Thursday, February 01, 2007

Argument and discourse

The Recovering Dissident Catholic has an intense post on discourse. It was originally inspired by the folks at My Word and Welcome to it. She has a funny classification of the stupid ways people attempt to debate about ideas these days.

While teaching lessons on indirect (Reductio ad absurdum) proof in Geometry class this week, I often think of how difficult it can be to teach the average learner about good argumentation. After hearing some of the feeble attempts of high school sophomores at putting together their first attempts at academic-type proof, I get the sense that logic does not play a huge role in their lives.

OK, my sophomore son just peeked over my shoulder and reminded me that comment wasn't exactly fair. People tend to argue most passionately about things they really care about, so my little lessons about proving angles congruent or lines parallel might not be the most riveting topics teenagers may care about. On the other hand, my son claims that logic actually does play a huge role in his life. And he even claims that his logic is much better after he took my Geometry class last year. Comments like this give me hope.

But when people are more concerned with entertainment, ratings, advertising revenue, or political votes than they are about truth, should we be so suprised when civil discourse, not to mention good logic, goes out the window?


Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

geometricus: Good point that people argue passionately about what they care about. So, perhaps, people are capable of reasoned argument? Yet, they still don't do it. It's one of life's injustices. You don't always get to debate what you care about.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Most public discourse these days appeals to emotion, not logic.

Case 1: Proponents of killing human embryos for research cast themselves as truly "pro-life" because they support research that would help the living. They NEVER address the logical arguments that there is no morally significant difference b/w a newly conceived human being and a newly born human being.

Case 2: Advertising. My wife commented on how uncreative many billboards are in a recent local advertising campaign. She thought it certainly wouldn't convince her to buy the product. My point to her was that they weren't trying to argue for the virtues of their product, but just get the name/logo stuck in her head. That way when you're faced with 100 sq. feet of shelf at the supermarket, you go with the one that has a name you vaguely recognize.

11:06 PM  

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