Published: 30th January 2021
English Blues: What are the characteristics of a good argument and why?
While disagreeing with those who have views contrarian to theirs, they neither show feelings of prejudice nor indulge in personal attacks
Quite often, we enter into arguments with our friends and others while discussing certain issues. ‘Argument’ is a positive term. Author Salman Rushdie says, “A mature society understands that at the heart of democracy is an argument.” It can be a delightful experience for us when we argue with those who think critically, analyse issues logically and communicate clearly. At times, we do have unpleasant experiences when we encounter people who argue illogically and stick to their point of view. But do we have good argumentative
On Republic Day, the tractor march in New Delhi organised by farmers protesting the Farm Bills was debated on TV channels and social media. While analysing the arguments by seasoned panellists and comments made by social media users, I found that many of them lack the art of arguing. Everyone seemed to prove that they are correct and others are wrong. On social media too, I have found that many do not know how to engage in healthy discussions.
Anyone who is active on social media and takes part in discussions is required to be good at arguing. We might encounter many fallacious arguments while we discuss issues. Knowing how to discern whether an argument is valid is an art. Being good at arguing means not only using our reason and logic powerfully but also using the language of argument effectively.
What are the characteristics of a good argument? Those who have argumentative skills sound logical, support their claims by facts, statistics or examples, provide evidence of research, refute counter-arguments, and use emphatic words and connectors effectively. As active listeners, they listen to the views of others patiently and, if needed, disagree with them politely. While disagreeing with those who have views contrarian to theirs, they neither show feelings of prejudice nor indulge in personal attacks.
The language of argument/refutation appeals to the listener/reader’s logic. In the ‘Letters to the editor’ page, we can find letters written using the language of argument. Look at this example. A few years ago, Mohan Bhagwat said that “Mother Teresa’s aim was conversion”. How to refute the claim? Here is my response to it in the form of a letter to the editor. This has reference to Mohan Bhagwat’s statement “Mother Teresa’s aim was conversion.”
Those who have known Mother Teresa and seen her work will refute Bhagwat’s claim. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was right on the mark when he tweeted: “I worked wid Mother Teresa for a few months at Nirmal Hriday ashram in Kolkata. She was a noble soul. Please, spare her.” During my five-year stay in Kigali, Rwanda, in Africa, some of us from India used to visit the Mother Teresa home almost every month and spend time with the inmates. One of my friends was moved into saying after a visit: “I see God in the nuns at this home.” Over 95 per cent of the population of Rwanda is Christian. Had conversions been her real objective, Mother Teresa would not have started homes in such predominantly Christian-populated countries!