A Short Piece Based on “Compelling” by O.G. Rose
Conclusive Arguments Are Rare
Persuasive arguments are usually the best we can do, not arguments that “force consent.”
How many arguments force us to change our views? In other words, how many arguments are out there that aren’t merely “persuasive” but “undeniable?” Spoiler alert: a lot less than we think.
We tend to experience arguments that favor our ideology and things we agree with as “conclusive arguments,” but they’re probably just “persuasive arguments.” However, since we’ve been persuaded by them, we tend to experience them as “conclusive” — experience plays a trick on us.
We practically can’t experience arguments that favor our views as “merely persuasive”; we experience them as “conclusive,” because otherwise we wouldn’t think the way we did. As a result, we greatly overestimate the number of “conclusive arguments” that exist in the world: we naturally think it’s something like 50% of arguments are conclusive (since, generally speaking, 50% of people are Conservative and 50% are Liberal). Really, it’s more like 10% of arguments are conclusive (if that), while 90% are either at best persuasive or downright bad.
Well, come to think of it, if we include “bad arguments,” since there can be an infinite number of “wrong arguments” and a limited number of “right arguments” (since the truth inherently brackets), then perhaps 99% of arguments are bad while 1% are good? Hmm, okay, well, within that 1% of “good arguments,” probably hardly 10% of arguments are “conclusive” while 90% are only “persuasive.”
Which arguments are conclusive? Probably the most basic and boring arguments out there, like 2 + 2 = 4 and “throwing a ball in the air means it will fall back down eventually” — stuff like that. You know, the kinds of arguments you don’t tend to have to argue with anyone about because everyone already believes them. Yea, that’s the problem: the arguments that are conclusive are arguments nobody bothers to make very often because they are practically undeniable. Sure, we might ask about the existence of numbers and gravity in a philosophy classroom, but not so much in everyday life.
(Also, since we tend to think that every fact and “atomic fact” entail an argument justifying “their case,” we can be lead to think that the majority of arguments are “conclusive arguments,” again contributing to our overestimation on how many conclusive arguments exist — we are phenomenologically deceived.)
Okay, bracketing out “conclusive arguments” about radically basic premises that average people see no need to argue about (and so arguably aren’t even “arguments”), how many arguments are “undeniable” and/or “conclusive” regarding complex matters? In other words, are there “undeniable” arguments in favor of Capitalism, Marxism, Christianity, Atheism, LGBT rights, Free Trade, Abortion…I could go on. Regarding topics we tend to passionately care about, how often are “conclusive arguments” present?¹
Um, well — rarely.
Think about it: how many arguments out there must we change our views after hearing them? Sure, maybe a Noble Prize economist supports x argument favoring Universal Basic Income, but we never have to trust authority, and I can probably find an alternative expert who claims the Noble Prize winner is full of it. (This is the problem of authority outlined in the story “Ludwig” by O.G. Rose).
There’s always room for doubt.
Perhaps a thousand people around me have been convinced that social justice is making a real and tangible difference in America today, but I can always claim college brainwashed them and that they haven’t “looked at the facts” (and do note that deciding which “facts” are “the facts” is another argument in of itself which probably requires authority).
There’s always room…
Perhaps I’m shown pictures of the devastation caused by the War in Iraq, all the violence and suffering children, but I could easily say that this display is biased and that there are no photographs of all the death which terrorists would have caused had the War in Iraq never occurred.
And so on: a million examples could be made. Yes, the arguments of the economist, social justice supporters, and photographer can all be “persuasive,” but they don’t have to be “undeniable” and/or “conclusive.” Conclusive arguments are incredibly rare (especially once you bracket out “the basic arguments” already described).²
Okay, but if that argument is true (I have my doubts), why do we even bother with democracy? Isn’t it doomed for tribalism? Indeed, we are if we don’t transform our understanding of rationality, which is taken up in The Conflict of Mind by O.G. Rose: we need “substantive democracy” versus whatever it is we have now (as discussed by James Hunter).
Since conclusive arguments hardly exist, we probably never have to leave our ideology (especially if we don’t want to leave it), and the same goes with the people who don’t think like us to themselves. Okay, then there’s no point to debate ever, is there? Not quite, although it can be tempting to think that way (which, problematically, leaves us with violence), it is still possible for some arguments to be so persuasive that we can make people feel “intellectually dishonest” not to be persuaded by them (even if they don’t have to be so persuaded).
What is the nature of those arguments? A list is offered in “Compelling” by O.G. Rose, but here are a few pointers:
1. Make sure your argument doesn’t make others need to go off and do research to confirm your argument. If your arguments requires others to do work, it won’t be effective, for they simply “won’t get around to it.”
2. Avoid argument that relying on authority. Authority can always be doubted. By extension, be aware that “facts” won’t necessarily be convincing, because what constitutes a “fact” usually relies on an authority (unless we are discussing an incredibly basic fact that few people will dispute).
3. Make arguments that are primarily logic-based and that can be fully grasped right then and there. If the argument relies on the person going off and reading something, for example, again, they probably “won’t get around to it.”
4. Search for arguments that unveil that people’s values are in conflict: show people that they are inconsistent with their own values as opposed to show people that they are inconsistent with your values. For example, suggest to the Capitalist that larger corporations hinder competition and hence are anti-Capitalist; point out to the Socialist that high tax rates at a certain point can reduce tax revenues by reducing productivity.
And so on — many of the works by O.G. Rose are focused on the question of what constitutes “effective argumentation” and thinking. But if we think “undeniable arguments” exist and exist numerously, we’ll probably think there’s no reason “to think about thinking,” and not take the time to explore the topic. After all, we’ll naturally think our arguments are undeniable, and if people don’t think they are, it must be because they’re fools. (Cough, cough…)
Nothing is perfect, and that alone suggests why “undeniable arguments” practically don’t exist: we can poke holes in just about anything. Funny enough though, if we choose to act this way, we don’t tend to poke holes in our own beliefs. Provocateurs are usually bad at it: they never provoke themselves.
To close, “undeniable arguments” are rare, and the sooner we accept this, the sooner we can begin trying to exercise new ways of thinking and debate. But that won’t be easy, because that will require us to accept that the arguments that have contributed to us thinking the way we do aren’t as “undeniable” as we like to think. The strength of our own ideologies must take a hit if we’re to accept the rarity of “conclusive arguments,” which means “new ways of thinking” are only open to those willing to be humbled. And who has time for humility? We have to convince people that their views are destroying the world…
¹Note that we don’t tend to get passionate over “basic and conclusive arguments” regarding the reliability of gravity and numbers. It’s almost as if the presence of passion and emotion tends to correlate with an inverse relationship with the presence of “conclusive arguments.” In other words, the more emotions there are, the higher the likelihood that only “persuasive arguments” are possible — it’s almost as if emotions are a sign of our helplessness and frustration.
²Interestingly, I think it’s in the field of theology where we can recognize that “conclusive arguments are rare” easily, for often the fact apologetic arguments aren’t “undeniable” is used as evidence that the arguments are bad, when instead they are perhaps just held up to a “higher standard” than most other arguments, perhaps because we hold a bias against the metaphysics which theology can entail.