Rational Argumentation

How to become a better discussion partner.

creator: x14km2d | build: 2021-11-09 | update: 2021-01-06


People very often find it difficult to argue rationally. Feelings, opinions, level of education and other factors often cloud our clear view of the things of this world. It is not difficult to become aware of a few small rules to be able to argue better rationally. This will not only help you, but will also help your discussion partner to work out a clearly defined point of view for the discussion and his arguments much faster.

First, you must be sure to keep an open minded. It is not harmful for yourself to keep an open mind when it comes to another person’s arguments. Especially when we are criticized, we close our minds super fast to the arguments of our counterpart and don’t allow his arguments anymore. Honestly meant criticism, however, is not something that should bother you. You should rather perceive it as a good gift, which can help you with your mistakes. You must also learn to distinguish good and honest criticism from its counterpart, bad criticism. Bad criticism only robs you of your very important life time and you should close yourself to it. Being open to arguments does not mean becoming more vulnerable.

Another important point is to remain unbiased. If someone makes a statement that you personally don’t like, it doesn’t automatically make the statement wrong. We often forget this when we talk to strangers at a party who make us feel personally uncomfortable. An argument from a person you don’t like can turn out to be true and right, and an argument from a very likeable person can be completely wrong. Children often forget this when their parents say something that sometimes just doesn’t have to be right. Now it is not a matter of presenting everything from his parents as wrong or not to believe, but it helps to question the authority.

A really very good example can be seen in the climate protection movement, which starts from the young people and primarily criticizes the counter-arguments of the adults. Unfortunately, I observe that for adults these unsympathetic, inexperienced and better know-it-all kids seem just as unsympathetic as for young people and children these old, egoistic and slow adults who apparently are not interested in solving current problems. Both sides have many arguments, some are right and some are simply wrong. Both sides, if they want to solve the problem of climate change, should sit down together and work on their problem. It is important to approach the other side with an open mind and without bias.

When arguing rationally, it also helps to remain humble. Everyone makes a mistake or is subject to an error. It happens to everyone. Really everyone. No matter how well educated or intelligent the person is, sometimes they can simply be wrong. Of course, at first it is not nice to be taught better, but it helps you to develop. If you are right with an argument, be quietly and humbly happy and then many more people will take your arguments and expand them in their thinking. Humility will help you to argue rationally and will, by the way, solve a lot of argumentative problems all by itself.

If you are going to criticize someone’s arguments, you should be sympathetic to a productive exchange of ideas. Learn to listen. This sounds super simple, but it’s not. We have our own thoughts between the other person’s sentences, and are already strategizing how we will rationally argue. This is useless, because first you have to listen sympathetically to the other person’s arguments and also understand them. It is difficult to criticize something if you don’t understand it yourself and this is the crux of many discussions, because people simply don’t manage to listen quietly and concentrated for a few minutes. To let people talk. To understand how the other person’s argument is structured. To analyze the argument calmly and find its weak points, which you then put forward as a criticism. Always try, even though it will be difficult for you at times, to work sympathetically on a productive exchange of ideas.

Relax! It often happens that we start a discussion and the arguments of the other person confuse our feelings and thoughts. This happens and is quite normal, because it is impossible to argue 100% rationally. We are human beings, not machines. Nevertheless, it is important that you relax, if stress brings no one anything. You won’t be able to concentrate if you want to criticize your partner’s arguments, and your partner will also feel uncomfortable because stress can spread from one person to another. Stress is contagious, so try to relax as much as you can. Don’t try to force a conversation under stress because you want to solve the problem quickly now or want to present your arguments quickly, because that won’t do any good. This will only speed things up and emotions will take over your arguments and you will find yourself in a chaotic mess of arguments that can easily be criticized by your interlocutor. Relaxed and rational arguments are like a move in a chess game, two moves ahead. If you are too angry, sad or just very stressed, ask your conversation partner for a break. Later, when everyone has calmed down, you can sit down together again and pick up on the last point you argued.

Be lenient when your conversation partner argues irrationally. It helps you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What has he or she experienced or felt that makes him or her argue so irrationally now? Would you perhaps also argue in the same way if you had had the same experiences? It is super difficult to take the point of view of an interlocutor to understand his arguments. Especially when they have been flooded with feelings, thoughts or opinions. Forbearance does not mean to put everything on the gold scale, but to slowly guide the interlocutor in the right direction so that a conversation with rational thoughts can take place. This will take time and you will have to put a lot of effort into it. I can already tell you that it will be very exhausting but it will be worth it in the long run. Irrationality is also very difficult to understand if you have not studied psychology, for example, but it is possible to transform irrational actions and arguments into the opposite, rational arguments.

When you make rational arguments, engage. If the person you are talking to realizes that the topic you are discussing is important and you are committed to defending your arguments, they are more likely to take you seriously. You can tell a bad argument when it criticizes your commitment, which doesn’t have much to do with a topic. If you are honest, open, sympathetic and engaged, your arguments will be heard much better. But always make sure that your commitment does not turn into fanaticism, because then you are as far away from rational argumentation as possible. It is important to find a healthy middle ground and not to blindly give your heart for a good cause. Rational also means to allow only as many feelings as absolutely necessary, so that you don’t run the risk of losing your goal of rational argumentation. This is also difficult, especially when you are younger, it is easier to be committed to a cause.

In the last point, I’ll tell you something that I’m sure you won’t like. There is no unchangeable truth. No scientific, no thematic, no social truth, because everything is subject to the change of the time. What was still considered right a hundred years ago, can be outdated today for a long time. When a person speaks of the truth that only the person knows, it is usually just a liar who wants to pull money out of your pocket. All knowledge of this world is only a provisional construct and must be subjected by you again and again to strict examinations. You must keep a critical spirit and examine statements for their empirical quality, criticizable and contradiction-free. A critical and alert mind can argue much better rationally and promote a good conversation, but for this you must remain critical and not immediately believe everything that is presented to you as an argument in the conversation.

If you want to argue rationally, the text will help you do that, but it will also take a lot of work. You will make mistakes and sometimes just be wrong. Maybe sometimes your arguments will not be well thought out and will be very easy to criticize, but that is normal. You are not perfect and no one is asking you to be. The important thing is that you show the will to learn something. Not only about yourself, your opinion and your arguments, but also from your opposite and maybe they also have the will to learn something from you. Rational argumentation is not about being right but about having a good conversation or an interesting discussion. But as for everything in life, you need a set of rules to follow if you want to do it seriously and with commitment. Nothing is worse than wasted life time that has not yielded any gain in knowledge. Try to avoid this as much as possible.

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