Arguing to win
I must admit…I play to win. I’m one of those people for whom winning is everything and the only thing. I can find enjoyment in pretty much anything if I’m winning at it, but anything I’m poor at becomes unfun really quickly.
(I’ve actually written about this before…it’s one of my weaknesses, but also gives me something different to focus on. It really spills into everything else…if I’m in class, instead of winning, I care about understanding or comprehending…any subject I can *understand* is a decent subject. I dislike math because I don’t get it.)
Anyway, playing to win gets me in a lot of arguments. Especially on the internet. Unfortunately, what I’ve learned is that there are people out there who are a lot better than me. They can eviscerate my logic, take down my position, knock me down several pegs.
And when that happens, do I accept defeat? Do I accept that my position has lost? Do I change my position?
I hear lots of people talk about how they debate for the pursuit of truth, or whatever. And if you just provide them the most logical argument, then they will change positions accordingly. Isn’t that the intellectually honest thing to do?
Unfortunately, I have to admit that I’m not really going for that (even though this probably is super incriminating). I’m playing to win, after all. A concession is no good.
Yet, when I’m getting beat, I’m getting beat. I usually feel bad, dreading the email notification on my phone — because I know that the next email could be something that dismantles what I wrote last. But even when that email comes, I have to try to launch another attack. Or maybe I run away.
I guess I already come at things from a different point of view. Our “intellectually honest” debater from before concedes because he views a superior argument as being true (or, at the very least, more true than what he currently had.) But I have not found “logic” and “reason” to be these pure, objective arbiters of truth (and the assumption of such is probably one of the things that annoys me most about many atheists and skeptics…they put logic and reason up as things that you can follow to Destination: Truth.) In any case, I have been more about the subjectivity of belief…the phenomenon of being convinced or not being convinced. I change my beliefs because something internal to me tips…and I’d like to believe that a “good argument” and “solid evidence” and things like that would do such a thing (when I’m confronted with such), but I don’t think I’m geared to that. (Neither do I think most people are.)
That’s why subjective experiences matter. So what if they can’t be shared between others, or may lead to contradictory positions (can my religious experience point to my god and yours to a very different god)? They are lived and so they will drive a lot more than the strictures of reason.
That’s why the New York Times article posing reason as being more a weapon than a path to truth doesn’t really surprise me. I guess I can understand the problems with relativistic arguments being self-defeating (suppose that the researchers here are right…do that mean they have defeated their own point or is there point somehow different? [Also, anything that sounds like evolutionary psychology gives me nausea.])
The one thing that comes to my mind when reading all of this is the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. I mean, if we knock our reasoning faculties as being less fit toward discovering truth and more fit toward winning, then isn’t that kind of like Plantinga’s idea of having unreliable cognitive faculties. (Then again, why say we have particularly reliable cognitive faculties anyway..? Even with “reason” and “logic” anyway, people seem to believe quite strange things.)
Anyway, the researchers of this have a summary of their idea, along with predictions it should be able to satisfy, along with links to their papers. And here were lines that intrigued me:
Based on the dominant, Cartesian view people have been trying for many years to reform reasoning: to teach critical thinking, to rid us of our biases, to make Kants of us all. This approach has not been very successful. According to our theory this is not surprising, as people have been trying to reform something that works perfectly well—as if they had decided that hands were made for walking and that everybody should be taught that. Instead, we claim that reasoning does well what it is supposed to do—arguing—and that it produces good results in appropriate—argumentative—contexts. So, instead of trying to change the way people reason, interventions based on the environment—institutional in particular—are much more likely to succeed. If we can increase people’s exposition to arguments, if we manage to make them argue more with people who disagree with them, then reasoning should produce very good results without having had to be reformed.
I guess that’s the real reason why Seth R gallivants across the DAMU, and why I will continue to troll (I guess).