional, since usurping a power reserved to the individual states violates the Tenth Amendment. 
        • [It doesn’t matter that most US citizens are against banning abortion because Congress doesn’t have the power to pass a national abortion law]
      • The states should have full control over their own environment and living conditions.   There’s no good reason for people in California or New York to vote on legislation that affects Texans.
        • [State laws are preferable to federal laws.]
    • Person L
      • [L doesn’t reply to C’s argument that a national abortion law would be unconstitutional, Bypassing Opponent’s Claim or Argument]
      • I think you may have forgotten, or more likely, do not care , that we are one country under GOD. You would have fought hard for the Confederacy if you lived in the 1860’s. Why should New York tell us we cannot have slaves! DAMN YANKEES!!
        • [Sometimes federal laws are needed to override bad state laws. Ad Hominem]

Addenda

  • A person making a claim has the burden of proof
    • A person making a claim has the burden of proof, the obligation to prove the claim beyond a reasonable doubt.
    • Politifact
      • The burden of proof is on the speaker, and we rate statements based on the information known at the time the statement is made.
    • Law
      • In a criminal proceeding the prosecution bears the burden of proof for the facts it alleges. 
    • Corollary
      • What is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.
  • The standard of evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt
    • Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence for criminal trials in the United States and Great Britain. It’s also the standard used in everyday affairs.
    • In the law reasonable doubt is described as the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act in the most important of his affairs.
    • It is beyond a reasonable doubt that is weaker than it is certain that and stronger than it is very likely that.
    • View Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
  • Claims are supported or refuted by arguments
    • An argument is a piece of reasoning, from premises to a conclusion.
      • A deductive argument is an argument from premises to a logically entailed consequence.
      • A probability argument is an argument from evidence to a probable hypothesis.
      • A normative argument is an argument from reasons to a course of action.