Some helpful hints about effective debating...

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by his wounds we are healed
May 15, 2007
Land O' 10,000 Lakes
Marital Status
Two of our posters drew up a nice outline of some effective arguing and debating tips. Thank you to them for taking part in this and doing the research. These are not rules, nor must people adhere to them, but they are simply guidelines for people to read and follow...if you feel you have something you can add, please PM me and we can see about getting it added in.

I. Structure of a Solid Argument
A. Types of Arguments
B. Refuting Arguments
II. Citations
A. What Is a Citation?
B. What Problems Can Arise From Citations
I. Structure of a Solid Argument
An argument is constructed of several parts. The first part is made up of one or more statements, called premises. These statements are used to logically arrive at one or more other statements, known as conclusions. The conclusions are the ideas that one is arguing for, and the premises are the support for those ideas. Thus, arguments can be (simplistically) broken down like so:

P1: All squares are rectangles
P2: My monitor is a square
C1: My monitor is a rectangle

Arguments can be much more complex, but follow this same basic structure.

A. Types of Arguments
There are two main types of argumentation: deductive and inductive. Deductive arguments begin from an absolute truth, and then logically conclude something in a specific case. The example above was a deductive argument. Deductive arguments are absolute - if the argument is sound (both logically valid, and built upon true premises), the conclusion must be true.

Inductive arguments, on the other hand, are more nebulous. These arguments begin from one or more specific cases, and attempts to demonstrate generalities. An example follows:

P1: All ice I have ever touched is cold
C1: All ice is cold

Inductive reasoning provides support for its conclusions, though it cannot prove them absolutely. The strength of the argument (its cogency) is based upon the validity of its structure, as well as the scope and truth of its premises. The example above was not cogent, because the scope of the premise was limited. A more cogent argument follows:

P1: There has never been a reported incident of ice that was not cold
C1: All ice is cold

Inductive reasoning is the basis for the scientific method. In fact, one could describe the scientific method as a means of systematically increasing the scope of our premises to improve the cogency of our scientific theories.

B. Refuting Arguments
There are two main ways for an argument to be wrong. An argument is invalid when the conclusions do not logically follow from the premises, and is the more serious of the two error types. Logical fallacies are common logical errors that people make, and their existence in an argument makes it shaky at best, and completely worthless otherwise. See [Dictionary of Logical Fallacies]. The following argument has two true premises, but contains a logical error:

P1: Christianity became the state religion of Rome in 380 AD
P2: Rome fell in 310 AD
C1: Rome fell because Christianity became the state religion

The conclusion does not reasonably follow from the premises, because the structure of the argument contains the post hoc, ergo propter hoc (After it, therefore because of it) fallacy.

The second way an argument can be wrong is through one or more faulty premises. Even if the logic is completely valid, a faulty premise makes the statement useless. Consider:

P1: Capitalism causes all hard workers to get ahead
P2: Poor people are not "ahead"
C1: Poor people in capitalistic societies are lazy

The argument above is completely valid, but is unsound nonetheless, since its first premise is faulty. Capitalism does not cause all hard workers to get ahead, so therefore the conclusion remains unsupported.
II. Citations
Arguments cannot stand alone. To make an effective argument, one must utilize logic and fact. To fulfill the latter, we often use citations.

A. What is a citation?
A citation is, according to Wiktionary, "The act of citing a passage from a book, or from another person, in his own words." (citation - Wiktionary). That right there was a citation. The general format is a quotation or summary of an article or resource followed by an attribution stating where the source was found or a means to view this source for one's self. In my case, the quotation is of a definition of "citation", while the attribution is the link posted between the parentheses.

Generally, the point of citing is to ensure that you are not simply making things up by attributing them to another person/thing. Also, this provides a way for other people to verify the validity of your source as well as proving that your argument is correct/superior.

B. What problems can arise from citations?

A citation should strive to represent either the disinterested words/analysis of an expert or show facts as they really are.

When a citation is biased, it fails to give a fair and accurate representation of facts, thereby leading to falsification and thus weakening an argument, as a biased source fails to support an argument and also casts a bad light upon the person utilizing a biased source.

Additionally, citations cannot be used alone.

While a citation may present an argument, it is not good use of a citation to simply copy paste large sections into your browser. Citations should ideally only be citing facts, and facts without analysis are useless. Include either an analysis that supports your argument or cite a small section that has a clear, well-defined fact or argument that supports your argument.
Contributors: DeathMagus, roflcopter101
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