Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fact-Based Arguing

There was an interesting "Opinionater" column in yesterday's New York Times by philosophy professor Gary Gutting. He describes the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning and notes that most political policy discussions rely on the latter.
In an inductive argument (e.g., Most humans do not live for 100 years; Socrates is human; therefore, Socrates will not live for 100 years), the premises only make the conclusion probable. As a result, adding further premises can alter the force of the argument.
He explains that inductive arguments can be attacked " simply by adducing further relevant facts." Just because your facts are correct, doesn't necessarily mean that your argument is, especially if your sample of the facts is too narrow.
Even a strong argument from purely factual premises is open to refutation unless we are assured that it has taken account of all relevant facts. Realistically, of course, we can never be sure that we have taken account of all relevant facts ... Ignoring relevant facts can give us false confidence in the strength of our positions in political debates.
His conclusion is a perceptive analysis of what happens in many political arguments.
Each of us may conclude that the other is irrational or ignorant.
The whole thing is worth reading, especially if you like to argue.

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