Peter Voluntaryist Walker

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The art of argument | Jordan Peterson

The art of argument | Jordan Peterson
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Published on Jul 15, 2018


Do you really want to win an argument, or do you want to find mutual ground and understanding? Canadian psychologist and author Jordan Peterson feels that in most cases it's the latter. It might take some getting used to, he posits, as acquiescence by its very nature means admitting that you're wrong in some way.


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Jordan Peterson: So how do you deal with situations where your words are likely to be used out of context, let’s say.

And that’s a situation I’ve encountered. Well, you see, you encounter a situation like that very frequently. Everyone does in their life. If you’re having a discussion with someone you live with, for example, so someone you have to be with for a long time – a lover, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband—sibling for that matter. You’re going to have contentious discussions about how to move forward and it’s very frequently the case that your words will be – that you’ll be straw-manned. Your words will be taken out of context.

The other person (and you too!) will try to win instead of trying to solve the problem. What you have to kind of decide is – well two things. The first thing is: you’re probably wrong in some important way. And you might think "Well, so what?" But no, it’s not so simple. Being wrong in some important way is like having a map that doesn’t correspond to the streets.

If you’re wrong in some important way, when you go to where you’re going you will get lost and you might end up in a neighborhood that you don’t want to visit! So it actually matters if you’re wrong.

And so now if you’re talking to someone who is acting in opposition to you, it’s possible that during your contentious discussion they will tell you something—about how you’re wrong—that’s accurate. Now you’re not going to be very happy about that, because like who wants to discover that they’re wrong?

But it’s better to figure out that your map is inaccurate than it is to get lost.

And so one of the things you have to remember when you’re discussing things with people, even if they’re out to defeat you, let’s say, is that there is some glimmering of the possibility that you could walk away with more knowledge than you walked in with.

And that’s worth – that can be worth paying quite a price for.

And so I’ve had the opportunity to engage in public debate of an exceptionally contentious nature for let’s say 18 months nonstop, fundamentally. And it’s been very stressful. But the upshot of that is that my arguments are in much better shape than they were, and—I shouldn’t say that. My THOUGHTS are much more refined than they were at the beginning of this process. It’s not my arguments are in better shape. That’s not the right way to think about it.

It’s that I’m clearer about what I know. I can articulate it better. And that’s all forged in the heat of conflict.

If you’re discussing a contentious issue with someone you love and that you have to live with and put up with, you want to listen to them. Because what you really want to do is establish a lasting peace, and you might even have to make their arguments for them. Maybe you’re more verbally fluent than your partner (which doesn’t mean, by the way, that you’re more right, it just means you can construct better arguments on the fly. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re more accurate).

You might have to help your partner formulate their arguments so that you can really get to grips with what it is that they’re trying to say. So that you can alter the way that you’re constructing your own narrative and your joint narrative, so that you’re not butting heads unnecessarily as you move forward through life.

It’s not a very good idea to win an argument with your wife. That isn’t what you want, because then you have a defeated partner. And a defeated partner is not happy. And a defeated partner is often out to reclaim the defeat.

And so as a strategy for moving forward with someone who you’re going to wake up beside 5,000 times it’s not a very advisable strategy. It’s better to listen, to flesh out the argument on both sides, and to see if you can come to a mutually acceptable negotiated settlement. And that’s the case in most encounters in life if you can manage that. But it’s easy to want to win.

Aristotle's Three Laws of Thought

(About ten short paragraphs, Revision Three, Copyleft 2018-06-13, Peter Voluntaryist Walker.)


- "Formal logics were developed in ancient times in China, India, and Greece. Greek methods, particularly Aristotelian logic (or term logic) as found in the Organon, found wide application and acceptance in science and mathematics for millennia" (

- The Three Laws of Thought credited to Aristotle are Identity, Non-Contradiction, and Excluded Middle. There's much more to logic, but this is a good beginning.

- Please note: All logical fallacies are non sequiturs (Latin for "Does not follow"). For instance, if a professional politician and I have a beer and a nice talk together and I think that makes him/her/etcetera nice in real life, I committed a non sequitur because of the Law of Identity.

1. The Law of Identity says a thing can only be itself, aka A=A. Professional politicians are not nice people in real life because a person can only be one or the other. That said, situational reality sometimes makes it to one's advantage to have a politician in one's corner.

1.a. Another example is Shakespeare said a rose is a rose by any other name, and the same is true of the homo sapiens individual. An example violation is when people dehumanize each other, a textbook case being when Hitler dehumanized anyone he tagged "Jew" as being less than human.

1.b. All namecalling dehumanizes and is filler, meaning a replacement for content in an argument (argument in the context of making a case for or against something being true). Rudeness in general is also a form of namecalling because it's a practice of treating humans as less than human.

2. The Law of Non-contradiction says everything has an opposite and a thing cannot be its opposite.

2.a. For instance some people argue against property rights while simultaneously using parts of their body as they see fit in order to communicate their message; thus refuting the existence of the very thing they're doing. These are self-defeating arguments.

2.b. Claiming a knowledge exists when it doesn't is also self contradicting. An example is people stating as fact they know what *you* think, understand, like, etc., when it's impossible for anyone but you to know without sensors wired directly into your brain. They can can calculate probabilities based on your observable behavior, but there's a large gap (aka does not follow, aka non sequitur error) between brain and outward behavior. For instance you may understand something and simply choose not to let on that you do.

3. The Law of the Excluded Middle says an argument can't be true and false at the same time. "Either I will call my mother tomorrow, or I won't call my mother tomorrow. One or the other of these statements about the future must be true. The principle that either a given statement or its denial is true is called the 'Law of Excluded Middle.'" (David Hunt)

3.a. This law primarily addresses the semantics of accurately stating a problem or proposition. For instance, if an agreement has good and bad parts, it's not a 100% good or bad agreement; to accurately describe it, it has two or more parts needing to each be understood separately from the other part(s). Thus I also call the excluded middle *conflation*, similar to what Ayn Rand called The Package Deal. It's a critical law of logic because, whether intentionally or not, semantics often mislead.

3.b. Another conflation error is to conflate the already unconflated. For instance the non-aggression principal (NAP) says it's immoral to initiate coercion. Many say this is a too simplistic "truncated argument" because it allegedly ignores things such as the alleged necessity of central planning or the alleged social contract. But according to The Law of Identity, adding such things would make it no longer the NAP. In such cases the avoided NAP core proposition is whether or not initiating coercion is moral -- a complex argument involving definitions and interpretations of coercion, morality, initiation, and complex circumstances such as lifeboat scenarios and raising children. Therefore the NAP isn't over simplified or truncated; rather it's either a valid or invalid premise to be argued on its own merits. If it's accepted as valid, then issues such as central planning and social contracts can be measured against it. If the NAP is invalid, obviously it's irrelevant; but simply refusing to consider it is a non sequitur.

3.c. An equally common conflation error is goldplating; a textbook example being contractors for the USA Department of Defense writing specifications for hammers and toilet seats that made perfectly usable generic items unacceptable for no reason other than profit. Doing so provided the very same contractors with opportunities to sell hammers and toilet seats meeting their own specifications at multiple times the profit of generic items. Goldplating applies to present mainstream culture portrayals of critical thinking; that is, mainstream culture presents the tools of critical thinking such as logic as too complex for anyone to understand other than spokespersons for the hyper-elite.


Endnotes - None at this time.