Friday, February 13, 2009

The Argument: the Circle of Two

I wonder if you may be thinking that in order to engage in Argument, one must be some sort of tech math guy. Sort of like in order to play football one must be an athlete. Well, no: argument is much easier. One must know the rules, yes. But then that's true for any game, or sport, or job, or task: baking bread, changing your car's oil, knitting a sweater, anything.

But (you say) there was all that math-stuff, with "variables"!

Well, Chesterton was not really any sort of math brain - or a "scientist" in the broadest sense:
It was true that I could never exactly be called a scientific character; and even as between the Classical and Modern sides of my old school, I should always have chosen rather to idle at Greek than to idle at Chemistry.
[GKC, Autobiography CW16:107]
So what? He knew the rules, and he was great at arguing. (Just ask his brother Cecil - or his foes, Shaw and Wells, or the sad case of Mr. Charles "Sure We Evolved" Darrow!) Some other time I will examine the issue about GKC and math - which may be almost as much fun as the comparable exploration of GKC and science done by S. L. Jaki in his Chesterton a Seer of Science. But let us try to get a little further about these rules.

I will give you the general outline of the "Scholastic" method as Shallo sets it down. But maybe you'd like a short introductory version first. It's called the "Circle" but it is really just two sides, rather like a courtroom, or a playing field. In fact, an Argument is rather like football, or a formal debate: each side gets its turn with the ball. I mean the topic. The scheme does not call for referees: each side gets to "ref" the other side's last "play" when it is their turn. The sides take turns, examining the previous side's "play", and making another "play" - until there is a conclusion - that is, there is some agreement, or - er - the "game" is called due to lateness, or rain, or dinnertime, oe whatever.

Now, let us see how Shallo presents it in his Scholastic Philosophy:
The Method.

73. By method, we mean orderly procedure in the acquisition, exposition or defense of truth in regard to a given subject matter. The subject-matter is supposed to be presented in the form of a question, e. g., 'Is the human soul immortal?' Hence the general laws of method are:

(a) Let the question be clearly determined (status quaestionis) — This implies:
(1) That there is no ambiguity in the terms; therefore, definition of terms.
(2) That the subject be properly divided into the parts which it contains.
(3)That the truths assumed, in starting to resolve the question, be clearly recognized.
(4) It also helps greatly to clear understanding of the question, to recall the doctrines of others on the subject, and their principal reasons for holding them.

(b) In the process of argumentation, advance from that which is better known to that which is less; from that which is easily grasped and admitted, to that which is more difficult.

(c) Advance gradually, i. e., so that each new step connects with and is justified by what has gone before.

75. Method of Discussion. The Circle.

One undertakes to defend, another to attack a given proposition or thesis. Both are supposed to understand and agree upon the status quaestionis. All arguments and objections are proposed clearly and briefly in strict syllogistic form.

(a) The Defender

(i) Proposes the thesis, explains the status quaestionis, proves each part of his proposition by one or two short, solid arguments, and then awaits the attack of his opponent.

(ii) When the first argument against his thesis is proposed, he first repeats it faithfully word for word, then repeating each proposition, he says whether, and how far, he admits it, or denies it:

For example, he may say "y is z, I grant the major. But x is y, I deny the minor. Therefore, x is z, I deny the conclusion."

Or he may say: "y is z, I distinguish the major; in the sense m, I grant the major; in the sense n, I deny the major. But x is y, I contradistinguish the minor; in the sense n, I grant the minor; in the sense m, I deny the minor. Therefore, x is z, I deny the conclusion."

Note 1. If the syllogism fails in logical form, he lets major and minor pass, and denies the conclusion and the consequence, i. e., that it follows from the premises, e. g., "y is z, let the major pass. But x is y, let the minor pass. Therefore, x is z, I deny the consequences and the conclusion."

Note 2. As either S, P or M may be ambiguous, each proposition in which the ambiguous term occurs must be distinguished. Thus, if M is ambiguous, both major and minor premises must be distinguished, and M denied of S in the sense in which it was admitted to belong to P. If S or P is ambiguous, the premises in which it occurs must be distinguished, and also the conclusion; for S and P will agree with each in the conclusion, only so far as they agree with M in the premises.

Note 3. If one of the premises of the objection rests on a false supposition, the defender says, e. g., "x is y, I deny the supposition." If the enumeration of alternatives is incomplete, a disjunctive proposition is denied. If an analogy is false, he denies the parity.

(b) The Objector
The Objector may attack either the thesis directly or the argument by which it was proved.

(i) If he attacks the thesis, he simply asserts the cons tradictory of the thesis, e. g., "Against the proposition which asserts that S is P. I say, S is not P. and I prove it thus"; etc. If he attacks the argument, he asserts, and attempts to prove the contradictory of either major or minor premise.

(ii) As the defender has proved the main proposition, of course the "Burden of Proof" lies with him who would assert its contradictory. Hence the objector is obliged to prove his contradictory; and if the defender denies any premise of his argument, he is obliged to prove that premise. If one of his premises is distinguished, he may show that the difficulty remains even with what is granted, or he may prove what is denied in the distinction.

(iii) If the defender denies something supposed in one of his premises, the objector may ask him to say distinctly what that supposition is. If the completeness of his enumeration of disjunctive alternatives denied, he may ask the defender to assign the alternatives omitted.

(iv) When an objection has been fully solved by the defender, he should not urge it further, but take up a new objection. Hence, he should have studied his subject carefully and be familiar with the objections urged against the thesis, know how to urge them strongly, and recognize a satisfactory solution when it is given,

OK, a bit complex, and still lots of tech. But let's see if we can get a handle on the main idea. The Defender starts with a statement. He makes it clearly and unambiguously, with all the definitions he may need, and being careful not to break any of the rules of reason ("logic") because any hole he leaves will be torn into by the Objector! If he can make his statement as a syllogism, so much better, since those are the standard forms for making such statements: GIVEN something as true, and something else as true, THEN some conclusion must also be true. (See no variables that time, hee hee) But the form is not essential as long as the statement is clear. Then he sits down, and it's the Objector's turn.

The Objector now tries to demolish the statement. He can attack the definitions, the truth of the premises, or the logic the Defendant used. NOTE! Here's where the fun comes in. He must be just as careful, because the game swaps now. He's "defending" his objection, and the - er - let us call it the Home Team - gets to play "objector" in the next round! (Oh yes. There's multiple innings, or plays, or rounds.)

For convenience, Shallo gives a list of the "moves" one can make at this point. It's not comprehensive: you can say just about anything, as long as it advances the point - but the list gives some powerful insight into reasoning, and how one goes about getting at the truth of things. The words are Latin, since for centuries that's how people argued, but you can use English or whatever language you are used to.

1. concedo ("c.") I grant
2. nego ("n.") I deny
3. distinguo ("d.") I distinguish
4. ("cd.") I contradistinguish
5. ("sd.") I subdistinguish
6. transeat ("t.") let it pass
7. ("neg. sup.") I deny the supposition

The really interesting one is distinguo, I distinguish. This "move" requires you to subdivide the issue, breaking it down into cases or variations, to each of which you must then say something else. This is how you get at a weak definition in the Defender's statement, and reveal new details which he may not have explored.

It is interesting, and well worth your consideration. In general, this seems to be the great and very sad error of our day. On the Defending side, people jam all kinds of nonsense together and use very poor definitions which are all but worthless since they are so general. (They have forgotten that "definition" comes from the Latin finis boundary, border.) Likewise, the Objecting side has completely forgotten to play the "distinguo" move, and all to often sit back and say "let it pass" or "I concede" .... though they grumble "I deny" back in the locker room after the match.

Again you should please remember: the Argument is supposed to be about getting at the truth of a statement. It is not a "convincing" as if the statement was about what kind of car you wish you owned, or what kind of dessert you'd like! It's not about a person's "belief"; it's not an "attack" on a person, or a group of persons - as I've said before, an Argument can work far better between friends.

One more point. It seems to me that this can make a splendid technique for use in comment boxes. Please think about this.

* * * * * * *

Postscript: You may wonder: have I done these? No. Have I ever seen one? No. Then why do I bother? Because such a scheme seems to provide a means to get at matters which are not being gotten at, in our present time. I don't know that I could do it well, but it behooves us to study the technique, and perhaps make the trial. Next time I will give you a couple of examples from Shallo's book, and we'll hear some more from GKC about all this.


At 14 February, 2009 17:55, Blogger Sheila said...

Ah, if only people would use these rules! But we don't, because it is hard and takes time -- more than anyone wants to spend between the outrage or whatever emotion they feel and the moment they hit "enter" in a comment box.

Me, I would be happy if people would only reread what they wrote and what the other person wrote and check that they are using the same terms in the same sense, and whether there is any logic in what they say. It would be something!

Ah, well, at least I have participated in some debates that had enough rules to keep things more or less on-topic. Our debates at Christendom were (and from what I hear, still are) a thing to remember.


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