Friday, May 8, 2009

Arguments vs. Discussions

I try very hard not to get involved in arguments, only discussions.

Discussions are with people who are of the same broad ideological background and reach conclusions with the same methodology. In a discussion, I might start off by disagreeing with the other person, but by having the discussion, one of us might be able to convince the other.

Arguments are with people who are from a different ideological background and reach conclusions with a different methodology. In such arguments, it almost never happens that one side convinces the other. They are generally a waste of time; the only benefits can be if (a) they are public and there is value to teaching the observers, or (b) if one wants to sharpen one's own thoughts.

I sometimes succumb to temptation, but I try my best to only get involved in discussions, not arguments.

(This post is in preparation for future posts.)


  1. Rabbi Slifkin - I found a website which promotes a perspective similar to yours (although from a Christian standpoint). You may find the more generic material interesting. It is, and is a project of the scientist Francis Collins (among others) and is funded by the Templeton Foundation.

  2. I hear what you are saying. However, I would describe it a bit different. I think arguments are between people that are already set in their ways and do not want to change. Whereas, discussions are 2 or more people trying to discover the truth.

    I am not sure that ideology has so much to do with it. However, usually when people are from different ideological backgrounds they will not listen to each other. For example, it is very hard for a Jew to convince a Christian their religion is correct and vice versa. The reason for this could have nothing to do with methodology. However, one believes the new testament is correct no matter what and the other could think it is wrong no matter what. Even if both use science and the bible for their belief base.

    What I find is that arguments are usually between two people that will not accept the others arguments no matter how much they may actually believe their arguments. A Christian creationist will never accept the fact that the Earth is old because that is against his belief. Forget the fact that a lot of creationists use science. They believe in science, but can not accept the fact that the Earth is old no matter how much proof is brought.

    I have recently had discussions with some skeptics that swear that science proves there is no G-D. Evolution means no G-D, big bang means no G-D. These are interesting conclusions, but you see that they are clearly biased opinions since these things do not actually prove anything, nor do they disprove anything, in relation to there being a G-D or not. However, these skeptics do not want to believe no matter what so they make something up to make themselves feel safe.

    Dealing with discussions is beneficial because it leads to intellectual discussions. Arguments almost always end with one person reverting to foul language or just saying, I don't care what you say. These responses reveal that that partner in the argument clearly has no logical argument left, but just does not want to believe the other person.

  3. I've had the exact same thoughts about the difference between discussions and arguments for a few years now, and came to essentially the same conclusions you did. (As a side note it's one of the reasons I decided not to go into politics - everyone there is focused on winning the argument, not having the discussion). In "7 habits of highly effective people" Stephen Covey also tries to instill the value of working synergistically (discussion), and laments that we have become over reliant on compromise (argument).

  4. Discussions require intelligence.

    Arguments require a pulse and spontaneous respiration.

    Is it any wonder the latter happen far more often?

  5. You forgot a third benefit. They can be very entertaining. Discussions with people of similar view points has a lot of head nodding, and agreement. What the point in that?

  6. I think another factor is tone and style. With my clunky writing style, you might think that I'm promoting arguing. But I think that if we spoke face to face, with the same words, you'd see that it is really just a discussion. Facial expressions, pauses, and gestures count for a lot.

  7. The problem you discuss is not one of conversing with someone who takes a different methodological approach or is from a different ideological background, it is when both are taking those issues as a priori truths and argue points based on those conclusions. You have to deal with first things first.


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