The joy of arguing

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

OPINION – We need to argue more. Or to be precise; as a society, we need to argue more intelligently.

Once upon a time, argumentation was the primary method of sorting out the pros and cons of an issue, with an exchange of evidence and ideas and persuasion by facts and reason providing the framework that could lead to understanding.  This no longer appears to be in vogue.

Anytime a highly charged issue is being discussed or debated, our ability to remain clear-headed can be challenged. In a culture where perception is regarded as reality, our understanding is too often based upon the parroting of short, carefully selected sound bites that are spoon-fed to us via the media.

When this occurs, our view of the bigger picture is often incomplete and therefore the conclusions we draw may or may not be valid. Instead of trying to rely upon mere emotional association, we can use logic to help us gain a more clear view of the issue at hand.

Aristotle is generally credited with the invention of classical logic in his work “Organon” meaning tool.  He taught the importance of defining one’s terms, classifying statements, syllogisms—or argument structures that by design appear to be indisputably valid, and finally, proofs by which an argument could be tested.

Let’s use his Square of Oppositions tool to provide a contemporary example of why logical thinking is a helpful tool in understanding the issues we discuss. We’ll start with two universal statements:

  • All illegal aliens are criminals.
  • No illegal alien is a criminal.

Would a rational person argue that these statements of absolutes are perfectly true? Not likely. The reason for this is that if so much as one exception exists, then the statements are not entirely factual. However, when we present the statements as particular forms, they become much more plausible:

  • Some illegal aliens may be guilty of criminal activity.
  • Not all illegal aliens are guilty of criminal wrongdoing.

See the difference? By framing the statements in more particular forms, it’s much more difficult to disprove the statement. By not choosing to frame the debate in highly emotional terms, we set the stage for a more productive discussion that’s less likely to devolve into sticks and stones.

Using particular forms to argue requires us to think in terms other than absolutes, but also offers more valid arguments than their universal counterparts. To those who prefer to think in black and white, this kind of logical thinking can be extremely challenging, but like defiant children who’ve been asked to eat their broccoli, they’ll find that it’s actually quite good for them, even if they don’t particularly like it.

It helps to remember that logic cannot tell us what is true or false in reality. Logic alone cannot create a valid argument, and it cannot make an argument more convincing. It can, however, tell us if an argument is valid or not. Logic is valuable not because it will win every argument for us, but because it causes us to better order our thinking and to instinctively test statements for their validity without simply buying into them. It allows us to examine our own arguments with greater precision and to express our viewpoints more effectively.

When Abraham Lincoln was a struggling law student, his professor told him that until he could “demonstrate” his arguments he would never be a lawyer. Lincoln went home and studied Euclidian geometry until he could give the first 173 proofs at sight.

This ability to use proofs gave Lincoln an indisputable logical edge over his opponents.  His most famous opponent, Stephen Douglas, often found himself in complete disagreement, but entirely unable to respond to Lincoln’s points because of the logical manner in which they were presented.

With logical thinking, you won’t always be right.  But you won’t be wrong very often either. Vigorous yet civil discussion and debate are essential to expanding our intellect and understanding.  But don’t mistake desperate demonizing for the kind of debate that can actually help solve problems.

By arguing intelligently, it won’t matter who wins or loses the exchange. We’ll still have learned from it.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • bryan May 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Well said,
    It would be nice to see some people in the political sphere have a real debate instead of aiming for zingers and soundbites.
    But I don’t think we’ll get those people elected until we start thinking like that a well

  • Dave Francis May 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    We have one way in returning the power to the American people, is to retire the majority of Democrats, Liberals and Republican politicians, and give that influence to the Constitutional TEA PARTY leadership. Under Obama we have seen the U.S. deficit rising to an almost fanatical 16 trillion dollars. In Sen. Harry Reid’s party no move towards a balanced budget. Then both parties have deliberately ignored the astronomical $113 billion dollars a year, pander to the 20 plus million illegal migrants and immigrants already settled here. Our only real chance to stop the illegal invaders is adopting more Tea Party Senators and Representatives. Millions of demoralized Americans of different racial make-ups, religions and political parties have joined the Tea Party that represents all citizens, permanent residents whether of Hispanic, Latino, European, and Asian, Pacific Rim or any part of the world’s population who came here legally.

    Beginning with Arizona v. the justice Department who revolted against the high court’s unfunded mandates, that STATES must give health care, an education and welfare programs to anybody who can slither past our fences or just lie to an agent, when they alighting from a jet plane from another country. Other than Sanctuary states, the rest are waiting for the outcome in June by SCOTUS. Patiently waiting is Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and the majority of other states to at least have some confirmation, whether they can advance a policing policy to check a person’s eligibility to be in the United States?

    Senator Marco Rubio has his own plan for the Dream Act, other than the very incendiary law that Democrats have in mind. For any realistic chance of the Dream Act gaining passage in Congress, certain provisions must be in effect. The central government has to enact a nationwide mandatory E-Verify program, that Chain Migration must be rescinded from immigration law, that only children below the age of ten would be considered and that all recipients to obtain a path to citizenship, must depart the country and apply for a entry at an Embassy, as every other patient immigrant must do. A larger majority of the Tea Party members would also insist that the Birthright Citizenship law be amended, so no pregnant illegal alien mother or parents could take advantage any more with their child/children getting instant citizenship. That no baby/infant should become a taxpayer’s burden, unless one parent is a U.S. citizen. Over the years this law has become mutated, and should not be a foothold, for every illegal migrant or immigrant who smuggles themselves into America to gain admittance to welfare and public assistance. Our own pregnant females suffer a large disadvantage by the hospital clogged by illegal alien Mothers, whereas citizens and residents must pay maternity fees, while others get a free uncompensated ride. These programs should only be available to citizens, naturalized citizens and green card holders.


    That the farming and agricultural commerce have an obligation to pay the benefits for their labor and not the state’s taxpayers. There will no importation of migrant poverty anymore, by cutting off access to welfare, food stamps, and section 8 housing programs. Taxpayer doesn’t need or should we accept any new low skilled workers, instead we must necessitate in supplying our own citizens with more occupational programs. Further we must safeguard our voting system which has been compromised by the far left, its Liberal associates, Democrats and groups like ACORN that became a vital factor of a growing number of state requiring official ID to vote. Illegal aliens are voting and will again in local, state and federal elections and this dishonesty must be ended. Another set of regulations to amend, would be a careful examination of the current visa system allowing around a million legal immigrants annually into the U.S. No further violation can be tolerated from businesses and we should only permit the highest intelligence in engineering, the sciences, mathematicians and computer technology professionals to immigrate.

    Illegal immigration must become a thing of the past by securing our border fences. Business that intentionally ignores E-Verify should face harsh sanctions, including prison. Elected officials, who allow such provisions as Sanctuary City ordinances, should be punished and government legislators should sever funds to these perpetrators. All federal and state legislators, governors, majors, police chiefs should be put on notice, that voters will unseat them, specially the Tea Party members. Any illegal alien invaders of this sovereign country, should be prosecuted as a Felony, not a civil infraction, with ID theft or Voter Fraud should be mandatory prison sentence, with no exceptions.

    America is bleeding badly from years of neglect by both political parties and pampering of foreign nationals cannot be accepted any more as the norm. Internal enforcement is more urgent than ever before, because of supporting illegal aliens is skyrocketing and taxpayers are on the hook. Illegal aliens have also found a way, to obtain $4.6 billion dollars annually by defrauding the IRS and the taxpayers, using non-existent children tax credits. Elections are no longer safe as Democrats and their less honest followers are participating in voter fraud. We either need a national ID card or that all voters must possess a government picture ID for proof of who they are?

    If you cherish your freedoms from the corruption in Washington that benefits all of us, we need a balanced tax system with no subsidies, a right to drill on the Peoples National land and sea for plentiful reservoirs of oil, natural gas to alleviate our out-of-control deficit. No more government bail outs for the friends of the White house. Throw out all the profiteering lawmakers and by cleaning house, put recognizable TEA PARTY leaders in their place. Voters need to demand from Congress, specifically from GOP House speaker, John Boehner of Ohio and Dave Camp of Michigan, as the Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee to stop blocking the 50-state E-Verify bill. Call the central switchboard at 202-224-3121 Washington, DC. For further information on this crisis subject, check with NumbersUSA website, where even Congress consults on immigration matters.

    Latest News: Governor of Oregon, a Democrat of course has allowed police to accept the Mexican Matricula Consular ID cards as proof of citizenship for driving. The FBI has stated that this Picture ID, is very unreliable document for representing the individual of who they say they are?
    One commentary on the Internet states:

    There is a small farming community in Texas, about 160 families, that has a Post Office with 1,500 PO Boxes. Mexicans cross the border every year to pick up their IRS checks for “Families with dependent children tax credit”; in fact these are welfare payments to illegal aliens.

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