How to win at any argument. The things you don’t know…


We have all been there. The time when we have had a full out slagging match with someone in order to win an argument. At some points, we cringe at what we said the night before in order to prove our point. We never meant it to end like this, but we just wanted to win the argument so badly. However, when we reflect on the argument, we feel like we lost more than we gained.
I think this feeling is just part of life. As someone whose mouth runs faster than her brain, I have been in some rows which have been anything but productive. On the brightside, I have learnt a lot about preventing this. This essay will look into how to argue in a respectable manner… but still win because, hey, what’s the point of debating if you don’t win?

What is the aim of arguing?

Before you get into a heated debate, make it clear in the head what you are arguing for and why you are arguing for it. It is easy to get side-tracked down the road of what you intend to get out of this argument. However, this isn’t really winning an argument as you havent’t set out what you intended to achieve. And if you don’t care about the original aim…

Is there any point in arguing?

Why do you want to have this debate? Do you want to change someone’s mind, challenge injustice or for the fun of it? Is there any point at all? If there is no reason to have an argument, then why waste your breath?
Don’t make it personal.

I openly hold my hand up to this one. I have been dragged into this one before. Not because I wanted to hurt someone’s feelings but because I felt attacked. However, at the end of the day, this can turn an argument from having no hard feelings to it turning into a very arguable case of bullying (luckily, I have never fallen into that category). If you feel that you need to attack someone, then you are not winning because you haven’t persuaded someone else of your argument. Instead, you have turned it into a power struggle, which arguments should not be about. There is no way ever you are going to win an argument by being up that the other person is rude or purposefully mean. If anything, it just gives you more ammunition.
If someone else makes it personal, then walk away. Don’t argue with them because you have already won as you have risen above it. You don’t need to defend yourself against claims which you find rude. Don’t bother wasting your breath on them and move on.

Done’t be a snob

Not going to lie, this one does my head in. I would also be lying if I hadn’t broken this rule as well (at this moment skip to the final rule). If you feel like you are superior to the other person, then you have already lost. It means you are holding an assumption that your argument is based on and so your argument is already weak. Respect the fact someone has an equally valid idea for equally, valid reasons. You may find religion crazy. You may think someone doesn’t have sufficient evidence. However, they could think the same about you. Arguments only work if you value each other as equals. Don’t start with the assumption you will automatically win. Be respectful of someone else’s background and ideas.
Tackle a single issue.

Remember how we discussed knowing what you are aiming for with this argument? Well, when you know why you are arguing, stick to it like a stick to a tree. It is very easy to wonder off course when someone brings up another issue you disagree with. However, if it does not criticise the point you are making, discard their response as irrelevant. You can never win a war if you are too busy creating battles and not finishing them.
Listen to the other person.

It may seem obvious this one, but there have been many times when I am trying to explain what I am arguing and the other person is criticising a proposition I have not made. Let someone else finish their argument to the full and explain what they mean, then disprove it. If you don’t, what are you criticising? Don’t assume what they are going to say, let them say it. It might be completely different to what you expect.

How far can you take your argument?

Acknowledge the limitations of your argument. If they are making an a priori argument (one based on logic) then what is the key premise that it relies upon? What is possibly wrong with this premise. Can you merely weaken it or does your criticism fully mean the premise, and further more the argument can’t be used. If you are making an a posteriori argument (one based on evidence that we observe) it automatically means you cannot prove something beyond doubt, it just means that it is more probable than not probable. How does your argument make it more probable? This links to knowing what you are arguing for and the aims of the argument.
Explain yourself fully and challenge other’s assumptions.

Don’t assume that the point you are arguing for is obvious. Explain how and why you have reached your premises and the evidence for them. For instance, why must God be omnipotent? Because he is the greatest possible being and the greatest possible being is omnipotent. Why is God be the greatest possible being? Because otherwise he would be unworthy of worship as there would be someone better than him who we would call God instead. This is also an easy way to challenge someone else. Have they made an assumption which is crucial to their argument? If so, make them explain what evidence they have for that assumption. Sometimes, they have none.

Your’re allowed to change your mind

Sometimes we haven’t fully thought our premises through or we haven’t thought about a different option than our own view. That is completely ok. That is why we talk to the people around us. Does it mean we lose if we change our minds? No. If anything we have gained a new appreciation or understanding which we didn’t have before. I call this far from a loss. Don’t feel you have to stick to your point of view just because you have to win an argument. You could come out better than if you did win the argument.

Realise when someone is just being stubborn.

There are times in life when no matter how much you argue with someone, they will not change their minds. This may be  because they view the evidence differently to how you percieve it. It could be because the beliefs and experiences of the world are different to you own. Occasionally it can be to wind you up because they know what they are arguing for is wrong. No matter what the reason is, learn to recognise the point where arguing is no longer valuable, shake hands and move on with life.
There are times when these go out the window.

It is all very well and good saying this is the way to argue. It is another way to follow it. There are times in life where we lose it and all rules go out the window. For me, this is often when people become discriminatory or rude. Yes, you may say things you regret later. However, we are all human and we all make mistakes. We all forgive and forget and we move on. Apologise and move forward. If they can’t do the same, then that’s a loss on their behalf, not something to do with you. Move on with your life and know that you have learnt something for next time.

Published by Philosopher Ad Absurdum

Student studying MA Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science at the University of Birmingham; First Class BA Philosophy and History from the University of Southampton.

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