Book – Think Again, How to Reason and Argue (Review)
Author – Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Genre – Self-help Book
Published in – 2018
Word Argument has very negative connotation to it. Like it quotes by many famous authors.
“I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an Argument, and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would avoid rattlesnakes and earthquakes” – Dale Carnegie
“Arguments are to be avoided, they are always vulgar and often convincing” – Oscar Wilde
We think of fight, disagreement and all possible negative feeling with this word, Author Walter Sinnott Armstrong suggests otherwise and claims that argument is as productive as it can be destructive.
Many theories have evolved with arguments and argument in itself is not good or bad, however how we conduct, it’s purpose and it’s participants direct its connotation.
About Author –
Walter sinnott – Armstrong is an American philosopher specializes in ethics, epistemology, neuroethics, the philosophy of law, and the philosophy of cognitive science.
His Moral Skepticisms (2006) defends the view that we do not have fully adequate responses to the moral skeptic. It also defends a coherentist moral epistemology, which he has defended for decades. His Morality Without God? (2009) endorses the moral philosophy of his former colleague Bernard Gert as an alternative to religious views of morality.
About the Book –
Author of Think again differs and claims that “although we cannot always reason with everyone, that limitation does not show that arguments and reasoning are not useful”
Most of our arguments are about converting people to our way of thinking or to prove a point. Think Again teaches arguing to understand others position and give reason for our position rather than converting them.
There are as many issues and problems as there are people, and solutions to these involve cooperation from diverse groups of people with conflicting beliefs and values.
He further adds that many people have stopped giving reasons of their own and looking for reasons for opposing positions. One crucial step is to assert less and question more.
The Book is divided in three parts. 1) Why arguing, 2) How to Argue, 3) How not to Argue?
The book goes in many details, though author claim details in book about argument is only the scratch of the surface. Though reading book gives good idea of how to perceive argument to me.
PART I Why to Argue –
Author claims that unless we argue (discuss) with people with belief contrary to ours, we will not know more than we know and limit our growth.
1) So close so Far –
How many people you get along with different opinion on most things. We prefer to hang out with people with same opinion, beliefs, and get uncomfortable among people with different belief or don’t open up much.
2) Polarization –
It means different group of people having different views. Though, even in same group people vary enough on many things. Hence, there are many other factors needs to consider for polarization like,
- Distance: Groups are more distant from each other when their views are farther apart on some relevant scale.
- Homogeneity: Groups are more internally homogeneous when there is less variance among members of each group,
- Antagonism: Groups are more polarized when they feel more hatred, disdain, fear, or other negative emotions toward people on the other pole.
- Incivility: Groups are more polarized when they talk more negatively about the people at the other pole.
- Rigidity: Groups are more polarized to the extent that they treat their values as sacred rights on which they refuse to compromise.
- Gridlock: Groups are more polarized to the extent that they are unable to cooperate and work together toward common goals.
3) Toxic talk –
We make it hard to cooperate with others with different views when, Instead of listening to and trying to understand our opponents, we interrupt, caricature, abuse, and joke about them and their views. This toxic way of talking exemplifies the aspect of polarization that author labeled “incivility.”
4) Civility –
It says interruption is the paradigm of incivility. When I interrupt and says same thing you wanted to say, you won’t still be satisfied as you wanted to tell them yourself.
Refrain from interruption as it says I not interested in what you have to say, or what I say is more important than what you say.
5) Judging instead of clarifying –
We often judge quickly instead of asking and try to understand why someone thinks what they think. And this is big mistake and leads to wrong path of conversation. If I tell my friend that her position is wrong, she can ask me why it is wrong, and then we can still have a fruitful discussion in many cases.
However, if I tell her that her position is ridiculous, that means that it deserves to ridicule instead of reason. If she does not want to be ridiculed, why should she ask me why I think that her position is ridiculous?
6) Eco – Chamber –
We often argue about things with information that we have obtained through sources that supports our beliefs and ideas, what author calls in restricting self to eco-chamber i.e obtaining ideas and information that support our biases and leaves us in bad spot as we don’t have view point of other side to consider.
7) Reason & Emotions –
Author explains that even if we feel taking more decisions based on emotions rather reason. Think again as having certain emotions are also bases of certain reasoning or assumption.
Hence reason prevails our decision whether we realize it or not and checking reason of certain emotions can save us lots trouble. It is a mistake to think that the act results from either reason or emotion alone.
What we can gain from Argument –
1) Learning –
when we are open to reason with someone opposite view we can learn new perspective and then it’s up to us change our position. But if we focus on winning or beating someone we are close to reason and we won’t learn anything more than we know.
2) Respect –
When we are open and ask for reason, we show respect to other person and their view and others will be more considerate to listen to our reason. All of us likes to be heard, asked reason for our position.
3) Humility –
Apart from showing and gaining respect, we learn humility if we are open to reason and ask appropriate questions. Author suggest asking ‘HOW’ rather than ‘WHY’.
He claims that when people are asked ‘HOW’ like how their proposal works needs them to layout mechanism and while doing that, many realize their position may not be as strong as they like to think and become opens to alternative views with humility.
4) Abstraction –
Arguments can also undermine polarization. If people are more humble and modest, they are less likely to adopt extreme positions. They are also less likely to be so sure of their own positions that they think of their opponents as stupid or immoral, so they will become less abusive and antagonistic.
5) Compromise –
As both parties have opponents reason for their position and what they value most, it will be much easier to draw middle path. Though no compromise is perfect, yet in most cases well-reasoned compromise can be more constructive and good for all, who are affected by it.
PART 2 How to Argue –
To understand what is not argument is good point to start understanding what argument is.
What Argument is not –
Author explains through Monty Python video what argument is not. It’s not abusing, physical or verbal fights, and denials. We can not simply deny someone’s claims without reasoning.
What is Argument –
Reason is required in all arguments, however which kind or kinds of reason is feature not a bug. Reasoning can be related to believe something after knowing facts that we didn’t believe before. It can be related to deciding to act accordingly.
Here are couple of points one may consider about arguer to pursue any argument-
- Is arguer citing authority correctly?
- Is the authority be trusted on subject?
- Is cited authority expert on subject?
- Is there agreements on different experts on the subject?
- What is the motives of the arguer?
There are couple of points one may consider if wants to have constructive argument –
- Don’t simply declare what you believe. Give reason.
- Ask questions or reason for others position.
- Listen attentively with open mind.
- Understand what one values, which becomes clear from reason one gives.
- Be critical of your own reasoning. Don’t think that you have all the answers. Be humble.
PART 3 How not to Argue –
As much as we think or sure of our position, there are things we must avoid blowing any arguments.
There are couple of points one may consider not to say or show-
- Don’t let others merely announce their positions. Ask questions about their reasons.
- Don’t interrupt. Listen carefully to their answers.
- Don’t attack opponents too soon. Interpret their reason charitably.
- Don’t insult or abuse opponents.
- Be civil and respectful. Don’t commit fallacies.
Whether we like or not, there are times we must discuss, whether to convey our idea or explore other perspectives, facts about something and knowing how arguing can be of great significance. Think again can prepare you for that.
It is good read, though little detailed and you may feel bored with too much technicality. I would recommend you read this once at least.
Please share your suggestions/feedback of this review in comment or if you have any questions and I will be glad to respond.
Wish you a great outcome with all your arguments.