Have you ever tried to win an argument with the statement, “It’s just wrong.” If so, you’re probably falling for the first problem our generation tends to have when debating a controversial topic: Taking a moral approach, rather than one grounded in logic. To every declaration of “it’s just wrong,” why must remember to ask ourselves, “why exactly is it wrong?” What is it that makes something wholly right or wholly wrong? Is our definition of right and wrong defined by our own personal morals, or by our understanding of the logical progression of the argument and its respective context? It’s probably the morals, and that’s probably an unsatisfactory position.
So, what’s the difference between a logical argument and a moral one? Moral arguments tend to emerge when we’re overly impassioned by a particular topic. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, and that’s important to understand. But it is a poor foundation for an argument. Most of the time when you believe something, you believe it based on your own unique ethical code. Most of the time we want things to happen because we think that they’re “good” or “right.” We wonder, “Why the hell doesn’t anyone else understand this the way I do!?” Well, probably because we each have a COMPLETELY unique set of morals, each one different from the other. There isn’t a single other person out there who believes everything that you believe for all of the exact same reasons that you believe in them. Which is fantastic and awesome. Seriously. I know, I know, if everyone thought the way you did, then there wouldn’t be any problems in the world and we’d all be happy and we’d eat rainbows for breakfast and ride on the backs of unicorns to our fantastical island mansion paradises. Things would also be incredibly boring. Can you imagine never arguing with anybody, ever again? We need argument to live full and robust lives. Hell, if we didn’t need arguments so much, we wouldn’t find reasons to have them with someone every day. Think about the last day that you didn’t argue with someone about something, about anything at all. I’ve already had six arguments while writing this article, about whether or not I should write this article. Well, not quite – but you understand what I’m getting at: Argument, intellectual debate, is part of what makes human life interesting.
But argument hemmed in by your own rigid set of morals is not healthy or productive for your intellect or for society at large. Say you’re a Christian and you don’t believe that homosexuals should be able to marry. Why? If it’s because “God said it’s a sin”, you’re basing your argument on morals. This is an argument you can’t win, because most people don’t share your morals. Is there some sort of logical divestment you can make to support your argument? Do you believe the rich should pay more in taxes? Why? Is it because you think they’re not paying their “fair share” in relation to the rest of the country? Again, this is a moralistic argument, unless you have numbers that represent something as abstract as “fairness.” What I’m trying to get at, what I’m trying to impart, is that we face challenges every day, and every day we have to come upon decisions. These decisions are based on either our ability to logically conclude the best outcome (cost-benefit analysis) or our emotional attachment to one particular decision over another. The same thing occurs when we engage in argument. The test is to be able to take our moral argument and apply a logical conclusion to it. If we’re able to do this, we should be able to make a formidable case out of our position.
Nothing in this world is truly black or white; every judgment, every opinion, every statement is full of nuances that influence people in one way or another. We often find ourselves using our personal biases to press our positions upon people, and as a consequence, we have a tendency to stray from the path of logic. As humans we are allowed to err, and that ability is one of the greatest motivators of ingenuity and achievement that we have in this world. Mistakes are an integral part of our lives; they should be embraced. As such, the next time you find yourself in an argument or disagreement with someone, make sure you take the time afterward to think about whether you won or lost the argument. My favorite arguments aren’t always the ones I always win; they’re the ones that leave me wondering whether I made the best case for my position. The best arguments are the ones we can look back on and realize where we’ve erred.