Senin, 05 September 2011

Chapter 5: Rebuttal from First Principles.


Once you understand the anatomy of an argument, it should be relatively simple to see how best to attack an argument. Appendix Three explains in detail how to best damage and hopefully destroy an argument in the most efficient and effective way.

But in just the same way that you can (and should!) use ‘first principles’ to construct your arguments, there some fundamental, logical principles by which you can attack arguments. So even if you don’t know anything about the evidence they used, and you’ve never heard that type of analysis before, if you listen carefully and take good notes, then you might find one of the following flaws has occurred in the argument.

5 common flaws with arguments which anyone should be able to spot regardless of how much you happen to know about a topic – this is just logic.

1)      Assertion – the argument is in fact not an argument at all, it’s simply an assertion, and as such there is no logical reason given to believe that is it true. Simply point out why there has not been any/enough analysis to demonstrate the validity of the assertion and then provide a reason why the assertion is not obviously or intuitively true.

2)      Contradiction – The argument may be valid, but it is in contradiction with a previous argument. To be a real – or ‘full blown’ contradiction, it must be that the case that it is impossible for the two arguments in question to both be true simultaneously. So it cannot logically be both cheaper and more expensive at the same time to do a given thing. Don’t go calling every argument you hear a contradiction or you will look foolish. If it is in fact a contradiction then that can cause massive damage to an opponent’s case, but if it isn’t, then the false accusation can cause massive damage to your credibility!

But spotting – and pointing out – a contradiction is only the beginning, if you want to fully exploit it you have to explain to the adjudicator exactly how this compromises the credibility of their case.

So don’t just say “first they said their plan would be really cheap, and now they say it would be really expensive, but is worth the money – that’s a pretty blatant contradiction”, follow it up with some analysis, like; “so which is it then? One of them clearly doesn’t really understand the nature of this situation – if a cheap program can be effective, then why is this she trying to tell us we’ll need to spend lots of money to resolve the problem, but if she’s right and it would take a lot of money to make a dint of this problem, then everything the first guy said is rubbish. Hopefully their next speaker will tell us which of his team mates knows what they are talking about, and which one was just making stuff up”.

You need to make it as uncomfortable for them as possible, and try and force them to not just retract the statement, but concede that a number of their arguments are irrelevant (they usually wont say that out loud, they’ll just stop mentioning all the arguments on one side of the contradiction – that’s when you know they’re in trouble and you should listen closely to how they defend themselves – if they stop mentioning certain arguments then attack them for abandoning a chuck of their case).
NOTE: The most important thing is that you can clearly and simply explain the contradiction – it’s absolutely critical that the adjudicator understands and believes you – so explain it slowly and carefully, and keep your eye on the adjudicator to see if they’re following you.

As you can see, a contradiction is such a serious flaw in a case, so if an opponent accuses your team of running a contradiction it is very important that your side respond as soon as possible and attempt to demonstrate how the two arguments in question are not contradictory.

3)      Casual Causation – Essentially this is a lack of analysis. It occurs when someone tries to draw a link between two events, without showing how the former event actually caused the latter event to happen.

A classic is when people argue that the introduction of the death penalty for murders causes a reduction in the number of murders. Never mind the fact that there are instances in which introducing the death penalty has preceded a rise in the murder rate, this is simply not reason to believe – prima facie – that the death penalty is a deterrence. There may have been a reduction in murders the following year for any number of reasons (it depends entirely on why people commit murder in the first place). Between 1996 and 1997 there was dramatic drop in the number of murders in Australia – but the death penalty was abolished here in the 1970s. So what happened? Well in 1996 there was the “Port Arthur massacre”, when Martin Bryant killed 35 people in Tasmania. Immediately after that incident the Federal Government instituted strict, uniform gun laws, which saw thousands of guns handed in as the result of “gun buy-back” scheme and it became much harder to legally buy a gun and keep it in your home. Without wanting to say too much about gun control, the point of this example is that there can be many reasons why the crime rate – especially the murder rate – goes up and down. So be careful not to be too quick to assume that one factor is more important to the outcome than another, unless you have the analysis to show why that is the case.

4)      False Dichotomy – This a particular type of mischaracterization of a debate or problem. It occurs when someone says that there is a choice to be made, where the only options are ‘A’ or ‘B’, when in fact they are not the only choices available.

This can occur because a speakers is trying to assert a self-serving dichotomy (in effect they are saying, “this debate/argument is a choice between doing something positive to address this problem, or simply letting things get worse” – in a decent debate this wont be true, its almost always a choice between two options designed to improve a situation. Or a speaker can offer a false dichotomy because they are stupid/lazy and don’t understand the debate/your argument properly.

Either way it’s important to recognise when someone is attempting to falsely divide the debate into two positions, one of which is either not what you are arguing, or not what anyone would argue. Be very clear at all times about what your team is trying to prove and you should be able to deal with this situation easily enough.

5)      Straw Man – This is another type of misrepresentation or mischaracterization of an argument. Basically the straw man is when a team set up an argument (which you have not made, and don’t intend too) and then proceed to rebut it. 

Sometimes this happens when a speaker takes an extreme example of your proposal, sometimes it happens when they misrepresent something you said, sometimes it happens when they were hoping you would argue a certain thing, and you actually proposed something slightly different. It doesn’t really matter why, it’s important to point out when a team is not engaging with your case, because if you let a straw man argument be beaten to death without pointing out that it’s not your argument in the first place, a weak adjudicator can assume that it was part of your case. Also it’s important to point out when your opponents are not engaging because that’s a critical part of having a good debate.

A note for adjudicators: The 5 ‘first principle’ rebuttal techniques listed above are really just logical flaws that can exist in an argument. As such, ‘the average reasonable person’ should be able to spot them (a ‘reasonable’ person is persuaded by logical arguments and not convinced by illogical arguments) and so even if an opposition don’t spot a contradiction or an assertion, if you do you should penalise the speaker than made those arguments.

So if you hear an argument, and you’re convinced (this is where taking good notes is important) that its contradictory with something else said by that team, you should penalise the speaker/team for that mistake. If their opponents also spot the flaw and point it out, then you should reward them in the same way you reward any good piece of rebuttal – but regardless of what the opposition do, logic is logic and if an argument is clearly illogical then it should be marked down.

This isn’t a controversial idea – we don’t adjudicate from the perspective that “I’ll believe anything I’m told unless the opposition rebut it effectively” – that would be a crazy and unreasonable way to judge. If a team said in a debate that Australia had the highest unemployment rate in the entire world, even if their opposition was stupid enough to believe them, you should still penalise them because that is obviously not true. Logically flaws are no different – they create an obvious flaw that renders an argument either irrelevant (in the case of something like a straw man) or significantly less persuasive (in the case of an assertion).

But don’t take this too far. Adjudicators are not the ‘logic police’, so don’t go crazy searching every argument for a logical flaw. But if you were properly taught the rules (as set out in the Australia-Asia Debating Guide) then you should be evaluating each argument based on the “cornerstones of matter” – logic and relevance, and these 5 categories are examples of the first part of that equation.

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