Book: Thank You for Arguing

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(c) 2009 Mark Robinson – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion
Jay Heinrichs 2007 1st ed. ISBN: 978-0-307-34144-0
New York: Three Rivers Press

Personal response

I really like this book. Jay Heinrichs writes in a clear, accessible style that shows the relevance of rhetoric in life and gives great tips on how to get started. Through anecdotes, he also shows that rhetoric doesn’t have to be dodgy, and can contribute to a richer work and personal life.

W- and I are both studying this book, and it has given us a helpful framework for deeper discussions. I plan to use the tools in the book to analyze arguments, and to apply them when blogging too. (Hmm, might be interesting to use the classical structure for posts in response to other blog posts…)

Well worth a read.

Contents

  • Introduction

    1. Open your eyes: The invisible argument: We treat rhetoric and argument as negatives, but we’re immersed in it. Learning about argument can help us not only recognize when we’re being persuaded, but use it to improve everyday life.

  • Offense

    2. Set your goals: Cicero’s lightbulb: Fights and arguments are two different things. You’re in a fight to win; you’re in an argument to get what you want or to come to an agreement. When you argue, you want to change people’s mood, mind, and/or willingness to act. p17: story about “argument by the stick”

    3. Control the tense: Orphan Annie’s law: When people argue, they can be focused on the past (blame), the present (values), or the future (choices). Pick the appropriate tense for your argument. Future tense helps you keep moving forward. The author writes:

    • Present-tense (demonstrative) rhetoric tends to finish with people bonding or separating.
    • Past-tense (forensic) rhetoric threatens punishment.
    • Future-tense (deliberative) argument promises a payoff.

    The author also reminds us: “Never debate the undebatable. Instead, focus on your goals.”

    4. Soften them up: Character, logic, emotion: Or ethos, logos, and pathos, if you want to use their classic names. Read this chapter for great arguments by the author’s children.

    5. Get them to like you: Eminem’s rules of decorum: Ethos: Work with your audience’s expectations. Make it easier for them to believe you and identify with you. Fit in.

    6. Make them listen: The Lincoln gambit: Help the audience see your common values and practical wisdom. Show them that you’re focused on their best interests, not just yours. If necessary, you may need to mimic other people’s values in order to get them to hear you. Take advantage of opportunities to build perception of your character, such as changing your position based on people’s arguments.

    7. Show leadership: The Belushi paradigm: “Show off your experience. Bend the rules. Appear to take the middle course.”

    8. Win their trust: Quintilian’s useful doubt: Be doubtful or reluctant, talk about your sacrifice, or dial down your rhetoric skills if that serves your cause.

    9. Control the mood: The Aquinas maneuver: Use stories, volume control, plain language, and emotional influencers to change the mood.

    10. Turn the volume down: The scientist’s lie: Manage anger by using passive voice when referring to things other people had done (not you). Calm people by reacting more than they would, on their behalf. Humor might be a good tool, too, but it’s tricky.

    11. Gain the high ground: Aristotle’s favorite topic: Take advantage of common beliefs, values, or sayings as a foundation for your argument. Make your argument seem obvious. If people use common sayings to reject your argument, listen for that and come up with something relevant next time.

    12. Persuade on your terms: What “is” is: Pay attention to labels. Redefine words if needed, using a clear definition. Use the values of your audience. Switch tenses to focus on future choices, too.

    13. Control the argument: Homer Simpson’s canons of logic: This chapter covers deductive and inductive logic, and how to support inductive logic with facts, comparisons, or stories.

  • Defense

    14. Spot fallacies: The seven deadly logical sins: This chapter lists logical fallacies and how to deal with them.

    15. Call a foul: Nixon’s trick: Identify fouls and deal with them, because if the conversation goes into inarguable territory, you’ll just be going around and round.

    16. Know whom to trust: Persuasion detectors: Are people being extreme? Are people focusing on needs that don’t include yours? Watch out when negotiating.

    17. Find the sweet spot: More persuasion detectors: Do people try to give you a solution without hearing the details of your problem? Do people have relevant, accurate, unbiased information? Can people figure out what matters?

  • Advanced offense

    18. Speak your audience’s language: The rhetorical ape: Listen for the jargon and the keywords of a group, and repeat them. Try using antonyms when refuting other people’s arguments, if the original words will cause negative responses. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the logic of a sentence.

    19. Make them identify with your choice: The mother-in-law ruse: Let people come up with your idea by identifying with them and letting them identify with you. Use in-words and irony if needed to help a certain group identify with you more (possibly with the exclusion of another group).

    20. Get instant cleverness: Monty Python’s treasury of wit: This chapter covers figures of speech, subverted cliches, and other techniques for being wittier.

    21. Seize the occasion: Stalin’s timing secret: Pay attention to timing, and watch for persuadable moments.

    22. Use the right medium: The Jumbotron blunder: Different media emphasize different combinations of ethos, pathos, and logos. According to the author:

    • Sight is mostly pathos and ethos.
    • Sound is the most logical sense.
    • Smell, taste, and touch are almost purely emotional.
  • Advanced agreement

    23. Give a persuasive talk: The oldest invention: Invention, arrangement (ethos, then logos, then pathos), style, memory, and delivery. Classical structure: Introduction (ethos), narration, division, proof, refutation, conclusion.

    24. Use the right tools: The Brad Pitt factor: Goals, ethos, pathos, logos, kairos (timing). This chapter has examples of how tools from different chapters work together in real-life situations.

    25: Run an agreeable country: Rhetoric’s revival: We need more rhetoric in real life. Yay!

Reading list

  • A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Richard A. Lanham
  • Encyclopedia of Rhetoric (Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, P. J. Corbett (Oxford University Press, 1990)
  • The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle (Penguin, 1991)
  • Cicero, Anthony Everitt (Random House, 2001)
  • The Founders and the Classics, Carl J. Richard (Harvard, 1994)
  • A Rhetoric of Motives, Kenneth Burke (University of California, 1950)

Book: How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic

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Photo (c) 2008 Simon Peckhan – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

Madsen Pirie (2006) London: Continuum International
ISBN: 0826490069

How to Win Every Argument is a tour of 79 logical fallacies. Pirie’s clever examples help you recognize past fallacies that have tricked you, refute fallacies that come up, and perhaps even perpetrate them on others.

In fact, it might be fun to play fallacy scavenger hunt: pick a set of fallacies (or the entire thing!), and keep your eyes and ears open for occurrences. It might be easier to memorize a small set of definitions and rebuttal techniques than to try to identify all of the fallacies you come across. Just listening to a CBC Radio call-in section, I’ve come across argumentum ad misericordiam (#49), post hoc ergo propter hoc (#59), loaded words (#48), argumentum ad populum (#57), argumentum ad nauseum (#50), and unaccepted enthymemes (#75). This armchair quarterbacking doesn’t mean I do any better myself in my conversations, though – but it does mean I see room for personal improvement. Might be fun to fold into our weekly routine, as we’ve started picking up Saturday papers so that J- has materials for her current news homework.

I’m looking forward to regularly learning from “How to Win Every Argument”, and getting better at recognizing and refuting (or using!) logical fallacies.

Contents:

  1. Abusive analogy
  2. Accent
  3. Accident
  4. Affirming the consequent
  5. Amphiboly
  6. Analogical fallacy
  7. Antiquitam, argumentum ad
  8. Apriorism
  9. Baculum, argumentum ad
  10. Bifurcation
  11. Blinding with science
  12. The bogus dilemma
  13. Circulus in probando
  14. The complex question (plurium interrogationum)
  15. Composition
  16. Concealed qualification
  17. Conclusion which denies premises
  18. Contradictory premises
  19. Crumenam, argumentum ad
  20. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc
  21. Damning the alternatives
  22. Definitional retreat
  23. Denying the antecedent
  24. Dicto simpliciter
  25. Division
  26. Emotional appeals
  27. Equivocation
  28. Every schoolboy knows
  29. The exception that proves the rule
  30. Exclusive premises
  31. The existential fallacy
  32. Ex-post-facto statistics
  33. Extensional pruning
  34. False conversion
  35. False precision
  36. The gambler’s fallacy
  37. The genetic fallacy
  38. Half-concealed qualification
  39. Hedging
  40. Hominem (abusive), argumentum ad
  41. Hominem (circumstantial), argumentum ad
  42. Ignoratiam, argumentum ad
  43. Ignoratio elenchi
  44. Illicit process
  45. Irrelevant humour
  46. Lapidem, argumentum ad
  47. Lazarum, argumentum ad
  48. Loaded words
  49. Misericordiam, argumentum ad
  50. Nauseum, argumentum ad
  51. Non-anticipation
  52. Novitam, argumentum ad
  53. Numeram, argumentum ad
  54. One-sided assessment
  55. Petitio principii
  56. Poisoning the well
  57. Populum, argumentum ad
  58. Positive conclusion from negative premise
  59. Post hoc ergo propter hoc
  60. Quaternio terminorum
  61. The red herring
  62. Refuting the example
  63. Reification
  64. The runaway train
  65. Secundum quid
  66. Shifting ground
  67. Shifing the burden of proof
  68. The slippery slope
  69. Special pleading
  70. The straw man
  71. Temperantiam, argumentum ad
  72. Thatcher’s blame
  73. Trivial objections
  74. Tu quoque
  75. Unaccepted enthymemes
  76. The undistributed middle
  77. Unobtainable perfection
  78. Verecundiam, argumentum ad
  79. Wishful thinking

Book: Critical inquiry: the process of argument


Photo source: I Can Has Cheezburger

Critical Inquiry book

Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument
Michael Boylan, 2009, Westview Press
ISBN: 9780813344522

I wish I had read Critical Inquiry (or a book like it) before going to school. It would’ve made my required courses in philosophy, theology, and literature much more engaging and more rewarding. The tips in the book are straightforward:

  1. Identify the conclusion and the premises,
  2. Organize them in a logical outline, and
  3. Develop arguments for or against premises that can be objected to, repairing minor flaws so that you’re fighting the strongest version of the argument.

This make sense. But for some reason, I didn’t have that framework before. If I had thought of those classes as partly about debugging arguments, applying the same decomposition skills I loved to use in computer science, I would’ve enjoyed the courses a lot more and gotten a lot more out of them. Better late than never!

The book also shares classic structures for developing a response in support of or against someone’s position. You outline the original position, develop the pros and cons, choose a position, state the strongest arguments of the opposing side, and refute those arguments with your own. Although this might feel a little formulaic–or too stifling for casual blog posts that start with captioned animals!–it’s a good way to make sure you thoroughly examine different sides.

I’m going to experiment with using these ideas when writing blog posts. I think the bigger challenge for me is taking a position. I’ve discovered there are a number of things I can’t help but get on my soapbox about, so there’s a start. Essays can lead me to more questions and arguments. It’ll be a fun way to discover what I think.

Disagreement and the road to trusting yourself

I’m glad whenever I find myself disagreeing with someone. Sometimes I change my mind, learning more in the process. Sometimes I understand my own reasons better, and learn more about why I think what I think. As long as I disagree well – in an argument instead of a fight, clearly presenting reasons and understanding alternatives – then I grow in the process.

Henry Will sent me a link to this Harvard Business Review blog post on teaching yourself to trust yourself.

…take the time, and the quiet, to decide what you think. That is how
we find the part of ourselves we gave up. That is how we become
powerful, clever, creative, and insightful. That is how we gain our
sight.

It reminds me of this slim book I tucked into my library haul: Anna Quindlen’s Being Perfect. Here are some excerpts:

p.12: Trying to be perfect may be inevitable for people who are smart and
ambitious and interested in the world and in its good opinion. But at
one level it’s too hard, and at another, it’s too cheap and easy.
Because all it really requires of you, mainly, is to read the
zeitgeist of wherever and whenever you happen to be and to assume the
masks necessary to be the best at whatever the zeitgeist dictates or
requires.

… But nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or
interesting, or great, ever came out of imitations. What is relaly
hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning
the work of becoming yourself.

Connect that with this excerpt from Everyday Ethics by Joshua Halberstam:

p109: We live our lives within a changing moral climate, and the
temptation to adapt can be overwhelming. … The moral nonconformist,
however, pays little attention to the popularity or unpopularity of
his moral positions. He is–it’s embarrassing to talk this way in our
cynical world–after truth, not applause. Genuine moral nonconformity
is difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain. Don’t be too quick
to assume you’re already there.

It isn’t easy to figure out what one thinks.

For me, writing and drawing are the best ways to sneak up on myself. In conversation, I’m sometimes too malleable. I catch myself listening for approval. Even when blogging, I catch myself refreshing the pages, looking for comments, looking for validation. Because the feedback for writing tends to be slower and more in-depth than the reactive cues of conversation, though, I have more time to think about my reflections and develop them. I can also slow down and untangle the feedback on my message from the feedback on my way of delivering it.

When I can form a tentative understanding of a topic, then test it in discussion with other people or in contrast with other positions I read, then I gain a little more confidence that my reasons are rooted in more than the urge to agree or disagree. Running into the imperfections of my understanding is part of the adventure of becoming myself.

Tying it all together into tips for myself and for other people this might help: Feedback might be about your message or about your delivery. Be clear about what kind of feedback you’d find the most helpful – usually feedback on delivery, if you want to keep your message authentically you, although content-related feedback can also help you recognize what you resonate with. Don’t be limited by the idea of perfection or the need for agreement. Test yourself and learn how to trust your thoughts.

How are you teaching yourself to trust yourself?

2011-02-06 Sun 21:16

The three argumenteers

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(Or arguers, more correctly? But Argumenteers is a fun little reference.)

Logos, ethos, and pathos. =) W- and I would like to help J-, her friends, and other people learn more about critical thinking, rhetoric, argument, and eventually negotiation. Someday I may even make a kid’s book about arguments so that kids (and grown-ups!) can get better at recognizing, identifying, and responding to arguments. First step: pick up more practice ourselves.

The sequence we might work with is:

  1. identify and break down arguments
  2. classify arguments
  3. identify fallacies and respond to them
  4. identify figures of speech and rhetorical effect
  5. repair and respond to stronger arguments

So I’m going to try reading the opinion pages of the New York Times and other news sources and analyzing the arguments there. First up: Teaching to the Text Message, Andy Seslsberg, March 19, 2011.

Argument: Short, Internet-focused writing assignments may be more effective than long writing assignments early in the college curriculum.

1. Long assignments don’t work.
1.1. Support: I’ve been teaching with long writing assignments for years, [so I know what I’m talking about.] 
1.2
Support: Students’ long writing assignments are of low quality (“font-size manipulation, plagiarism, cliches”).
1.3 Implied: Teachers don’t have the time to check long writing assignments in depth.
2. Implied: Short Internet-focused writing assignments will be more interesting and more useful.
2.1 Support: Alternative formats get people interested.
2.2 Support: Real-life contexts for communication such as networking e-mails, tweets, or comments will be more relevant to students than essays or book reports.
2.3 Support: Alternative assignments are more like students’ everyday life.
2.4 Support: Writing concisely is useful and more in tune with the world’s needs.
2.5 Support: Great thinkers can pack a lot of thought into a few words. [Therefore students won’t be missing out, and there might be useful ways to connect the lessons to past thinkers.]
3. Support: Short assignments can help students develop better skills and teachers give better feedback.
3.1. Support: Short assignments force clarity and reduce waste.
3.2. Support: Teachers can give short assignments more individual attention. [Implied: More individual attention can help students learn more effectively]
3.3. Support: Short writing assignments encourage conciseness and creativity
3.4 Support: Moderation – colleges can still have long writing assignments later in the curriculum.

Hmm… There must be lots of ways to make rhetoric and argument fun and interesting…

Portal 2 and teachable moments in argument

Portal 2 became an obsession in our household after W- shared with us the Youtube clips of the ending songs, Still Alive and Want You Gone. I downloaded the demo today, and J- flew through it eagerly. The final demo level came all too soon.

Aha. Teachable moment.

“Do you remember the three Greek words we have in the kitchen?”

“Ethos, pathos, and logos.”

“Right.” I wrote them down, with brief descriptions, under the title, “Why should we get Portal 2?” I read the title out: “Why should we get Portal 2?”

“Umm… Because it’s educational?”

“How?”

“Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out, that’s all I have to say.”

I look at her and do the you-can-do-better-than-that smile.

“I’m not good at this stuff.”

“Try writing all of your ideas down. You can make your arguments stronger by editing them afterwards.”

We’re still a bit fuzzy about the categories, but it’s great to see where she’s going. Here’s the list she came up with:

Ethos:

  • helps improve sense of humour
  • I will actually do my homework properly and thoroughly
  • can create a topic of conversation
  • can create more interesting stories to tell others

Pathos:

  • spend time together solving puzzles and getting a good laugh or two (bonding factor)
  • fun! (lolz!)
  • more inside jokes

Logos:

  • hand-eye coordination
  • momentum
  • solve puzzles – helps make you better at solving puzzles
  • may help me with typing faster
  • can create inspiration for writing a book or drawing a picture

“Try thinking of reasons why we might say no, too,” I said. After some thought, she listed:

  • might take up too much time
  • too close to screen too often
  • may not play it as often, may be wasted

“Now think of ways you can address those concerns.”

“Maybe I can set a time limit, like 30 minutes…”

“That would take care of the first and second concern. How about the third?”

“It’s like you don’t want to play it too much, but you also don’t want to play it too little…” she said.

“Right. Because if you played only a couple of levels more, it would be a waste. But you played the demo and…”

“… it was amazing…”

“… so the rest of the game…”

“… will probably be ten times as amazing…”

“… and you know you’ll enjoy it. There, see what happens? When you think of why someone would say no and you address those concerns, your argument becomes stronger.”

“Oh, I get it now.”

“Great! Would you like to take this further by organizing your arguments into a proper speech, like this”, and here I sketched out what the speech would be like, with English mixed with fast-forwarded gibberish and hand-gestures so that she could get the sense of it.

She laughed. “Sure!” she said.

Persuasion is a useful skill. Good to find opportunities to help people develop it!

2011-06-22 Wed 21:21