If I choose to debate, I have implicitly
accepted a wide variety of premises that are worth spending some time to unpack
If I choose to debate with you, then I
necessarily must accept that we both exist. If believe that I exist, but you do
not, then debating makes no sense, and would be the action of a madman. If I were
to start arguing with my reflection in a mirror, I should be sedated, not
Since human beings cannot communicate
psychically, all debates necessarily involve the evidence of the senses.
Writing presupposes sight; talking requires hearing; Braille requires touch.
Thus any proposition that depends upon the invalidity of the senses
Similar to Premise 2, since all arguments
require language, any proposition that rests on the premise that language is
meaningless is immediately disproven. Using language to argue that language has
no meaning is like using a courier to send a message arguing that couriers
never deliver messages.
If you correct me on an error that I have
made, you are implicitly accepting the fact that it would be better for me to correct my error. Your
preference for me to correct my error is not subjective, but objective, and
You don’t say to me: “You should change
your opinion to mine because I would
prefer it,” but rather: “You should correct your opinion because it is objectively
incorrect.” My error does not arise from merely disagreeing with you, but as a
result of my deviance from an objective standard of truth. Your argument that I
should correct my false opinion rests on the objective value of truth – i.e.
that truth is universally preferable
to error, and that truth is universally
If you disagree with me, but I tell you
that you must agree with me because I am always right, it is unlikely that you
would be satisfied by the rigor of my argument. If you provided good reasons as
to why I was wrong, but I just kept repeating that I was right because I am always right, our interaction could
scarcely be categorized as a debate.
The moment that I provide some sort of
objective criterion for determining truth from falsehood, I am accepting that
truth is more than a matter of opinion.
This does not necessarily mean that my
objective criteria are logical – I
could refer you to a religious text, for example. However, even if I do so, I am
still accepting that the truth is something that is arrived at independent of
mere personal assertion – that an objective methodology exists for separating
truth from falsehood.
If I tell you that the world is flat, and
you reply that the world is not flat, but round, then you are implicitly
accepting the axiom that truth and falsehood both exist objectively, and that
truth is better than falsehood.
If I tell you that I like chocolate ice
cream, and you tell me that you like vanilla, it is impossible to “prove” that
vanilla is objectively better than chocolate. The moment that you correct me
with reference to objective facts,
you are accepting that objective facts exist, and that objective truth is universally preferable to subjective
If I tell you that the world is flat, and
you pull out a gun and shoot me, this would scarcely be an example of a productive
debate. True, our disagreement would have been “resolved” – but because only
one of us was left standing at the end.
If you told me in advance that you would
deal with any disagreement by shooting me, I would be unlikely to engage in a
debate with you.
Thus it is clear that any debate relies on
the implicit premise that evidence, reason, truth and objectivity are the universally preferable methods of
resolving disputes between individuals. It would be completely illogical to
argue that differences of opinion should be resolved through the use of
violence – the only consistent argument for the value of violence is the use
of violence. (It will be useful to keep this particular premise in mind, since
it will be very important later on.)
In essence, then, debating requires an
objective methodology, through meaningful language, in the pursuit of universal
truth, which is objectively preferable to personal error.
This preference for universal truth is not
a preference of degree, but of kind. A shortcut that reduces your
driving time by half is twice as good as a longer route – but both are infinitely preferable to driving in the
completely wrong direction.
In the same way, the truth is not just
“better” than error – it is infinitely
preferable, or required.
If I argue that human beings are not
responsible for their actions, I am caught in a paradox, which is the question
of whether or not I am responsible for my
argument, and also whether or not
you are responsible for your response.
If my argument that human beings are not responsible for their actions is
true, then I am not responsible for my argument, and you are not responsible
for your reply. However, if I believe that you are not responsible for your
reply, it would make precious little sense to advance an argument – it would be
exactly the same as arguing with a television set. (The question of
responsibility is, of course, closely related to the question of free will
versus determinism, which will be the subject of another book.)
Thus, fundamentally, if I tell you that you
are not responsible for your actions, I am telling you that it is universally
preferable for you to believe that preference is impossible, since if you have
no control over your actions, you cannot choose a preferred state, i.e. truth
over falsehood. Thus this argument, like the above arguments, self-destructs.