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Part I

Philosophical Argument

The word argument evokes many images. Arguments are often verbal disagreements between people with different views. They can involve a lot of emotion and some people seek to avoid arguments. People who ceaselessly pick arguments are obnoxious. The whole process can be quite unpleasant.

Everyone has opinions and beliefs: claims that we hold to be true. We can create conflicts with other people whose beliefs and opinions we do not share simply by denying theirs and insisting on our own. The easiest way to avoid such conflicts is simply not to talk to other people about controversial matters. Refusing to discuss an issue, however, is not more constructive than yelling at one another. Consider two ways of thinking that may succeed in avoiding conflict, while blocking any possibility for productive discussion.
"Everything I believe is the truth. There is no point in discussing matters of belief and opinion with other people. If they already agree with me, there is nothing more to add. If they do not agree with me, there is nothing I can do to prove to them they are wrong." "Everything everyone believes is the truth. There is no point in discussing matters of belief and opinion with other people. If they agree with me, then we share the same truth. If they do not agree with one another, there is nothing we can do to prove things one way or the other."

While these attitudes are different in important ways, they have the same outcome for the prospect of our discussing our beliefs; they block it. Taking either attitude towards intellectual inquiry leaves us with the options of fighting or keeping our peace. Neither of these allows for intellectual progress.

Fortunately there is a third alternative to silence or confrontation. Philosophical argument provides this alternative by focusing our attention away from the claims (opinions, beliefs) themselves and towards the relationships between the claims. Consider the way of thinking that a committment to philosophical argument may promote.

"It is entirely possible for a person to believe claims that are not true. Anyone can be mistaken. Probably everyone has some beliefs that are false. False beliefs can be just as powerful as our true beliefs. So how can we tell which of our own beliefs are false? Here is one way: we can seek evidence for our beliefs and judge how strong that evidence is. We can test this evidence by discussion with other people. The relations between beliefs are matters open to everyone."

Philosophical argument emphasizes the process of reasoning we use over the content of the claims we hold. We can understand the process of reasoning by which another person maintains a claim without having to attack their view or surrender our own. Employing the techniques of philosophical argument we can increase understanding of other views and our own thinking. Three techniques are involved in the process of philosophical argument:

Note: You may get more on the 3 ideas below by holding your cursor over the words. A window with further explanation should pop-up. Within that window are other highlighted words. Place the cursor on any of those and you will get more explanation.

1. Identifying types of reasons

2. Analysis of arguments

3. Evaluation of arguments

Subject: Answer the following question by selecting the appropriate answer from the alternatives below, filling in the form, and selecting submit. Doing so will link you to page 2.

According to the text above, when your beliefs conflict with someone else's;

there is nothing you can do to prove they are mistaken.
you can examine the possible reasons for those beliefs.
you should avoid discussing such issues at all.

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