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Argumentation is debate. Facts and logic are used to present opposing points of view. However, rhetorical flourishes and attempts to trigger emotions may also be used.


Arguers may have a variety of goals. Sometimes it is not possible to reach agreement on the best course of action, because the parties have conflicting goals. For example, if one party is interested in promoting the short-term best interests of the U.S. automobile industry, while the other party is more interested in promoting overall worldwide economic growth, there may not be any way for them to agree on whether protectionist tariffs should be lifted, even if they agree about the facts of what the consequences of those tariffs are.

One might ask, Why bother arguing? Why not simply disengage from conversation with those who put forth differing viewpoints? The problem is that nothing is gained by this, other than the ability to devote time and effort to other goals besides what could be obtained from arguing.

If someone advocates communism, what does a libertarian gain by disengaging from that conversation, especially if the debate occurs in a public forum? The communist will just go elsewhere and share his views, and the libertarian will have convinced no one of anything, and provided no intellectual ammunition by which opponents of communism may argue against such collectivist policies. Attempting to refute the arguments, on the other hand, might accomplish those goals.

One might argue, Getting rid of people from our lives who express viewpoints we find disagreeable reduces drama. Why solve it that way, when it could be solved by simply not taking offense? If one's arguments are so persuasive, and one's views so obviously correct, then why get all worked up emotionally when challenged, rather than demolishing the opposing viewpoint with facts and logic and being done with it?

Then the next time someone raises the same arguments, one can point to the previous debate. One only has to do that work of refutation once, in other words. But if one simply disengages from interaction with those with whom one disagrees, without addressing their arguments, then one has not proven that one could refute the arguments, and therefore there can be suspicion that perhaps one's arguments would not have been strong enough to refute one's opponents'.

Negative consequences of argumentation

There is no way to take a pro-legalization stance on anything without having an effect of possibly encouraging it.[1] E.g., if one says that cannabis smoking should be legalized, and buttresses one's stance with arguments that it's ethically acceptable to smoke cannabis, not very harmful, etc. then people will accuse the person of making statements that would make young people more likely to smoke cannabis. That may be true, but without the ability to make such statements, how will democracy function, since it depends largely on open debate? Although Austrian economists do not support democracy, the transition to a freer society may take place through the means of reform that democracy makes available.

Strategy and tactics

Declining debates or pointing out that opposing parties decline debates

Sometimes, parties who know they have a weak argument refuse to participate in debate. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration counsels drug prohibitionists to be cautious about accepting debate invitations.[2] DRCNet has stated, "We invite the DEA to present whatever evidence they may have that would contradict the evidence already on this site. So far, they have declined to make any contributions."[3] They also stated:[4]

We agree that the debate on the legalization of drugs cannot be won by anyone who remains silent. That is why we challenge the DEA to bring forth their best against our best in an open public environment where these issues can be discussed at length. We have asked for an open debate on this issue since February 23, 1993 when the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy was first signed. It is only the DEA who is afraid to debate this issue in public. We challenge the DEA to show the strength and truth of their arguments by supporting our call for an objective Federal Commission where all of the issues and evidence can be fully examined. If they are right, the evidence will show it. All readers should take note that the DEA consistently refuses all invitations to debate this issue in public.


Sometimes parties will resort to fallacious arguments in an attempt to win the argument without adequately proving points and establishing a sound chain of reasoning. A fallacious argument sounds good, but is logically flawed. Some fallacies involve diverting attention from the arguments at hand. An example would be an ad hominem attack such as "You have three convictions for armed robbery. Who are you to talk about property rights in a free society?"

While personal history of criminality may be relevant to, say, a decision on promoting a person to a position of trust in an organization, the truth of a speaker's arguments is not impugned by his past behavior. Of course, the work of a person with a known history of academic or journalistic dishonesty (e.g. falsifying research or sources) might be legitimately subject to a higher level of scrutiny and skepticism, but arguably all such work products should be designed, when practicable, in ways that will make it relatively easy for independent parties to check the facts and confirm the data's validity. There have been so many scandals that it is clear that putting blind faith in particular people, however prominent in the field, is hazardous.

See also

External links


  1. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927), "Every denunciation of existing law tends in some measure to increase the probability that there will be violation of it. Condonation of a breach enhances the probability. Expressions of approval add to the probability . . . Advocacy of lawbreaking heightens it still further. But even advocacy of violation, however reprehensible morally, is not a justification for denying free speech where the advocacy falls short of incitement and there is nothing to indicate that the advocacy would be immediately acted on."
  2. "Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization". Drug Enforcement Administration. 
  3. "DRCNet Response to the DEA". 
  4. "DRCNet Response to the Drug Enforcement Administration Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization111".