With credit to maxwellsdemon and the emphasis on logic, I would like to touch on a subject that we seem to be hitting ourselves over the head every day when we argue with each other. It's a subject that is dear to me because it's something I deal with regularly in my profession.
When we argue with each other, we are making cases to each other. When we make cases, we are attempting to think and use logic. And many people don't realize this, but all arguments of this nature can be boiled down to two types of reasoning.
The two types: necessary conditions and sufficient causes.
To illustrate this, I'd like to quickly workshop a controversial subject that has been on our front page recently. I'm hopeful that at the conclusion, many of us might have a few more tools to be able to argue with each other in a more reasonable manner.
The subject is whether or not we should replace Orton in our starting lineup. Now, just to simplify things, I am going to throw out a premise based off of a couple of statements. The statements may or may not be true. Please note, I am not trying to build a case about Orton here, it's just for illustration.
Premise: In order for the Denver Broncos to get to where it needs to be, we need to:
- Replace Orton at Quarterback
- Improve our Defense
What's the problem with how I phrased it above? The problem is that a reader has no idea if I mean both of those things have to happen, or only one of them.
Let's say that either replacing Orton, or improving our defense would be enough to satisfy the premise. In this case, you are saying that either statement would be a sufficient cause. If this is what I meant, I should have separated those statements with an OR. (Or perhaps they believe that improving our defense is the only sufficient cause, and that replacing Orton isn't necessary in any case).
Or, let's say that you need both. We need to replace Orton, AND improve our defense. In this case, you are saying that neither statement is sufficient, but that both are necessary. If this is what I meant, I should have separated those statements with an AND.
Here's where we get in trouble. I just saw a very long thread on one of the recent articles that went something like this:
"We should replace Orton."
"Dude, our defense sucked."
"Orton isn't good enough, look at these stats."
"Any quarterback would suck with that defense!"
"But look at the stats."
"But our defense SUCKED!"
"I know our defense sucked!"
"You just totally contradicted yourself! You idiot!"
"You're not listening! You idiot!"
Well, you get the idea. There was an entire thread that was like that. The problem here is not that either side is an idiot. The problem here is that one side believes that replacing Orton is necessary, while the other side believes that upgrading the defense is sufficient.
Let's take it from the perspective of someone in the first camp. He believes that replacing Orton is necessary. Someone tells him that we just upgraded the defense. To him, that's irrelevant. It's good that we upgraded the defense, but it doesn't change the fact that we also need to replace Orton. He responds by thinking the other person is just making a distracting argument, wasting his time, and is likely an idiot. What's better is to consider the possibility that the other person believes that replacing the defense is sufficient, and respond on that argument's merits.
What about the other perspective? He believes that upgrading the defense is sufficient. Someone tells him that we need to replace Orton. To him, it's mind-boggling that someone would blame all the problems of the previous season on Orton. He responds by thinking the other person doesn't agree our defense sucked, is wasting his time, and is likely an idiot. What's better is to consider the possibility that the other person thinks that improving the defense and replacing Orton are both necessary, and respond on that argument's merits.
In other words, some of us believe that Orton is a fine quarterback that would get the Denver Broncos where they need to be if the defense is improved. They're the ones that put an OR between the two statements above (or believe only one of them). We're upgrading our defense, so let's keep Orton.
While others of us believe that even if we improve the defense, we should also replace Orton. They're the ones that put an AND between the two statements above. We upgraded our defense - hooray, that was a necessary part of our plan. And now we also need to replace Orton.
It's a good thing to keep in mind. When we are arguing with each other, try and take the time to consider the other person's point of view, and the awesome powers of necessary conditions and sufficient causes. It's a valuable part of reasoning, and will make you more effective at arguing.