1 comment on “Rules of Argument (part 3)”

Rules of Argument (part 3)

This three-part post will cover six rules of argument that should be important to any knowledge worker, executive, leader, manager, or critical thinker.

What follows is a continuation of part 1 and part 2.

Rule #5: You are not your argument.

Remember that while you may be passionate about your argument, you are not your argument. This might best be supported by Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker, when he discusses how difficult this is, yet how essential it is to continued growth. The example he cites is biblical. Rohn cites this about Jesus: “Jesus could say, ‘I love you but I hate your sinful ways.'”

Now, how it is possible to love and hate in the same sentence? If you hate a person’s actions, do you have to hate the person? Or is it possible to love a person (for instance, your mother, father, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother, significant other) but hate what he does to himself? An example suggesting the viability of the love/hate relationship can be found in the granddaughter’s love for her alcoholic grandfather. She loves her grandfather. But she cannot stand what he’s doing to himself. In fact, she hates it! Still, she has learned to distinguish the two. She loves him, but she hates his sinful ways. Such separation is a sign of emotional and intellectual maturity. Some critical thinkers would argue that the ability to separate or delineate the two is essential. 

Consider examining another scenario. The trial attorney may argue many cases over the course of a year. In each case, he may present his opening argument. If he were his argument, then we should diagnose him with schizophrenia or multiple-personality disorder because he has become the following: “George Pearson should not have to pay this increase in child support,” “Martha Bivins was not legally sane when she killed her husband,” “Ms. Jodstone did, in fact, violate the contract,” “Robert Ash is entitled to this insurance settlement,” etc. See, in certain arenas, this ability to delineate or separate a person and his argument is developed and honed. For this writer, the arena consisted of three classes: Philosophy of Law, Business Law, and Constitutional Law II. In Constitutional Law II, I was asked to argue for “Brown v. Board of Education.” After doing so for approximately five minutes, I was given ten seconds to collect my thoughts, and then I was asked to argue against “Brown v. Board of Education.”

There are many things to learn from such an exercise. First, when studying both sides of a case, we are often able to see the motivations for people’s arguments. We also become familiar with the facts, and we become familiar with the opposition’s claims. Second (and something “critical thinkers” may wish to examine), being expected to argue both sides of an argument convincingly and passionately helps absolve a person of the emotional connection he may have at one time thought necessary when constructing an argument. Notice, the passion can still be present, for passion can be created simply from a desire to win or to emerge victorious. And hence, hopefully you can still find the passion to argue, even if you do not agree with the claim you’re attempting to advance. But know this: you are not your argument. Just as a person can delineate love and hate, just as an attorney can delineate his many arguments, and just as a student of law can delineate both sides of an argument, you must separate yourself from your argument.

Rule #6: Listen with the intention of listening, not with the intention of offering your retort.

One way people telegraph their intention to offer a retort as opposed to genuinely listen is when they interrupt. Such people are so excited about what they have to say that what you are saying is no longer important and, frankly, it’s probably not being heard. Of course, some would argue that they do listen, but they simply have a terrible habit of interrupting. In that case, note this: those who interrupt are often perceived as pushy, rude, disrespectful, overbearing, and egotistical; they are also often perceived as bad listeners. Thus, if you are guilty of interrupting, even if you do not think you are guilty of the aforementioned “charges,” realize that this is often the perception of such people. If you want to dodge this perception and escape this stigma, exhibit the patience required to listen. And if you’re on the receiving end of a “pauser,” a person who pauses often while speaking, then simply ask the question: “Are you finished?” If the person is not, he’ll tell you. Of course, if he is, then the soapbox is yours.


See part 1 and part 2 for the other Rules of Argument.

2 comments on “Rules of Argument (part 2)”

Rules of Argument (part 2)

This three-part post will cover six rules of argument that should be important to any knowledge worker, executive, leader, manager, or critical thinker.

     argument = a discussion (an argument is not a quarrel)

     thinking critically = this does not mean thinking negatively. Critical thinking can be completely positive, completely negative, or, more likely, an amalgamation of both.

What follows is a continuation of part 1.

Rule #3: When arguing, if you must raise your voice, do it quickly, and do it for emphasis.

Employ such vocal inflection like a writer would employ italics. On occasion it may be necessary, but be conscious of it. Those on the receiving end of your amplified voice may only tolerate it for so long. Remember to lower it, take a deep breath, and remember that if people think you are about to explode, they might be more concerned with the results of the explosion than they are with the argument you’re attempting to advance.

Rule #4: Try to control your argument.

While “control” is an illusion or a state of mind, and while we human beings find ourselves steeped in our own subjectivity, it is still advisable to attempt control or restraint, especially when you find that your appeals are far more emotionally-driven than they should be. Emotional appeals, of course, may be a component of any argument, but they become lofty unless they are grounded by logical appeals. Similarly, ethical appeals, if relied upon too heavily, can find themselves floating among the unwarranted and unsubstantiated.

This is a problem with such appeals. While logical appeals may seem dry, academic, or simply boring, if delivered responsibly, they should seem more credible and reliable than emotional and ethical appeals. Further, emotional appeals often flirt with bias, prejudice, fallacies, blind assertions, and sweeping over-generalizations. An example of this can be found when a student argues to his professor that he should have earned a higher grade on an assignment. The argument may begin in a responsible manner, for the student may cite logical appeals to advance his contention. If, however, the professor is able to combat each appeal and the student becomes frustrated, the student might blurt, “You’re unfair. You’re mean. You’re outrageous.” In this situation, the student has just articulated three assertions, and as a critical thinker or a person who values the formal constructs of argumentation, he should be prepared to offer an example for each one. Unfortunately, these assertions were (most likely) emotionally-driven. They are steeped in anger, immaturity, and bias.

Try to control your argument by remaining conscious of the appeals you have chosen to employ. Use emotion, for it is attractive, and it can advance an argument. But do not forget to mix it up. And if you find yourself becoming too emotive (relying too heavily on emotional appeals), make a decision immediately to correct your current course of action.

2 comments on “Rules of Argument (part 1)”

Rules of Argument (part 1)

This three-part post will cover six rules of argument that should be important to any knowledge worker, executive, leader, manager, or critical thinker.

     argument = a discussion (an argument is not a quarrel)

     thinking critically = this does not mean thinking negatively. Critical thinking can be completely positive, completely negative, or, more likely, an amalgamation of both.

Rule #1: If you ask a question and do not get the answer you desired, ask the same question differently.

This strategy can be found when people take polls. For instance, a pollster might compose the following question: “Do you support programs that provide money to people living below the defined poverty level?” Now, if the percentage of people answering “yes” were 79%, and if the pollster needed a much lower number to satisfy his organization’s needs, he might ask the same question differently. For instance, he might write: “Do you support welfare programs?” Since the question is essentially the same—and it is just being asked differently—perhaps the percentage should still be the same. Unfortunately, words have an awful tendency to frame perceptions and, hence, that might explain why when this question was asked after the initial question, a much lower percentage of people answered “yes.” By asking the same question differently, the pollster was able to elicit a different answer.

This strategy is also evidenced in sales. Essentially, whether the salesperson is selling houses, automobiles, office buildings, airplanes, or businesses, the answer he is looking for is “yes.” However, you may notice that when a salesperson asks you, “So, would you like to get this car today?” and you say “No,” the salesperson does not pack up his proverbial bags and leave. Instead, he attempts to address your objection, identify with it, and refute it. His refutation, of course, will probably end with the same question being asked differently: “So, based on that new information, would you like to drive away in this car today?” Similarly, when engaged in an argument, if you ask a question and do not get the answer you desired, ask the same question differently. Offer new information. Offer hypothetical examples. Of course, you may never get the person to change his mind. You may, however, get the person to make a new decision based on new information. And that new decision may be the answer you were looking for.

Rule #2: If you offer an assertion, you must have an example to support it.

By definition, an assertion is “a statement or declaration, often without support or reason.” Hence, if you asserted that the school systems in Europe are better than those in America, then you’d best be equipped with the requisite examples, for even though Wayne Booth suggests that “nobody’s from Missouri anymore,” we know that some people do desire evidence. Some people do desire proof. These people might be deemed “critical thinkers.” When arguing with someone who possesses such desires, the proof ought to be there. If you deem yourself a critical thinker, then do not offer an assertion unless you have an example to advance it.


For more Rules of Argument, have a look at part 2 and part 3.