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The use of logic in arguments
The Weapons of Pragmatism
An AntiBJP Special

Labeling

One of the major 'weapons' in use today in arguments is labeling. 'Idealistic', 'extreme', 'racist', 'anti-nature', 'insensitive' are some commonly encountered examples. The most effective way of countering labeling would be to ask a question like:

What exactly do you mean when you say 'idealistic'?
This will only give rise to a 'side debate' proceeding away from the main point, making it difficult to come back to the main issue at a later point. Such a question will give rise to other questions, all finally leading to a single point — the system of ethics that the debater holds.

Most debaters usually do not hold a consistent and logical system of ethics. It is usually, a mixture of altruist-pragmatic combination that prevails in their minds. The result is that they 'label' premises and statements of opponents. And the labeling is often done as an end to itself, i.e. for such debaters once concepts/statements/premises are labeled, the topic is closed—no further consideration is necessary. The debater in such a case assumes that his labels are accepted by both the opposition and the judges (of any other mediating authority). For him, labels serve the purpose of smearing. Anybody who uses principles derived from a clearly defined system of ethics will invite labels from such a debater.

The problem of fighting labels has already been mentioned above. To counter an opponent who is fighting the argument using labels at each an every turn would become a tedious process. It would consume time. The best defense against smear-labeling would be to build one's argument along the lines of a Lincoln-Douglas debate. It helps to keep the main topic in focus, and does not provide 'space' for labeling. The best reply to labeling would be to clearly define a system of ethics and stick to it throughout the argument. And to make the opponent show as to how the label he has conferred on you violates his system of ethics.

Argument from intimidation

This is an easily fought 'argument-tool' once it is recognized but the problem is to recognize it. As an example let's take the topic, secularism and its role in politics. A statement supporting secularism from your side would probably invite something like;
"Secularism hee! hee! hee!"
Now if you continue to stand by your previous statement,
"Don't tell me you still believe in the quaint notion of secularism!!"
would be the next statement. If you still stick to your guns, the next thing you would find them saying would be:
"I think you haven't read your history well. It is a well known fact that the concept of secularism is inapplicable in a multi-religious and ethnic society like India"
If you say now that you don't believe in the validity of that statement and request for a clearer explanation, the real thing—a total disbelief in principles then comes out.

Argument from intimidation is a commonly used weapon in day-to-day life in many forms. The element attacked usually is some value-judgement or value premise. And the premise of the attacker/intimidator is usually that, value-judgements and more more importantly values and convictions themselves are useless. The effectiveness of the attack depends, not on the content of the statements, but their tone. Accusatory and intimidating statements like 'something-must-be-wrong-with-you', 'you-can't-be-serious', 'go-read-up-your-history-well' are commonly used.

The argument stands exposed if the 'victim' sticks to his guns. A consistent stand will expose the hollowness and useless verbiage of those who resort to attack by argument by intimidation.

'Come on, be practical'

This statement, pronounced with a dragging and a tired tone must be the most commonly used statement in arguments today. It is usually accompanied by a smile which seems to convey a resigned understanding of the whole matter, as if struck by a final realization that the person had been arguing with somebody who doesn't have a complete grasp over the subject. This weapon is nothing but the 'argument from intimidation' in another form. The 'appeal to practicality' is the tried and worn seduction of Pragmatism.

are other such utterances in the armamentarium of the Pragmatist.

It is these people who have split logic from reality, see a difference between the written word (theory) and it's implications (practice). Logic for them is "mutable convention" (John Dewey) and reality for them is a "construct of the subject".

Trying to be 'practical' without an understanding of the true nature of the problem and the moral questions is a peculiar and an unique feature of the Pragmatist. Trying to 'just do it' without knowing why and how is not just stupid, it is the characteristic of a coward, a coward who fails to face and answer moral questions.

Concluding remarks

Labeling, argument from intimidation, appeals to practicality all stem from the philosophy of Pragmatism. A counter-offensive can be launched on these weapons' from a better understanding of Pragmatism. Pragmatism holds that:

What are pragmatists implying by their last statement?
The use of logic in arguments
Part 1. The use of examples
Part 2. The weapons of Pragmatism
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