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Philosophy – The Art of Debate

September 9, 2015

It is all too easy in this era of grandiose technology and knowledge, dwarfing the corresponding acheivements of previous societies, to get carried away with it all. To get drawn in to high flung speculations of “theories of everything”, cosmologies explaining the creation of the universe, and at the other end of the scale, to immerse oneself in the intricate details of chains of genetic code and quantum probabilities . As a result, the process of reasoning itself becomes a hierarchy of knowledgeable experts dictating truths to lower levels of amateurs and lay people.

The problem with this, as important as specialisation is, is that it is a basic and common error in philosophical reasoning to use arguments from authority: to appeal to ones reputation in an argument for a particular field, rather than the content of what you are arguing for. Now this error can proliferate throughout society on all levels, downwards from the high level scientific experts, infecting all our day to day reasonings with each other. Anyone, who has gotten into arguments on You Tube, will be aware of the low levels to which people will stoop to get the upper hand with absolutely no thought and little care for the content of the subject matter under discussion.

They are just imitating a process that has trickled down to them from higher level experts, a process they have come to identify with success at allowing one to make ones way up the hierarchy of authoritative knowledge, and so feel a little bit superior to some other people in a debate, at least for a few minutes.

This wholesale process of people competing with each other in arguments to gain the higher ground, has took on almost sinister Darwinian undertones. The people good at this process, make their way up the echelons, and so further promote and justify this whole misguided process of reasoning. A form of selection certainly, but a selection that is deletorious and disadvantageous to the promotion and continuance of good reasoning and arguing skills.

For what is being passed on is a natural selection of argument forms of arguing from authority. A form of logical fallacy that I mentioned just before.

It is well and good to push on, on the frontiers of scientific exploration. But if we become so far-sighted and specialised that we become blind to the things most close to us: the ability to reason fairly and logically in our day to day debates with other people.  Then the loss in knowledge will be substantially greater, for the skill and art of spreading reason freely and naturally among consenting individuals will be gone, to be replaced by a gradually more and more coercive approach of enforcing consent.

Of course many would argue this process of enforcing consent is already in full swing. The peer pressure within many scientific academia to toe the line of the standard theories and models, or face ridcule and loss of professional standing and reputation being a prime example.

We need, then, to get back in touch with the art of reasoning and debate. This is what good philosophy is about at the core. It is what can promote equality and democracy in our relationships with other people, as we then strive to appeal to the content of our arguments, rather than the authority or expert status of our position. Much philosophy has become misguided by, bamboozled, starstruck, by recent scientific and technological advances. It has mistook its task as that of supplementing this success, of trying to get a piece of this pie while it is still being divided up. And so it lost touch with its true home, promoting good reasoning in all areas of life and on all levels of life. Not just on levels permitted by current scientific standards under fear of ridicule and peer-enforced social exclusion. This latter is not a rational process, but the giving in to an emotional and personal need. We need to overcome this tendency. It is difficult to put into practice. But that is what the art of reasoning and philosophising is about. And we owe it to our forebears and to future generations, to maintain a level of respectability in our debates and reasoning, and to advance further here, rather than taking backwards steps.



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