How to win an argument, every time!

I am a huge fan of arguing and debating. There are several reasons for this. The first is that I find it challenging and intellectually stimulating. You must keep track of multiple things simultaneously: an ever-growing list of positions and points both from your opponent and in refutation of him. You need a broad command of your topic, and an equal command of the finer details.

The other reason I like arguing is because, done right, you never lose an argument. There are very few win/win propositions in life, and arguing can be one of them.

Now, it’s not easy to do right, and I don’t always succeed. It requires a great deal of patience, and practice. But so do all things that are worthwhile.

So how do you always win?

By debating openly, honestly, and with an open mind, and by expecting and demanding the same from your opposition.

The topic I debate most is atheism. When talking with theists, I expect them to have an open mind and remain respectful. I do my best to do the same thing. I am not for name calling, ad hominem attacks, or any of the things you find so often even in professional debates. If the other side does the same, the argument becomes a win/win for both of us.

Let us say that I am wrong. If the other side argues well, and I’m open minded, I will be converted to his side. This will make me a better, smarter person than I was before the debate started. This is an obvious win, and I am superior to the man I was before the argument started. I can change my position, and can now argue new, better positions. Indeed, that is a staggering win, and in my opinion the best possible outcome of the debate (having my mind changed is far more rewarding to me than intellectually obliterating an opponent). These are the ones I enjoyed the most, though they are extremely rare. But it is a euphoric feeling, walking away feeling like you are better than you walked in, like you’ve learned something new, something important. I guard against my desire to learn something new by forcing my opponent to genuinely earn my conversion. Changing belief based on bad evidence is far worse than losing an argument, so while this is the best possible outcome, it must be resisted.

On the other hand, let us say that I have the correct position. If I argue well, and my opponent is open minded, I will convert him. This too, is a win. I have made the world a better place, done some small service in the name of truth. That too is a good feeling.

This means that, done properly, both sides can always win an argument. It is, unfortunately, reasonably rare I find someone willing to hold up their end of this, and on occasion I have thought myself holding it up and found that in fact I was not. But when these principles are followed, you will never ever lose an argument.

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