The Ten Commandments of Rational Debate

Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

I had to pause and bite my tongue this week. In my haste to deliver I’d forgotten how to debate effectively and broke one of these rules. Reading Donald Taylor’s succinct post recently made me realise that these rules need to be more well known.

1.  Thou shall not attack a person’s character but the argument itself.  (“Ad hominem”)

2.  Thou shall not misrepresent or exaggerate a person’s argument in order to make it easier to attack.  (“Straw Man Fallacy)

3.  Thou shall not use small numbers to represent the whole. (“Hasty Generalization”)

4.  Thou shall not argue thy position by assuming one of its premises is true. (“Begging the Question”)

5.  Thou shall not claim that because something occurred before, it must be the cause. (“Post Hoc/False Claim”)

6.  Thou shall not reduce the argument down to two possibilities.  (“Fake Dichotomy”)

7.  Thou shall not argue that because of our ignorance that the claim must be true or false. (“Ad Ignorantiam”)

8.  Thou shall not lay the burden of proof onto him who is questioning the claim.  (“Burden of Proof Reversal”)

9.  Thou shall not assume “this” follows “that” when “it” has no logical connection.  (“Non Sequitor”)

10. Thou shall not claim that because a premises is popular, therefore, it must be true. (“Bandwagon Fallacy”)

Recognise any of these in other people? Or yourself?

2 responses to “The Ten Commandments of Rational Debate

  1. Hi Andrew, thanks for the reference. The Straw Man fallacy (#2) is important, but I think it is legitimate to practise reduction ad absurdum, in which the logical consequences of a position are taken to an extreme to show them to be untenable. For example:

    A: “We should respect all religions.”
    B: “But if – in extremis – a religion demanded that its members kill all non-believers, would you respect that? What about a religion that said that our current leaders were the descendants of a race of alien lizards?”

    This is a legitimate line of attack, provided that B is indeed pushing A’s central argument to extremes, and not creating a Straw Man that uses a small part of it to represent the whole.


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