June 10

What you could learn from ‘A Rulebook for Arguments’ by Anthony Weston (2017, 85 pages)

Good discussion and argument, like everything else, requires training and practice.

Here are Anthony’s 50 rules for arguments.

  1. Resolve premise and conclusion – separate your argument (premise) from conclusion
  2. Unfold your ideas in a natural order – play around with the order of your argument until it feel right
  3. Start from reliable premises – open your argument with agreed facts
  4. Be concrete and concise – fewer word is less confusion, and less to be attacked
  5. Build on substance, not overtone – use facts not emotion (unless speaking at a debate)
  6. Use consistent terms – use the same language and word forms
  7. Use more than one example – you cannot generalise from a single example
  8. Use representative examples – do not over generalise or miss-represent your example
  9. Background rates are often crucial – provide the normal numbers as a comparison
  10. Statistics need a critical eye – make sure you see the absolute and relative numbers, and exponential trends never last
  11. Reckon with counterexamples – ss
  12. Analogies require relevantly similar examples – it has to make sense
  13. Cite your sources – borrow authority from others
  14. Seek informed sources – use high quality (peer reviewed articles, experts)
  15. Seek impartial sources – find resources
  16. Cross-check sources – check multiple sources and the sources of your source
  17. Build your internet savvy – learn who is trustworthy
  18. Causal arguments start with correlations – knights carry swords
  19. Correlations may have alternative explanations – all knights carry swords, but not all that carry swords are knights
  20. Work towards the most likely explanation – Occam’s razor
  21. Expect complexity – you need to articulate the relative weights off different causes
  22. Modus ponens – If p then q. p therefore, q
  23. Modus tollens – If p then q. Not q therefore, not q
  24. Hypothetical syllogism – If p then q. If q then r. Therefore, if p then r
  25. Disjunctive syllogism – p or q. Not q, therefore, q
  26. Dilemma – p or q. If p then r. If q then s. Therefore, r or s
  27. Reductio ad absurdum –
  28. Deductive arguments in multiple steps – use combinations of 22-27
  29. Explore the issue –
  30. Spell out basic ideas as arguments – have 3-5 ideas, write them in sentences
  31. Defend basic premises with arguments of their own – turn these sentences into paragraphs by supporting them with their own premises
  32. Reckon with objections – look at the most common and powerful objections and address them
  33. Explore alternatives – are there other conclusions that can be reached with the same premise
  34. Jump right in – start writing you argument now, don’t wait
  35. Urge a definite claim or proposal – be forthright and clear, do not hedge
  36. Your argument is your outline – summarise your argument in a short paragraph. This paragraph should start your argument
  37. Detail objections and meet them – explicitly state strong objections and defend against them
  38. Seek feedback and use it – multiple perspectives will get you to a better answer
  39. Modesty please – humility goes further than arrogance
  40. Ask for a hearing – when presenting an aural argument, use your enthusiasm, speak as a peer, respect them
  41. Be fully present – connect with your audience, do not be distracted
  42. Signpost energetically – summaries your argument at the start, point out the main points so people can come back later
  43. Hew your visuals to your argument – little text as possible
  44. End in style – end on time and end on a high note
  45. Do argument proud – verbal arguments need as much research as written arguments
  46. Listen, learn, leverage – in a debate, exchange with others. Build on their points or address them directly. Show empathy and understanding
  47. Offer something positive – offer something positive and concrete
  48. Work from common ground – look for areas of overlap, and work towards a compromise
  49. At least be civil – manners are free
  50. Leave everyone thinking when they go home – always leave them wanting more

A Rulebook for arguments is a great entry points to rhetoric and debate. Read this book if you want to get to a better answer and be more persuasive.

You can buy ‘A Rulebook for Argument’ from Amazon UK here