The Art of Argument

Published: February 25, 2016

Commentary by
DEVIN WOOD

The problem with America does not lie within the views of the populous, their morals, ethics, etc. No. The problem, broadly speaking – because it does spread across many fields, disciplines and socioeconomic groups – is listening.

The emergence and spread of ideas, concepts, theories and the like demand an attentive audience. The audience must possess the patience to hear the argument through, the scrutiny to tear the argument apart and the maturity to acknowledge a more cogent argument than the audience member’s own. I will argue that three stages to argumentation exist: the listening stage, the scrutinizing stage and the reasoning stage. These stages must proceed in that order for any argument to incur progress. These stages have been modeled after scientific arguments, because they engender progress.

Compelling arguments do not matter if the audience does not allow the speaker sufficient time to elaborate. Patience is the key to the listening stage. The audience must embody the patience to hear a speech through. The patience permits the speaker to fully explain the argument, to demonstrate the points in action and to offer rebuttals to foreseen counterarguments. However, the listening stage seldom occurs in any political argument. Here lies the American problem.

The scrutinizing stage should follow the listening stage. Ideally, the speaker presents the argument and the audience begins to test the validity and applicability of the argument for themselves.

By and large, the second stage should constitute the bulk of the persuasion. People should persuade themselves to see the credibility of a worthwhile argument through a careful assessment of the argument.

Nowadays, people immediately jump to the second stage when an uncongenial argument vibrates their eardrums; scrutinizing before they understand the full argument.

The third stage begins within the second stage and involves reasoning. However, the reasoning of the third stage is more advanced than that of the second stage because the third stage requires maturity. The reasoning capacity of a mature adult allows them to understand – after careful scrutiny – when an argument proves itself worth recognition and acceptance.

Unfortunately, without sufficient maturity, a person would likely lead reason astray in favor of the prior – and, by process of stage two, discredited – argument solely because he or she cannot admit their error. A mature person recognizes that until the new argument was delivered, they were, to the best of their knowledge, as right as they could have been.

The three stages delineated above are necessary for any argument to be received and spread. However, the trend of the day bends around the first stage. People lack the listening ability that older generations possess. The deficit causes confusion and poor communication of ideas, which lead to stagnation in the social areas where arguments need to be resolved. When people begin at stage two, they criticize without knowledge. The audience has not yet learned enough about the argument to scrutinize it.

Of course, without the ability to truly scrutinize an argument, we allow ourselves to believe that our view is the only right one. Eventually, maturity takes a hit and we cling to our view in the face of a clearly developed and validated argument. If we do not have the listening skills to learn when we are wrong, then we cannot possess the maturity to admit our wrong.
The problem is listening, but do not restrict this article to only our listening skills. Expand this article to every idea you hear about or read about. I am not admonishing you to change your views; I am asking you to listen.

Contact the writer: devin.wood@scranton.edu

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