Re: Are Beliefs Like Clothes?
Sat, 16 Aug 1997 09:00:21 -0700 (PDT)

On Fri, 15 Aug 1997, Robin Hanson wrote:

> I wrote:
> > I don't see the evolutionary function of just wanting to argue
> > for argument's sake.
> Eric Watt Forste writes:
> >Many people have the experience (possibly illusory) of being able
> >to think more clearly, and particularly of being better able to
> >detect flaws in ideas, when they are in an argumentative frame of
> >mind. Argument also represents an opportunity to invite other
> >people to find flaws in one's ideas. Possibly argument is the chief
> >means by which ideas are improved.
> The theory needs to be coupled with a theory that explains why it is
> easier to find flaws in ideas if individual people tie themselves to
> specific ideas, rather than critiquing ideas one doesn't feel
> especially tied to.
> Robin D. Hanson

This is quite an interesting exchange. Very early on when I teach my
argumentation and writing classes, I point out that there are at least
*four* reasons to engage in argument: one, to clarify your thinking; two,
to persuade a person of the correctness or at least reasonableness of your
claim; three, to convince a person to undertake some particular action; or
four, to facilitate a reconciliation among initially incompatible
viewpoints. It seems to me fairly straightforward that assuming and
defending a position -- even if in a provisional or improvisatory manner
-- in a free and open encounter is a good way to bring to light unexpected
flaws and possibilities in that position. And the reasons are broadly
evolutionary in a memetic kinda sorta way -- your favorite flavor.
Argument for argument's sake isn't an *ideal* way to clarify one's views
insofar as we can distinguish understanding from strategic advantage. The
victor in the free and open encounter may rely more for success on a
winning personality or a compellingly euphonious turn of phrase, than a
sound or creative argument, etc. etc. Eric's musings that position-taking
may tap into territoriality and other lizard-brain behaviors in ways that
figure in the ultimate efficacy of argument for argument's sake seem to
generate as much evidence against the attractiveness of the practice as
for it. I'm wondering just what *practices* you have in mind when you
speak of general critique as opposed to position-taking as a way of
clarifying one's ideas? Best, Dale

Dale Carrico |
University of California at Berkeley, Department of Rhetoric

If you want to tell people the truth be sure to make them laugh.
Otherwise, they will kill you. -- George Bernard Shaw
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. -- Nietzsche