I was voted “Most Likely to Have an Opinion” in High School. Shocking, I know.
But blogging teaches me every day that I don’t have an opinion, about a great many things. I have a knee jerk, like most people, but given the opportunity to think my position out, I rarely have anything substantial. Except, that is, for my few pet issues: Christianity, immigration, language, and motherhood.
So I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised at the relatively few people who can argue effectively (read: constructively). Many people react with the knee-jerk, hurling invectives, and possibly hoping to cover their lack of independent thought with a few well-chosen, colorful expletives. It may be more fun to watch, but it’s hardly constructive. So below (ta-da!) are some thoughts (not all mine) on avoiding idiocy when the discussion rises above 98 degrees.
1. Avoid ad hominem. You know you do it.
2. Avoid ad populum. Just ’cause your particular circle of friends thinks something may be so, it hardly follows that it’s true. It’s even debatable that if a majority of people believe it, it must be true.
3. Consider the worldview. You may not start from “God Exists”, but perhaps the person you are arguing with does. You also have a worldview, starting with something like this statement. All statements following your first principle are likely a logical outcome of it.
4. Do your homework. Statements like “a majority of homosexuals have diseases” is hardly fair unless you can back it up, preferably with authoritative sources. And no, Wikipedia doesn’t count.
5. Arguing from “is” to “ought”. Simply because something has been correct historically does not make it correct morally. “Ought” includes a moral judgment based on a worldview- see #3.
For a list of logical fallacies try The Philosophical Society.
Or you could always go with these suggestions.