Tag Archives: argumentation

How to Lose an Argument

Thomas Erskine defended Thomas Paine after authorities decided to persecute him for the radical ideas contained in his Rights of Man. Here, Erskine tells a story that explains to Paine’s prosecutors why someone who threatens force during an argument is almost surely wrong:

You must all remember, gentlemen, Lucian’s pleasant story: Jupiter and a countryman were walking together, conversing with great freedom and familiarity upon the subject of heaven and earth. The countryman listened with attention and acquiescence while Jupiter strove only to convince him; but happening to hint a doubt, Jupiter turned hastily around and threatened him with his thunder. ‘Ah, ha!’ says the countryman, ‘now, Jupiter, I know that you are wrong; you are always wrong when you appeal to your thunder.’

Quoted from J.B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought, pp. 130-31.

He’s right. An argument can only truly be won on the merits.The world would be a better place if more people realized that.

Responding to Media Matters

Apparently the folks at Media Matters didn’t care for my July 12 article in the Daily Caller debunking the cell phone cancer scare.

The trouble is, I’m not quite sure why. They never say. Jamison Foser’s blog post doesn’t touch a single argument I made in the article. Instead he attacks me personally, as well as CEI. For all I know, he agrees with everything I said. Or maybe he disagrees. I don’t know.

His main point is that corporate funding makes arguments untrustworthy. Since CEI receives some corporate funding, we are therefore suspicious. This is not a rigorous line of thought. Arguments are either right or wrong. The presence or absence of corporate funding has nothing to do with whether an argument is right or wrong.

There is also the matter of Media Matters’ own very generous corporate donors, which Foser does not address.

Media Matters’ fixation on corporate funding is an easy way for them to avoid genuine intellectual engagement. It is a diversion. If you are unable to attack the argument, then attack the person making it.

This ad hominem attack deserves a rebuttal. The Daily Caller was kind enough to run mine this morning. I hope you will take a few minutes to read it.

The State of the Immigration Debate

Alex Nowrasteh and I expected some negative feedback on our article today on immigration reform in The American Spectator Online. We’re probably in the minority for favoring liberalization. And we’re probably a minority of that minority for using the law of demand as our primary argument.

I have a special affection for the Spectator; they were the first outlet to publish me more than once. They’ve let me write on all kinds of issues, from sports to politics to toxicology to economics, no matter what perspective I come from. Even better, I’ve gotten tons of thoughtful feedback from some very smart readers over the years. And we got plenty of that today from people who disagree with us, as expected. This is always welcome.

But one of today’s commenters makes me concerned about the level of debate on immigration. This is especially important since this divisive issue is heating up again in the wake of Arizona’s new law. I’ve reprinted his or her comment below unedited, and will offer no further editorializing, other than that this commenter in no way reflects on the Spectator, and that I hope it is satire.

Northern Rebel| 4.27.10 @ 4:15PM

Our “President’ admires communist countries, so I suggest he adopt the methods to prevent illegal immigration, that they use:
Torture, and Execution!

I posit the notion, that if we shot people the second they crossed into our country, illegal immigration would be a problem no more.

After the first hundred or so shootings, people would realize that we were serious about protecting our borders.

Let the shooting begin!