xkcd hits another one out of the park


There is a place for academic arguments — but in the real world, we have an obligation to take arguments that harm people seriously, and advocate honestly for what we really believe. If you’re talking about torture, for instance, you do no one any favor by inventing improbable-to-impossible scenarios and then making justifications that will be used in far less justifiable situations.

Comments

  1. kevinalexander says

    Why do you liberals have to fuck up perfectly clear God given truths by confusing every one with so called ‘scientific’ arguments? Science is difficult and expensive; TRUTH is cheap and easy.
    See? That xkcd guy secretly does believe in God. He just hates him.

  2. Sastra says

    I think academic arguments are often useful in order to expose presumptions, to show where the other side makes its mistakes in order to dismantle their views. But yes, they have to be used strategically in public.

  3. nomadiq says

    Indeed. Any argument that begin with “suppose I’m right” is tricky to justify from the start. It only works well in formal logic when trying to make a proof by contradiction. But how many times does someone start an argument with “suppose rape culture doesn’t exist”, or “suppose homosexuality is amoral and is destroying families” and then tries to prove the opposite? Usually a supposer is trying to get you to accept their axioms (without justification) and then show you how their axioms are right. This doesn’t work. The only way to answer someone who argues with “suppose” or “for arguments sake” is to say “before we waste any more time, what is the evidence for that?”. Our arguments can rarely be so rigorously formulated like a geometry problem (second time today I’ve said this!). If we can’t agree on the axioms we are left with being empirical.

  4. Athywren says

    Yeah, but, just for the sake of argument, what if torture wasn’t torturous? What if they’re just faking it and it’s really a lot like a week of massages and chocolate? Wouldn’t have a problem with it then, would ya?

  5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Just for the sake of argument, milk or black? Asian or European?*

    *And, yes, “Are the massages milk or black? Is the chocolate Asian or European?” is exactly what I meant.

  6. Becca Stareyes says

    nomadiq @ 3

    Yes, exactly! For instance, ‘even if we suppose, for the sake of argument, homosexuality is immoral by your religion, the government is not the immorality police of your nor anyone’s religion. The government doesn’t care if you lie (which many people find as usually immoral) as long as you don’t do it to them or as a part of governmental proceedings (aka perjury laws). Even libel/slander and contract violations are civil cases, where the government is more arbitrator than prosecutor’.

    That basically focuses the discussion from ‘homosexuality: good or bad’ to ‘should this be illegal?’. If the other person is conflating this, you are making it clear those can’t be conflated. Of course, if the other person is conflating things, they may not be amenable to correction.

  7. says

    Yeah, but, just for the sake of argument, what if torture wasn’t torturous? What if they’re just faking it and it’s really a lot like a week of massages and chocolate? Wouldn’t have a problem with it then, would ya?

    But then the terrorists really would have won.

  8. Johnny Vector says

    Between the regular cartoons and What If, I have come to view Randall Munroe as one of the all-time great science communicators. Like, in the same leagues and Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He gets things so right, and explains them in ways that are memorable and funny.

  9. says

    Certainly gonna have to remember the “so you saw an argument where one side was the devil…” remark.

    Everyone knows Lucifer is a master litigator anyhow, and does not need our puny mortal aid.

  10. robertrichter says

    Honestly, this one mostly seems like Randall being silly and riffing off some peculiar and idiomatic language.

    Yes, there’s a right place and many wrong places for academic debate, but academic debate itself is vital in the quest for good ideas.

    “Argument,” after all, is the process by which we arrive at sound conclusions.

  11. alexstrinka says

    I disagree. In the real world, it’s even more important that your beliefs actually be true. The only way for you to correct false beliefs is to challenge them. Since you don’t know which of your beliefs are false, you need to challenge all of them, even the one that are obviously true, because sometimes things that are obviously true turn out to actually be false.

  12. Nick Gotts says

    The only way for you to correct false beliefs is to challenge them. – alexstrinka

    Oh, right. So you’re happy with people “challenging” the belief that slavery is vile, that there should be no laws against homosexual acts, that women should be able to vote…

    Note that these are not far-fetched “challenges”. Bigots make every one of them frequently – and you expect the targets of these bigots to smile and say “Yeah, whatever, after all sometimes things that are obviously true turn out to be actually false” while their enemies are attempting to take away their rights.

    Fuck off.

  13. says

    Can you sincerely, honestly defend slavery or homophobia or misogyny with arguments that you consider sufficiently legitimate that you, personally, would agree with them?

    If you don’t find those arguments strong enough to convince you, why are you presenting them as valid and not simply explaining how they’re wrong?

  14. Kevin Kehres says

    Code words.

    “For the sake of argument” is code for “I’m going to now argue a position that is vile and unsupportable, which I totally believe and accept, but which I understand is contrary to the basics of human decency and morality. Therefore, I have to water down this vile belief with a distancing statement so that you can’t pin it on me — even though that’s what I totally believe. I am not a nice person.”

    Code words make great shorthand.

  15. vaiyt says

    the only way for you to correct false beliefs is to challenge them.

    If you want to challenge a belief you think is false, own your shit. Don’t try avoiding responsibility for your position, and don’t force other people to accept your premises before you support them.

  16. Randomfactor says

    Ok, how about “Just as a hypothesis…suppose X were Y. How would you disprove that?”

    Y’all got anything against hypothesiseses?

  17. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    alexstrinka @ 14

    I disagree. In the real world, it’s even more important that your beliefs actually be true. The only way for you to correct false beliefs is to challenge them. Since you don’t know which of your beliefs are false, you need to challenge all of them, even the one that are obviously true, because sometimes things that are obviously true turn out to actually be false.

    Yeah, well, if you have some actual facts to bring to bear on whatever obviously true thing you’re challenging, knock yourself right the fuck out. But that’s not what people are doing when they pull “just for the sake of argument.” When people do that it’s precisely because they don’t have any data to support the position. They just want to masturbate over hypothetical corner cases, usually involving the denial of someone else’s rights.

  18. says

    This is another variant, too, of the ‘I’m able to be a Vulcan about this, your not being able to means your argument is weak’ line of horseshit. Part of the implication, along with Kevin Kehres’ excellent description above, is that ‘my opinion is more valuable because I’m only doing this for the sake of intellectual discourse, while you’re biased because this matters to you’ is a valid premise. Which would lead, logically, to the conclusion that the only people who can have an opinion on something are those who have no knowledge of it.

    It’s intellectually dishonest, and Monroe has as PZed said, knocked it over the goal line for a try, set, and tournament.

  19. Athywren says

    This might be a language barrier thing… but in the UK, “for the sake of argument” isn’t relegated to use only for statements that are demonstrably false or contrary to decency. It does still tend to require the assumption of unsupported premises, however so, yeah, still a bit iffy for rational discourse. I don’t care how well the logic flows from badgers eating wolf meat to launching a full-scale invasion of the Illuminati’s secret moonbase, you still need to demonstrate this appetite in badgers first. Evidence of the moonbase would also be handy.

  20. drst says

    Athywren @ 22 – is “playing devil’s advocate” is used in any way in the UK but the context of “I know what I’m about to suggest is terrible but I want to pretend I’m not really saying it while still getting to argue with you”?

  21. opie says

    I’m having a difficult time separating the logic of the xkcd comic (which I wholeheartedly agree with) with what, say, a criminal defense attorney does. Is it not the job of the attorney to mount a robust and vigorous defense of the defendant? To put the evidence and facts of the case in the best possible light for their client? To sow seeds of doubt in the prosecution’s case? And to do all this with disregard of the defense attorney’s own personal views of the defendant? I think the courtroom is a place for playing “devil’s advocate”–perhaps one of the few places where it is appropriate though.

  22. qwints says

    I’m totally confused here. “For the sake of the argument” (or, arguendo</i) is an incredibly powerful tool for reasoning. As Becca Stareyes said, it allows you to focus the discussion. You see it used all the time in pro-choice advocacy where dubious anti-choice claims are treated as true to show that they shouldn't affect the ultimate conclusion. (e.g. Even if a fetus can feel pain, that doesn't justify violating a woman's bodily autonomy). You also need it to make proofs by contradiction. (Assume that the square root of 2 is a rational number). Finally, it's got nothing to do with tone policing. You can use whatever mode of reasoning you want when discussing the subject.

    The majority of the comments here seem to be talking about playing devil's advocate, which is also important. People ought to test their beliefs and to understand the opposing side. An unexamined belief is not worth having. I ought to be able to explain the arguments against my beliefs and why they're wrong, and I can't do that without doing the former.

  23. nrdo says

    @ CaitieCat, getaway driver

    True, the “straw Vulcan” idea and its variants are frustrating. However, sometimes “distance” is useful. One of the maddening things about the recent police violence in the US has been the media focus on the minutiae of the incidents themselves. Whereas some “academic distance” would show that even if none of the recent incidents was racially motivated, there is a systemic, statistical bias in policing that penalizes minorities.

    I think the cartoon can be interpreted in a few different ways.

  24. qwints says

    Nick Gotts

    Bigots make every one of them frequently – and you expect the targets of these bigots to smile and say “Yeah, whatever, after all sometimes things that are obviously true turn out to be actually false” while their enemies are attempting to take away their rights.

    People, if they want to, should make passionate, reasoned arguments against bad claims regardless of the sincerity of the person advocating them. It’s perfectly fine to cabin off spaces from that sort of discussion, but that doesn’t mean that sort of discussion is evil.

  25. unclefrogy says

    as the cartoon shows that kind of argument often is just a trick to go completely off of the subject and get lost in the weeds of endless pointless side tracks of hypotheticals inside hypotheticals. to get you to say what you do not mean. and gotcha!
    uncle frogy

  26. woozy says

    in the real world, we have an obligation to take arguments that harm people seriously, and advocate honestly for what we really believe. If you’re talking about torture, for instance, you do no one any favor by inventing improbable-to-impossible scenarios and then making justifications that will be used in far less justifiable situations.

    Oh, nonsense. If we are actually discussing something like torture than that means there is a some-one who actually believes the opposing side and we are obligated to counter and shoot their arguments down. If we can’t even counter a simple devil’s advocate argument, then we lack the clarity and conviction of our viewpoint and we need to go home and rethink until we can.

    Also, by the way, by definition the opponent can not give an argument supporting his viewpoint as a devil’s advocate. By definition a devil’s advocate argument is for the side contrary to the one the proposer holds.

    If we are arguing something we believe we have two obligations. 1) We have to really know that we actually *do* believe what we think we do and 2) we have to make our arguments air-tight. Devil’s advocacy is necessary for both of these.

  27. says

    “Let’s assume for the sake of argument…”, “To play devil’s advocate…”, “To be fair…”, and “Not to be racist, but…” are all phrases that induce a frantic search for a button labeled “EJECT”.

  28. says

    Ryan @ 30:

    “Let’s assume for the sake of argument…”, “To play devil’s advocate…”, “To be fair…”, and “Not to be racist, but…” are all phrases that induce a frantic search for a button labeled “EJECT”.

    Word. I have memories of too many threads with a so-called devil’s advocate playing the “is it rape now?” scenarios for hundreds of posts.

  29. woozy says

    Can you sincerely, honestly defend slavery or homophobia or misogyny with arguments that you consider sufficiently legitimate that you, personally, would agree with them?

    If the arguments were legitimate than I’d have to concede slavery or homophobia or misogyny are actually okay. Either I am wrong or those arguments are not legitimate. I owe it to myself and my conviction to figure out what the weaknesses of those arguments are (or question my viewpoint if I can not). I can’t just dismiss with a a “oh, those are just a devil’s advocacy so I don’t have to respond to it”. If I can’t respond to it then there is something seriously weak in my position and I am obligated to figure out what it is and address it.

  30. frankensteinmonster says

    Also, by the way, by definition the opponent can not give an argument supporting his viewpoint as a devil’s advocate. By definition a devil’s advocate argument is for the side contrary to the one the proposer holds.

    But the actual opponent can always pretend that he is just a devil’s advocate.

    If we are arguing something we believe we have two obligations. 1) We have to really know that we actually *do* believe what we think we do and 2) we have to make our arguments air-tight. Devil’s advocacy is necessary for both of these.

    Then we have to give up on that. Some people keep abusing it, so we have to go completely without it. ( note that I am playing devil’s advocate right now )

  31. carlie says

    An unexamined belief is not worth having.

    True. However, would you not agree that it’s a waste of everyone’s time to go over the excruciating details of simple, logical beliefs over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over? Because that’s what people keep trying to force others to do. And then add to that the emotional toll paid when the belief is “I’m an entire person just like everyone else”, and you’re made to defend it against the “devil’s advocate” or “just for the sake of argument” position that, in fact, you are NOT an entire person worthy of basic human rights, and you’re made to do it over and over and over and over and over.

  32. says

    If we are arguing something we believe we have two obligations. 1) We have to really know that we actually *do* believe what we think we do and 2) we have to make our arguments air-tight. Devil’s advocacy is necessary for both of these.

    Understanding addition is necessary to do differential equations. That doesn’t mean I publicly announce all the assumptions of addition whenever I do differential equations.

  33. qwints says

    carlie

    would you not agree that it’s a waste of everyone’s time to go over the excruciating details of simple, logical beliefs over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over?

    No, but I don’t have any problem with formally or informally limiting where such discussions take place.

    people keep trying to force others to do.

    you’re made

    I don’t understand what kind of compulsion you’re talking about here. If you’re talking about someone persistently trying to continue a conversation with you after you ask them to stop, that’s harassment and its a problem regardless of the nature of the conversation.

  34. consciousness razor says

    frankensteinmonster:

    But the actual opponent can always pretend that he is just a devil’s advocate.

    Structurally, it doesn’t actually work that way, just as qwints said in #25, and no amount of “pretending” will change that. They can mouth the words “…to play devil’s advocate for a moment…” but if they aren’t even attempting to show something is wrong about the claim opposite theirs, it isn’t in fact what they are doing. These are not the droids arguments you’re looking for. Doing that is not concealing your actual beliefs or being deceptive/dishonest in any way. That’s what people here seem to believe it means, apparently because they believe the dishonest people abusing the term are using it correctly…. But why believe dishonest people?

    carlie:

    An unexamined belief is not worth having.

    True. However, would you not agree that it’s a waste of everyone’s time to go over the excruciating details of simple, logical beliefs over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over?

    At least it’s less harsh than saying “an unexamined life is not worth living”….

    Which ones are the simple, logical beliefs? And who says we need to waste any time doing it over and over and over?

    A proof that the square root of 2 is irrational, for example — simple and logical, right? And sure, that’s been done numerous times over the centuries, so that new people can learn the conclusion (and many more conclusions derived from it) as well as the process of proving it. I don’t see why anyone would think that’s wasteful.

  35. woozy says

    But the actual opponent can always pretend that he is just a devil’s advocate.

    Is that what you are actually concerned about; That chicken-shit debaters arguing nasty positions will when challenged “What?! How the fuck can you believe that?” will simply respond “I don’t; I’m just playing devils advocate”?

    I’ll admit that’s annoying. If you believe something you should stand up for it. But that’s not a problem with devil’s advocacy. That’s a problem with chicken-shit debaters.

    Then we have to give up on that. Some people keep abusing it, so we have to go completely without it. ( note that I am playing devil’s advocate right now )

    Understood. But to continue the debate (which neither you nor I believe), you haven’t demonstrated either abuse nor that abuse does harm nor that giving up on something harmful is the best way to avoid harm.

    Understanding addition is necessary to do differential equations. That doesn’t mean I publicly announce all the assumptions of addition whenever I do differential equations.

    and

    True. However, would you not agree that it’s a waste of everyone’s time to go over the excruciating details of simple, logical beliefs over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over? Because that’s what people keep trying to force others to do.

    A response and argument need only be made once. If your complaint is against people who are avoiding debate by trying to wear you down or derail, than that’s one thing but that’s not an actual problem with devil’s advocacy, but with dishonest debate.

    I use devil advocacy to self-evaluate my beliefs and expose doubts I may have in my beliefs and to point out when an argument is going to naively go off in an illegitimate direction. I think it’s indispensable in both cases.

  36. Pierce R. Butler says

    When I try to think of what I might say after “For the sake of argument…”, I mostly come up with things like: “Let’s say gay sex is icky[-ier than heterosex] – but it still does no harm to any uninvolved party.”

    One may conditionally grant a point with which one disagrees to support a larger point.

  37. screechymonkey says

    I like the solution in the comic, but here’s another way to handle it:

    “Just to play devil’s advocate, what about blah de blah blah blah?”
    “How about you tell me what’s wrong with that argument. After all, you were just playing devil’s advocate, so you don’t find it persuasive. Tell me why.”

  38. Rich Woods says

    @drst #23:

    is “playing devil’s advocate” is used in any way in the UK but the context of “I know what I’m about to suggest is terrible but I want to pretend I’m not really saying it while still getting to argue with you”?

    Yes. There is no implicit suggestion that the position about to be adopted is terrible (or any similar adjective). Most commonly (in my experience) it is used amongst a group of people who broadly agree but where one or more wish to explore various arguments, most especially ones with which they are broadly familiar but which they don’t necessarily accept outright, and are interested in seeing what other people might have to say on the matter. It gets debate going.

    That said, I undertand that devil’s advocacy can be used either mistakenly or dishonestly (I have seen both), but a primary assumption of either motivation is unfair — unless the person has form. I can certainly see it being used as a rhetorical device to trick someone, but I don’t think it’s necessarily that effective since as long as a person stays focused then it’s easy to go back and challenge the advocacy assumption, with the result that that line of argument collapses. Of course if the trick is for it simply to waste time, then while it can be effective in a time-limited situation the honesty of your opponent is called into question.

  39. Rich Woods says

    I forgot to add the case that if someone is uncertain on where they stand on any issue (we’re talking about a friendly discussion here, not a formal debate) and honestly say so, then a friend playing devil’s advocate by advancing an argument which can clearly (and rationally) be contradicted can help lead the person to an understanding of at least part of that issue. Definitely no assumption of terribleness there.

  40. vaiyt says

    “Let’s assume for the sake of argument…”

    I hate this one with a passion. What about not? What about you show the validity of your assertions before you make me assume they’re true?

  41. echidna says

    drst@23: I’m with Qwintz and Athywren: “for the sake of argument” is a focusing tool. Engineers, for example, use it all the time. Say you are considering the overall feasibility of a design. It is not clear whether some aspects of the design are ok or not, but to focus on a particular area . For example, “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we can do parts A and B. Part C would be fine, but part D would still require…”

    I’ve used an engineering example, partly because that’s what I know best, and partly because it’s an obviously neutral example. Of course, it is used in non-technical discussions too (I’m in Australia, and I’ve worked in the US as well, where it is used less frequently but in reasonable contexts).

    “For the sake of argument” is device using a hypothetical, which of course can be misused. But it’s a perfectly legitimate device.

  42. Ogvorbis says

    “Let’s assume for the sake of argument…”

    I hate this one with a passion. What about not? What about you show the validity of your assertions before you make me assume they’re true?

    Because sometimes the cow really is spherical?

  43. says

    I’d never associated the phrase “assume for the sake of argument” with someone taking a “devil’s advocate position. To me it means, “I’m going to let you have your dubious premise and show you that you lose anyway.” If you’re a litigant, and a phrase like “assuming arguendo that litigant is correct about X,” appears in a court’s decision, expect to lose.

    I have to say that I’m a fan of taking devil’s advocate positions, but only when it’s done with others who honestly want to engage. If you want to be an effective advocate for a position, you need to understand the strong parts of the other side’s position. I’ve always found that the best way to learn to answer an argument is to learn to make it. This can be uncomfortable, but as a deliberately chosen form of exercise, it’s useful. Personally, I enjoy this in the way I’ve occasionally enjoyed one-on-one physical sports, but, like a physical sport, it requires willingness on both sides.

    I understand what Munroe is after, I’m pretty sure: people who use the devil’s advocate pose to force people to engage with bad premises, usually ones that are dehumanizing to the person who would like to avoid the engagement. That’s a common and crappy thing to do, but I don’t see that Munroe hit that target square on. I think he’s done some unintended damage to a good tool of critical thinking.

  44. echidna says

    vait@44

    What about you show the validity of your assertions before you make me assume they’re true?

    Because sometimes you really need to think about hypotheticals. Especially for planning for adverse situations. I’ve seen too many people who are unable to wrap their heads around planning for disasters, thinking that assuming a hypothetical bad situation is the same as inviting it to happen, or a statement that you expect it to happen.

    Even so, vait, I hear what you are saying. I understand that hypotheticals are used to skip over unchecked assumptions, and that when this is misused it’s horrible. Preparing responses to hypotheticals that are based on unreasonable assumptions is important, for example: “But that assumption would mean that , which is .”

  45. echidna says

    Oops, sorry, I messed up that last comment. It should have read: “But that assumption would mean that [insert consequence] which is [not feasible, horrible, unwarranted].”

  46. Athywren says

    @drst, 23

    is “playing devil’s advocate” is used in any way in the UK but the context of “I know what I’m about to suggest is terrible but I want to pretend I’m not really saying it while still getting to argue with you”?

    I don’t know about anyone else, but, when I say that, it’s because there’s a point that I think is valid but which is being put forth by people with whom I would otherwise almost completely disagree.
    For instance, if I thought that the current UK government’s policy on climate change would be effective, and I found myself listening to my friends talk about how utterly useless, morally bankrupt and slimy they are, I’d feel compelled to point out that their climate change policy would be likely to have whatever positive effect by whenever, all while gripping my socialist idealism card so hard that my palm bled.

  47. Athywren says

    (For the record, I would not interrupt a discussion of how terrible the consequences of specific policies are in order to make the point that they have a good policy… that would be ridiculous. It would only be in a “what have the Romans ever done for us” situation.)

  48. Marc Abian says

    Seems the comic is talking about a specific subset of people who do that dishonestly, and by not stating so explicitly can appear to be taking the ridiculous position that all devil’s advocacy or granting assumptions is a waste of time (at best).

  49. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Usually what I see here, is when somebody plays “devil’s advocate”, they tend to be doing it for the lolz.

    While it may be a solid philosophical approach, I much prefer to ask “what are the facts” and avoid long-winded-fact-free approaches to a subject.

  50. Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy says

    Context matters: someone who was doing the engineering-style “Just for the sake of argument, what happens if we can get all the building material delivered on time and the weather cooperates” wouldn’t say “I’m just playing devil’s advocate” if you point out that “on time” was a week ago and the material hasn’t even been ordered yet.

    Someone who wants to debate for its own sake and not score “I can poke at you and keep my cool” points will (a) find a debate club or ask friends “who’s up for a recreational argument?” and (b) not insist on choosing which side to take on an emotionally fraught topic. Someone who just wanted to stretch themselves with an argument would be happy explaining the importance of consent to MRAs, or attacking the war on some drugs to their law-and-order friends.

  51. hiddenheart says

    As others have already said, where “devil’s advocate” really gets painful is when the issue is something like “do I deserve equal rights?” or “am I actually a real human being as worthy as you?” And this is precisely where it’s not necessary. We can take note of enemies’ arguments without ever endorsing them: “OK, we know they say X. What’s our response?”

  52. carlie says

    A response and argument need only be made once.

    From who’s perspective? From the person doing it? Great. But that’s not how this conversation ever plays out. It’s that someone pops up and says “just to play devil’s advocate”, or “just for the sake of argument”, and the other person says “No, I’m not arguing this with you, I’ve done it a hundred times already with a hundred different people, and I’m tired of it and I’m not doing it again”, and the fist says “Jeez, what’s wrong with you? Can’t you handle defending your own position? Haven’t you ever thought about it? Don’t you know that the unexamined belief is not worth believing?”

  53. says

    Yes. What. carlie. Said.

    If you haven’t experienced this in the way carlie described, then maybe listen to the people telling you that it’s a problem. Maybe you’re just speaking from a place of privilege in not having had this wielded as a weapon against you a thousand times a month.

  54. woozy says

    If you haven’t experienced this in the way carlie described, then maybe listen to the people telling you that it’s a problem. Maybe you’re just speaking from a place of privilege in not having had this wielded as a weapon against you a thousand times a month.

    Actually what I experience and have had used as a weapon against me a thousand times a month is Paul Ryan-like “I know it in my heart” and “Why are you arguing with me; can’t you see that my sincerity makes it true”.

  55. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    woozy @ 59

    Actually what I experience and have had used as a weapon against me a thousand times a month is Paul Ryan-like “I know it in my heart” and “Why are you arguing with me; can’t you see that my sincerity makes it true”.

    How is that a response to carlie or CaitieCat? Do you think that because you don’t experience what they describe that it doesn’t happen? Or that your experience is more pertinent to this topic than theirs? Or do you actually think that anyone is arguing that sincerity makes things true?

  56. qwints says

    The fact that something can be used as a form of harassment doesn’t delegitimize it. As an analogy, compliments are fine but unsolicited and unwelcome comments are harassment. PZ specifically took the position that one has an obligation to never to take positions one doesn’t agree with. The people reacting negatively to that are saying that there’s an appropriate context for it. I, and I’d bet everyone in this thread, completely agree that there are inappropriate contexts for doing so.

  57. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    qwints @ 61

    PZ specifically took the position that one has an obligation to never to take positions one doesn’t agree with.

    Bullshit. From the OP:

    There is a place for academic arguments — but in the real world, we have an obligation to take arguments that harm people seriously, and advocate honestly for what we really believe.

    Seriously, the OP is only a few sentences long and the comment thread is fairly short.

    The people reacting negatively to that are saying that there’s an appropriate context for it. I, and I’d bet everyone in this thread, completely agree that there are inappropriate contexts for doing so.

    The people reacting negatively to that are reacting to their own fucking imaginations. There is a time and a place for academic argument, as PZ said in the OP, for honing one’s own arguments and learning the opposing arguments and how to properly refute them. PZ specifically referenced real world situations, discussions about what kinds of policy to advocate for when real harm is being done.

  58. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    As an analogy, compliments are fine but unsolicited and unwelcome comments are harassment.

    This doesn’t sound like an academic type argument, where constructive criticism is appropriate. What is harassment is criticism like “you suck”, rather than “here’s some evidence (link to real evidence) to refute your argument”.

  59. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    One doesn’t need to examine certain conclusions just because somebody else says you must examine your beliefs.
    I came to my conclusion about abortion shortly after Roe v. Wade. I did a thought experiment, saw the real results, and that became the basis for my views. I also came up with evidence that would refute that position. To date, nobody has provided the evidence to refute that thought experiment. So, until the right evidence is presented, I won’t bother listening your devil’s advocacy on abortion. It is just annoying noise.

  60. says

    Exceprts from Harris’s essay:

    If a conventional explosion doesn’t move you, consider a nuclear bomb hidden in midtown Manhattan. If bombs seem too impersonal an evil, picture your seven-year-old daughter being slowly asphyxiated in a warehouse just five minutes away, while the man in your custody holds the keys to her release. If your daughter won’t tip the scales, then add the daughters of every couple for a thousand miles–millions of little girls have, by some perverse negligence on the part of our government, come under the control of an evil genius who now sits before you in shackles.

    No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.

    To demonstrate just how abstract the torments of the tortured can be made to seem, we need only imagine an ideal “torture pill”–a drug that would deliver both the instruments of torture and the instrument of their concealment. The action of the pill would be to produce transitory paralysis and transitory misery of a kind that no human being would willingly submit to a second time. Imagine how we torturers would feel if, after giving this pill to captive terrorists, each lay down for what appeared to be an hour’s nap only to arise and immediately confess everything he knows about the workings of his organization. Might we not be tempted to call it a “truth pill” in the end?

    He’s certainly imaginative, I’ll give him that.

  61. blf says

    Because sometimes the cow really is spherical?

    Only sometimes? Absurd. There’s no such thing as a non-spherical cow.
    Assume, for the sake of argument, there is a non-spherical cow. One or herd or an entire species, it doesn’t really matter. If there was such a thing, then you would get absurdities like making cheese from their milk. and peas having taste, a pleasant texture, and being edible. Both of those obvious implications — and may others as well, which this comment-box is too small to contain — are so self-evidently false, there is no dispute as to the conclusion: All cows are spherical.

  62. woozy says

    PZ specifically referenced real world situations, discussions about what kinds of policy to advocate for when real harm is being done.

    In other words if someone makes a faulty and incorrect argument I am obligated to accept it because critiquing it would be advocating for the side doing harm?

  63. Athywren says

    @woozy, 70

    PZ specifically referenced real world situations, discussions about what kinds of policy to advocate for when real harm is being done.

    In other words if someone makes a faulty and incorrect argument I am obligated to accept it because critiquing it would be advocating for the side doing harm?

    Um? Those are other words, but I don’t think they’re the same sentiment… or even particularly close to the same sentiment.

  64. says

    Just as bad as the “for the sake of argument’ advocates are those who claim “slippery slopes” exist (i.e. “If you allow A, then blah blah blah”). And oft times, they’re the same people.

  65. carlie says

    Just as bad as the “for the sake of argument’ advocates are those who claim “slippery slopes” exist (i.e. “If you allow A, then blah blah blah”)

    Well, one does need to be on the lookout for the nose under the tent/ wedge strategies. Those do exist, and have been used to great success.

  66. Monsanto says

    But suppose someone has planted a nuclear bomb in DC timed to go off in one hour and you know who did it and have her in custody. This is perfectly reasonable because I saw it on TV. The only possible solution is to waterboard the suspect, isn’t it? Then when nothing happens after an hour, you just apologize and let her go. On the other hand, if she really did it, we know that waterboarding always works.

  67. chigau (違う) says

    Monsanto #74
    Are you actually in DC where the bomb is planted or are you somewhere else?
    If you find the bomb, can you make it stop?

  68. Saad says

    woozy, #32,

    If the arguments were legitimate than I’d have to concede slavery or homophobia or misogyny are actually okay.

    So you believe there may exist legitimate arguments for slavery, homophobia and misogyny. Aw. So open-minded. What an enlightened being you are.

  69. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    woozy @ 70

    In other words if someone makes a faulty and incorrect argument I am obligated to accept it because critiquing it would be advocating for the side doing harm?

    Uh, what? Given the reading comprehension you’ve put on display here I doubt you’d recognize a faulty and incorrect argument if it bit you on the ass. Leaving that aside though, how do you go from “be honest about what you’re actually advocating for” to “others must accept your bad arguments for good things”? Jesus fuck.

  70. Daniel Schealler says

    The use of ‘for the sake of argument’ should of course be used sensibly. Trying to get too elegant can just confuse things.

    But it does have a role to play, even in everyday conversations.

    I like using the ‘for the sake of argument’ against religious believers, because frequently they’re wrong twice over.

    1) Their argument requires that God exists, and;
    2) Even if God did exist, there is some other fatal flaw in their argument.

    In those situations we can rightly argue back to them that There is no evidence God exists, so your argument is invalid.

    But then that particular religious person just triggers their usual mental defenses against ‘closed minded atheists’ and flounces off in a huff, having learned nothing.

    On the other hand, if we argue back something like Even if we assume for the sake of argument that God does exist, your argument still wouldn’t work because X, Y and Z, then they can’t do that. Instead they have to come up with some other method of responding.

    To me, the second option is usually far more interesting.

    Which path we choose depends on context and goals and preferences, of course. So everyone should be free to go with what they like.

    The point I’m trying to make is that ‘for the sake of argument’ is a very important tool in the box, and we shouldn’t throw it out just because sometimes it gets misused.

  71. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    The point I’m trying to make is that ‘for the sake of argument’ is a very important tool in the box, and we shouldn’t throw it out just because sometimes it gets misused.

    Nobody is saying throw it out because sometimes it gets misused. We’re saying don’t misuse it.

  72. Daniel Schealler says

    Nobody is saying throw it out because sometimes it gets misused. We’re saying don’t misuse it.

    Correction accepted.

  73. Rivendellyan says

    Saad #76
    *Were* and *would* in no way assume there’s a real possibility that these are true, just like “If cows WERE spherical I WOULD agree that peas are delicious.” in no way entails I believe there’s any possibility that cows actually are spherical.

    Disagree with him all you want but don’t try to portray intellectual honesty as something bad.

  74. Saad says

    Rivendellyan, #81

    *Were* and *would* in no way assume there’s a real possibility that these are true, just like “If cows WERE spherical I WOULD agree that peas are delicious.” in no way entails I believe there’s any possibility that cows actually are spherical.

    No, it isn’t like that. Your example has to do with a statement which is known to be false. His has to do with how to treat people.

    Disagree with him all you want but don’t try to portray intellectual honesty as something bad.

    There’s nothing intellectually honest about saying, “Wait, let’s hear this guy out who says women should be treated like shit. Maybe he has some logic and reason behind it. Let’s not get all emotional and dismiss it from the start.”

    My take is if an argument is supporting persecution of gay people or owning black people, that’s sufficient reason to dismiss it. Yours seems to be you’d hear it out first to see if there are good reasons behind it. That is exactly the same as saying you think there can be good reasons behind it. Well done, assholes.

  75. Rivendellyan says

    Same logic creationists use to dismiss science without even hearing it. You can decide what parameters you use about whether or not you should even listen to someone, of course, but it’s much more productive to dismantle an opposing argument than just say “I don’t agree fuck you” specially if you’re interested in convincing someone they’re wrong.
    No one ever said you needed to accept the argument, just that you shouldn’t dismiss it because you disagree with the conclusion. Hear the argument, then tear it down. What’s the harm?

  76. qwints says

    My take is if an argument is supporting persecution of gay people or owning black people, that’s sufficient reason to dismiss it.

    “Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.”

  77. Saad says

    Rivendellyan, #83

    Same logic creationists use to dismiss science without even hearing it.

    Wrong again. Telling someone about scientific results is not like telling someone to vandalize a gay man’s house.

    You can decide what parameters you use about whether or not you should even listen to someone, of course, but it’s much more productive to dismantle an opposing argument than just say “I don’t agree fuck you” specially if you’re interested in convincing someone they’re wrong.
    No one ever said you needed to accept the argument, just that you shouldn’t dismiss it because you disagree with the conclusion. Hear the argument, then tear it down. What’s the harm?

    I have my mind made up that there are no legitimate arguments for misogyny, anti-homosexual bigotry and slavery. I’m closed-minded like that.

  78. Rivendellyan says

    Saad #85
    not wrong is exactly the same thing. You refuse to listen to someone even if it’s only to better answer their arguments, just like science deniers.

    The fact you already decided the opposing person is wrong changes nothing in relation to hearing the argument and using the information to attack it. You didn’t answer to anything I said.

  79. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    No one ever said you needed to accept the argument, just that you shouldn’t dismiss it because you disagree with the conclusion. Hear the argument, then tear it down. What’s the harm?

    Providing the same refutations to arguments heard for the 17,000th time that are just as stupid when you first heard them forty years ago. Simple tiredness.

  80. says

    Trigger Warning.

    Rivendellyan @83:

    No one ever said you needed to accept the argument, just that you shouldn’t dismiss it because you disagree with the conclusion. Hear the argument, then tear it down. What’s the harm?

    Ok, let’s hear a few arguments:
    1- Fetuses are people and have the right to life. As such, abortion should be illegal.
    2- Trans people are mentally ill perverts who are a threat to others. Therefore, they should be killed.
    3-Black people are violent thugs who pose a threat to society. Police officers are doing a society a favor by killing black men.

    What’s the harm in telling half the population of the planet that they do not have the right to have reproductive freedom and control over their bodies?

    What’s the harm in telling trans people that their gender dysphoria is a threat to society and they should kill murdered?

    What’s the harm in arguing that black people are a threat to society and that when a cop kills a black person that’s a good thing?

    Arguments like these don’t exist in a vacuum.

    We don’t argue in favor of abortion rights for women while living in a world where all women have unrestricted access to abortion. We live in a world where desperate women, seeking to end their pregnancies, die from unsafe abortions because the procedure is illegal in many countries. The world we live in is one where women die bc Catholic hospitals deny them life saving abortions.

    We do not live in a world where trans people are treated with respect and decency, where they have the same legal rights as all other humans. The world we live in is one where transgender people are subjected to bullying, threats, stalking, brutal beatings, and murder.

    The world we live in is not one where black people have achieved equality (I’m speaking of the US here). For all that slavery ended in 1865, its repercussions are still felt to this day. There are still racist caricatures that many people feel define blacks. These caricatures are offensive and demeaning and reinforce harmful cultural stereotypes of blacks. These harmful caricatures are often held by police officers. A great many black people have been on the receiving end of brutality from police officers based on their prejudice and bias against black people.

    Do you see what all these “arguments” have in common? They all start with the premise that one group of humans is not entitled to equal rights. They all reach vile conclusions that are antithetical to the values of Humanism (values I find tremendously important). You’d argue that just because I disagree with those conclusions, I should entertain those arguments?

    No.
    I say FUCK THAT.
    This is not a philosophical discussion with no impact on the lives of people. These arguments are made in the real world. These arguments are believed by people in the real world. These arguments are trotted out to deny people their basic human rights. These arguments should not be entertained. They shouldn’t be given a platform (looking at Hemant Mehta here). They should be condemned and never given the time of day.

    If you’re going to argue otherwise, then I’d say you disgust me.

  81. Rivendellyan says

    Nerd #88
    Not necessarily the case is it? Not every argument, even for horrible positions has been made a lot of times. And besides, I find that when you’re used to an argument it’s even easier and faster to answer it, but sure I never said you can’t *choose* to do these things, I mean I only joined this because Saad tried to frame being honest about your standards of whether or not your convinced as horrible.

  82. says

    Rivendellyan:
    What value is found in listening to arguments that seek to advance bigotry, oppression, and discrimination? What value is to be found in listening to an argument that has been made a gazillion times already?
    What purpose does it serve?
    You act as if all arguments are of equal value. They are not. Some arguments should not be had. I’m speaking of those arguments that deny the human rights of others. As PZ has argued before, to engage with someone arguing against the rights of others is to elevate their position to a place of respect. I’m NOT sorry, but any argument that denies human rights is not an argument worth having or listening to.

    You’re arguing-poorly for that matter-that all arguments should be listened to and given the time of day, but you don’t say why. You don’t explain why it is necessary to do so. You just assert that it is necessary. Care to fill in the rest of your thought processes?

  83. Rivendellyan says

    #91

    I did though i clearly said

    If you’re not interested in showing the person WHY they’re wrong, and not just asserting so, it’s better if you actually know what they are saying. If you don’t want to argue, then don’t, that’s fine.

  84. Rivendellyan says

    #93 did not come out as I intended… I meant to explain that the second quote was the explanation for my though process. Again I never said anything about credibility or acceptance of the arguments, I’m saying pay attention to them *in order to tear them down*. How hard is that to understand?

  85. says

    Rivendellyan @90:

    Not necessarily the case is it? Not every argument, even for horrible positions has been made a lot of times.

    I’d love to see you come up with arguments for horrible positions that haven’t been made countless times. Perhaps *you* haven’t been exposed to the countless arguments, but they exist.
    Arguments for the death penalty.
    Arguments for criminalization of homosexuality.
    Arguments for the denial of transgender peoples’ rights.
    Arguments for corporal punishment.
    Arguments for libertarianism.
    These are horrible positions that have been argued over and over and over and over again. There’s no need to have them once more.

    And besides, I find that when you’re used to an argument it’s even easier and faster to answer it,

    There’s value to be found in being able to refute an argument, this is true. Rather than listen to a bigot spew their “arguments” against same sex marriage, or to creationists talk about irreducible complexity, you could simply go read the arguments online. No need to legitimize their position by giving them the time of day.

    Also, your support for listen to the argument before dismissing the conclusion didn’t come with a disclaimer for how many times one ought to listen to the same argument before they can dismiss it out of hand. Should one listen to the same anti-abortion argument 24 times, but at the start of the 25th, the argument can be dismissed?

  86. says

    Rivendellyan @92:

    “… then tear it down.”
    Do you have reading issues?

    I’m seconding chigau’s question. Are you high? Your intellectually vacuous response doesn’t answer any of the points I made @89.
    The whole point of my comment @89 is that there *is* harm in giving people the time of day by listening to their arguments. I’m not going to listen to the arguments of people who would seek to oppress or discriminate against others.
    There are some arguments that should not be entertained because they are harmful.

  87. says

    Rivendellyan @95:

    #93 did not come out as I intended… I meant to explain that the second quote was the explanation for my though process. Again I never said anything about credibility or acceptance of the arguments, I’m saying pay attention to them *in order to tear them down*. How hard is that to understand?

    You’re still fucking missing the point. I don’t need to hear someone’s argument against allowing me to marry another man when I’ve heard the same fucking argument made by bigots thousands of times before. Their argument perpetuates discrimination and oppression and there is no reason to listen to it.

    Likewise, people have been arguing to make abortion illegal for decades (longer really). The arguments have been made over and over again. They don’t need to be heard again for someone to refute them. You can read them online and devise refutations on your own. This has the added benefit of not giving someone the time of day for a viewpoint that would deny women their human rights.

    Why is this so hard for you to fucking understand?

  88. Rivendellyan says

    Tony #96
    “Also, your support for listen to the argument before dismissing the conclusion didn’t come with a disclaimer for how many times one ought to listen to the same argument before they can dismiss it out of hand.”
    Because that’s not for me to say. I’m not trying to say you should always debate someone, my issue is with saying no one should ever debate someone because of the position they hold. Feel free to dismiss someone for whatever reasons you see fit, but don’t try to say these discussions shouldn’t be had because your opponent is holding a ridiculous position.

  89. Rivendellyan says

    Tony #98
    I totally understand, and I’m sorry I sounded as trying to say these people deserve any respect or attention. My point is this: IF you’re interested in convincing the person (or bystanders) that his position is wrong, it’s better to understand the argument and proceed to tear it down rather than dismissing the argument because you might already know it’s bogus. In no way did I mean to say that you should *always* engage in the argument or anything like that.

  90. Dark Jaguar says

    I always make “devil’s advocate” arguments. It’s basically all I do, except when I don’t. That said, I can and have seen a lot of people not making such arguments in good faith, namely those who are just using any rhetorical device they can to make women or black people seem responsible for what happens to them. Very dishonest stuff. An example of a good “devil’s advocate” argument is the one that got me out of faith and creationism, so they aren’t all bad. At any rate, I am not sure XKCD actually intended this particular comment as anything more than yet another stubborn person being hilarious.

  91. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Rivendellyan @ 99

    My point is this: IF you’re interested in convincing the person (or bystanders) that his position is wrong, it’s better to understand the argument and proceed to tear it down rather than dismissing the argument because you might already know it’s bogus.

    That’s kind of bullshit. Especially where bigotry is concerned, the vast majority of the “argumentation” is just post hoc rationalization. Those people weren’t convinced in the first place by the arguments they advance. They’re just trying to convince themselves and others after the fact that they aren’t horrible people. When you haven’t come to a position via reasoning through all the relevant info, you’re not going to be very amenable to being reasoned out of it.

    You might, however, be amenable to nobody anywhere being willing to treat your bullshit like it’s anything other than bullshit. Then, at some point, maybe you give it up as futile or maybe even consider that all those people who wouldn’t listen to you know some shit you don’t know and maybe you start listening to them. And in the interim, all the people of color or women or sexual/gender minorities don’t have to exist in a world full of people who think their status as human beings is something reasonable, decent people can disagree about. Which, IMO, is approximately a metric fucktonne more important than convincing that individual bigot of anything.

  92. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    ? Not every argument, even for horrible positions has been made a lot of times.

    Quit being an asshole. The same anti-choice arguments have been made since Roe v. Wade on abortion. “It’s a baby.” No it’s a fetus. Forty years of the same stupid shit, refuted with one thought experiment, which they will never, ever acknowledge, since they are presuppositional. That is your problem, you are still fresh and think well of people. I’m old and cynical.

  93. Saad says

    Rivendellyan, #87

    You refuse to listen to someone even if it’s only to better answer their arguments

    Come on, stop playing this game. We both know full well someone proposing that it’s a good idea to own black people isn’t looking for an actual discussion.

    You also answer me every time either in vague generalities or by making a faulty creationism comparison.

    I need you to include the words slavery, misogyny and homophobia when you tell me to listen to someone’s arguments first before dismissing them.

    Tell me what part of this you have a problem with:

    I have my mind made up that there are no legitimate arguments for misogyny, anti-homosexual bigotry and slavery.

    You’re revealing quite a bit about yourself. I’m wondering why your mind isn’t already made up on slavery.

  94. vaiyt says

    My point is this: IF you’re interested in convincing the person (or bystanders) that his position is wrong, it’s better to understand the argument and proceed to tear it down rather than dismissing the argument because you might already know it’s bogus.

    The problem with hearing out such arguments is twofold.

    First, conceding the discussion about misogyny, slavery and homophobia means you’re already accepting a false and immoral premise. I don’t need to listen to any arguments in favor of those because I reject the very idea that you can grade people by degrees of humanity.

    Second, all the arguments advanced by bigots were already refuted years, decades or even centuries ago. There really isn’t anything new under the sun, and worse, bigots will claim your attention as evidence that they’re a reasonable side in the discussion.

  95. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I don’t have to listen to anybody preaching, and they should be blown off. They are preaching if they simply will not consider the possibility they are wrong. Ridicule is the only way to make them understand you are laughing at them and their vacuous arguments.

  96. qwints says

    Saad @ 86

    What does what I’m saying have to do with thoughtcrime? Learn to read.

    In 1984, Crimestop is the practice of deliberately refusing to understand arguments against the party line. Saying that one must dismiss an argument because it goes against an established belief or that one should not listen to such arguments seems similar to me. That said, most racist arguments don’t warrant much consideration because they are merely unsupported and hateful assertions, and no one is obligated to engage with everyone on any subject. So we may agree in practice.

    Tony! The Queer Shoop @96

    Arguments for the death penalty.
    Arguments for criminalization of homosexuality.
    Arguments for the denial of transgender peoples’ rights.
    Arguments for corporal punishment.
    Arguments for libertarianism.
    These are horrible positions that have been argued over and over and over and over again. There’s no need to have them once more.

    In the US, we have:

    60% support for the death penalty – Gallup 2013

    30% support for making gay sex illegal- Gallup 2013

    44% opposition to gender identity protection in ENDA – National Journal 2013

    77% support among men and 64% among women for spanking – Child Trends analysis of NORC General Social Survey 2012

    11% identification as libertarian – Pew 2014

    Those aren’t arguments you personally have to have, but somebody has to (with the the possible exception of libertarianism). One possible reason for my disagreement is that I would class critiques (i.e. “this argument is harmful”) and references to arguments made elsewhere (e.g. “go read the Invisible Knapsack”) as responses to arguments. I’m also interpreting you and Saad as saying that it’s morally wrong to engage in such discussions rather than just saying that no one is under the obligation to do so. As I said in my second comment, I’ve got no problem with safe spaces.

  97. daniellavine says

    @qwints, @Rivendellyan:

    Based on your responses to others in this thread, you two seem to be conflating two disjoint sets of arguments: moral and factual.

    What many others (particularly Saad and Tony, but I think this is a fair characterization of many others comments here) are arguing is that it is actively harmful to enjoin a discussion in which a moral position is to be conceded “for the sake of argument” or a devil’s advocate position in which a particular moral position is advocated.

    This is to contrast with your comparisons of such arguments to:
    1) creationism
    2) thoughtcrime in 1984
    From the atheist perspective, disbelief in creationism is predicated on factual content rather than a moral position. That is, it’s not immoral to believe in creationism — it is simply factually incorrect. (Leave aside for the moment the ethics of believing something that is factually false once presented with evidence.) In 1984, the problem with crimestop was not that it prevented people from considering particular moral perspectives but that it prevented people from considering alternative factual views.

    I think it would help to advance the discussion if both of you would stop conflating moral and factual arguments in this context and addressed the arguments actually being made: that some moral positions are not worth considering, even “for the sake of argument.” Since an “ought” cannot be derived from an “is”, facts about the world are largely irrelevant to moral positions such as: “Slavery is morally wrong.”

    You’ve been asked several times specifically whether the statement “slavery is not morally wrong” is worth considering “for the sake of argument.” Is it? What counterfactual scenarios could possibly justify such a moral outlook? And if there are none, what value is there in enjoining a discussion with someone maintaining such a position (even if only as “devil’s advocate” or “for the sake of argument”)?

  98. says

    qwints @108:

    Those aren’t arguments you personally have to have, but somebody has to (with the the possible exception of libertarianism). One possible reason for my disagreement is that I would class critiques (i.e. “this argument is harmful”) and references to arguments made elsewhere (e.g. “go read the Invisible Knapsack”) as responses to arguments. I’m also interpreting you and Saad as saying that it’s morally wrong to engage in such discussions rather than just saying that no one is under the obligation to do so.

    Thanks for pointing out the flaw in my argument. I made the mistake of conflating arguments that shouldn’t be had in general (women are people with rights, slavery is horrible), with arguments that are still being debated.
    I should have stuck with arguments that shouldn’t even be discussed, such as Saad mentions @104:

    I have my mind made up that there are no legitimate arguments for misogyny, anti-homosexual bigotry and slavery.

    I agree with that sentiment.
    Other issues, such as corporal punishment or capital punishment, for all that I’m firmly against them, are still on the debate table, bc they haven’t been condemned like slavery.
    So I apologize for muddying up things in my comment @96.

  99. says

    daniellavine @109:

    What many others (particularly Saad and Tony, but I think this is a fair characterization of many others comments here) are arguing is that it is actively harmful to enjoin a discussion in which a moral position is to be conceded “for the sake of argument” or a devil’s advocate position in which a particular moral position is advocated.

    This ↑
    Articulated better than I was able to.

  100. qwints says

    You’ve been asked several times specifically whether the statement “slavery is not morally wrong” is worth considering “for the sake of argument.” Is it? What counterfactual scenarios could possibly justify such a moral outlook? And if there are none, what value is there in enjoining a discussion with someone maintaining such a position (even if only as “devil’s advocate” or “for the sake of argument”)?

    I can’t imagine a scenario where taking slavery as justified for the sake of the argument outside of a historical study would be particularly useful. The only good faith argument would be something along the lines of “for the sake of the argument, even if slavery wasn’t morally, wrong, it’s unsustainable as a matter of practice,” which is a fairly pointless line of reasoning.

    I can imagine many scenarios where someone playing devil’s advocate about a topic on which there’s a general moral consensus would be useful. It helps us understand why we think slavery is wrong (as a violation of bodily autonomy, the value of liberty, human dignity etc.) and the implications that has for other situations (sweatshops or migrant labor). It reveals the true depravity of slaveholders – what lies did they have to tell themselves to justify their participation in such a cruel system? If they were capable of it, are we capable of similar system justifying? Finally, it’s useful as an exercise in learning how to reason and argue about morality.

  101. vaiyt says

    That’s only useful if there’s a general agreement that slavery is wrong. Else, you just muddy the waters and give the apologists a springboard to pretend their view is legitimate.

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