What is an argument? And why do we have them? Are they, or should they be, always antagonistic? Are they emotionally damaging? Are they to be avoided?
I love to argue. Some people hate that about me. Mostly my family. But that’s just the redneck thing. Others think I should have been a trial attorney. Leave it to me to not monetize a strength of mine.
Grandpa Smitty was a huge Bennie Hill and Monty Python fan, and naturally made it mandatory early-childhood education for his grandchildren. I am so grateful for that schooling!
Let’s start here:
ar·gu·ment | \ ˈär-gyə-mənt \
Definition of argument
1a: the act or process of arguing, reasoning, or discussing : ARGUMENTATION
b: a coherent series of reasons, statements, or facts intended to support or establish a point of view
a defense attorney's closing argument
c: an angry quarrel or disagreement
having an argument over/about money
trying to settle an argument
2a: a reason given for or against a matter under discussion
They presented their arguments in favor of the proposal.
b: a form of rhetorical expression intended to convince or persuade
3: an abstract (see ABSTRACT entry 2 sense 1) or summary especially of a literary work
4: the subject matter especially of a literary work
5 a mathematics : one of the independent variables upon whose value that of a function depends
b grammar : a substantive (such as the direct object of a transitive verb) that is required by a predicate in grammar
c mathematics : AMPLITUDE sense 4
6 obsolete : an outward sign : INDICATION
Well, that answers the first three questions right off the top. The dictionary, however, will not provide answers to the last two. I should probably ask my therapist. Or my kids. That reason alone is what is motivating this piece.
I hope everyone is, at the very least, aware of the iconic Python “Argument Clinic” sketch. I subscribe to Grandpa Smitty’s educational belief, and in that vein, you are required to watch. (I know, the ads suck, but its the best I found)
Arguments have always carried the risk of death, just see Burr vs. Hamilton. And in today’s overheated dystopian Now-Normal, that risk seems greater than ever. And if not death, certain exile from public life for arguing the wrong point. Or worse, kids table at Thanksgiving.
Arguments can become personal, and that’s the danger. That’s the answer to the fourth question above. They can be extremely hurtful and fester into trauma that can last too long. And depending on the instigator's original motivation and passion, an argument can become a source of shame over time if said intent was in bad faith.
Where did this start? Who can we blame? The French, of course!
c. 1300, "to make reasoned statements to prove or refute a proposition," from Old French arguer "maintain an opinion or view; harry, reproach, accuse, blame" (12c.), ultimately from Latin arguere "make clear, make known, prove, declare, demonstrate," from PIE *argu-yo-, suffixed form of root *arg- "to shine; white." The transmission to French might be via arguere in a Medieval Latin sense of "to argue," or from Latin argutare "to prattle, prate," frequentative of arguere.
De Vaan says ``arguere 'is probably "a denominative verb 'to make bright, enlighten' to an adj. *argu- 'bright' as continued in argutus and outside Italic." He cites a closely similar formation in Hittite arkuuae- "to make a plea." Meaning "to oppose, dispute, contend in argument" is from late 14c. Related: Argued; arguing.
So, we have been doing this for quite some time. Argument serves important functions in the art of communication, and in fact, is just a part of the larger art of rhetoric. What is rhetoric, you ask?
The perspective from which it views a text is different from that of other disciplines. History, philosophy, literary criticism, and the social sciences are apt to view a text as though it were a kind of map of the author’s mind on a particular subject.
Rhetoricians, accustomed by their traditional discipline to look at communication from the communicator’s point of view, regard the text as the embodiment of an intention, not as a map.
A concern for audience, for intention, and for structure is, then, the mark of modern rhetoric. It is as involved with the process of interpretation, or analysis, as it is with the process of creation, or genesis.
Britannica sucked me down the rabbit hole of the Classical Greeks and the origin of Rhetoric. Research is a large part of the writing process, and the above paragraph struck a nerve. The trouble with arguing is the art of emotional detachment. That trouble is also its beauty.
Like the classic Argument Clinic, we fumble through life looking for an argument, but somehow never getting it . Our basic human need for reason and clarity is muddied by emotions and desire. What we get are shallow attempts at logic and discipline. Quite the contrary, right?
An argument which dismisses one proposition by emphasizing another one. For example, the proposition, “Many London households in the age of Handel achieved a high level of culture and civility” may be disputed on the grounds that “eighteenth century London still had desperate poverty and open sewers.”
The problem is not that the objection is false; it is that it can effectively see off the original statement, which disappears from the discussion, allowing the easy ride of catch-all cynicism to continue uninterrupted. The Contrarian Fallacy—the inverse of the three monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil—sees evil in every accomplishment, and claims that this dismal insight is what conscience requires.
Another frequent response to an argument today is Contradiction. And most consumers of the spoken or written word have no issues with that. This form of argument is intellectually lazy if not employed by a skillful rhetorician, and is often mistaken as effective. It is not.
Substack is an amazing platform to write on. They keep innovating and coming up with things that really help writers, novice and expert alike. One of those things is a class called Substack Grow. A select number of platform writers were invited to participate. I was one of them.
From yesterday’s class:
According to Nicolas Cole, one of the writers behind Category Pirates, it’s essential to consider what makes the writing you’re publishing different from what else is out there.
Basically, the difference between rhetoric and argument. This guy Nicolas is a smart dude. Had over 10K daily readers before graduating high school. Worth listening to. And reading. Please check his content out.
A big take-away for me was the emphasis on audience. The audience is reading to satisfy their interests, not the writers ego. The story here is you, not me.
This post will be much shorter than most (stop cheering!) as the hectic and crazy life I’m involved in has had a sudden and sharp uptick of professional activity.
It appears my main-side-hustle will be real estate appraising. Seems that I possess certain skills and talents that are in demand at the moment. Maybe the wave is cresting, and I will make the eight. To mix my metaphors.
I value my readers. Your time and effort is extremely important to me, and is top of mind during the writing process. Your interests are mine. Yours stories are worth telling. I am interested in you and your life, and I am humbled by your interest in me and mine.
Comments are hard to come by, we get that. I’m not opposed to a DM to let me know your thoughts.
We appear to have lost the ability to engage in reasoned discourse. Every difference of opinion must result in obscene ad hominem attacks. The purpose - to educate, enlighten, explore and persuade - is no longer seen as worthy. A major cause is that many people simply don't listen to one another. Instead, they begin thinking of the next witty thing they can say in response, rather than actually listening to someone else. Breaking one's self of this self-destructive habit is indeed difficult. It is, however, well worth the effort.
That was a great skit and an even better read . Thank you , I’ll have to admit I used to love a good argument until I was with someone that would get very angry verbally and I lost my passion. These days it feels safer for me to just agree to disagree.