Book – Think Again, How to Reason and Argue (Summary)
Author – Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Genre – Self-help Book
Published in – 2018
Word Argument has a very negative connotation to it. Like it quoted by many famous authors.
“I have concluded 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
Many theories have evolved with arguments and argument in itself is not good or bad, however how we conduct an argument, its purpose and its participants direct its connotation.
About the Book –
The 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 proving a point. Think Again teaches us to argue for understanding others’ positions and give the reason for our position rather than converting them.
He further adds that many people have stopped giving reasons of their own and looking for reasons for opposing positions. To broaden perspective One should assert less and question more.
The Book is divided in three parts. 1) Why argue?, 2) How to Argue?, 3) How not to Argue?
The book goes into many details, though the author’s claim details in the book about argument are only the scratch of the surface.
PART I – Why to Argue
The author claims that unless we argue (discuss) with people with beliefs 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 groups of people have different views. Though, even in the same group people vary enough on many things. Hence, many other factors need 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 people of different views when, Instead of listening 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 –
- Interruption is the paradigm of incivility. When I interrupt and say same thing you wanted to say, you won’t still be satisfied as you wanted to tell them yourself.
- Refrain from interrupting 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 in certain ways. 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 it deserves to be ridiculed instead of reasoned. And with that I leave no room for further discussion and create animosity.
6) Eco – Chamber –
- We often argue about things with information that we have obtained through sources that supports our beliefs and ideas.
- Author calls that 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.
What We can Gain from Argument
1) Learning –
when we are open to reason with someone holding opposite views we can learn a new perspective and then it’s up to us whether to change our position or not. 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 the reason, we show respect to other person and their view and others will be more considerate to listen to our reason. All of us like to be heard and ask reasons for our position.
3) Humility –
Apart from showing and gaining respect, we learn humility if we are open to reason and ask appropriate questions. The author suggests 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 open to alternative views with humility.
4) Compromise –
As both parties have a reason for their position and what they value most, it will be much easier to draw the middle path. Though no compromise is perfect, in most cases well-reasoned compromise can be more constructive and good for all, who are affected by it.
PART II – How to Argue
What is not an argument is good to point to start understanding what argument is.
What Argument is not –
The author explains through the 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 –
The reason is required in all arguments, however, which kind or kinds of the reason is a feature, not a bug. Reasoning can be related to believing something after knowing facts that we didn’t believe before.
Here are a 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 a couple of points one may consider for 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 III – How Not to Argue
As much as we think or are sure of our position, there are things we must avoid to blow any arguments out of proportion.
There are a 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 it or not, there are times we must discuss, whether to convey our idea or explore other perspectives, facts about something, and knowing how to argue is of great significance. Think again will turn you into a good arguer.
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Wish you a great outcome with all your arguments.