The Two Honest Forms Of Argument

John T. Reed writes: There are two intellectually-honest debate tactics:

1. pointing out errors or omissions in your opponent’s facts
2. pointing out errors or omissions in your opponent’s logic

Intellectually-dishonest debate tactics are typically employed by dishonest politicians, lawyers of guilty parties, dishonest salespeople, cads, cults, and others who are attempting to perpetrate a fraud. My real estate opponents, in general, are either charlatans or con men. As such, they have no choice but to employ intellectually-dishonest tactics both to prove that I am wrong and to persuade you to buy their products and services. My coaching opponents are generally not charlatans or con men, but many are quite political. Other coaches denounce me because I denounced some approach they use and they cannot admit they were wrong. Those who dislike my military views are also career politicians notwithstanding their claims to be “selfless servant warriors.”

Here is a list of the intellectually-dishonest debate tactics I have identified thus far. I would appreciate any help from readers to expand the list or to better define each tactic. I am numbering the list in order to refer back to it quickly elsewhere at this Web site.

Name calling: debater tries to diminish the argument of his opponent by calling the opponent a name that is subjective and unattractive; for example, cult members and bad real estate gurus typically warn the targets of their frauds that “dream stealers” will try to tell them the cult or guru is giving them bad advice; name calling is only intellectually dishonest when the name in question is ill defined or is so subjective that it tells the listener more about the speaker than the person being spoken about; there is nothing wrong with using a name that is relevant and objectively defined; the most common example of name calling against me is “negative;” in coaching, the critics of coaches are often college professors and the word “professor” is used as a name-calling tactic by the coaches who are the targets of the criticism in question; as a coach, I have been criticized as being “too intense,” a common put-down of successful youth and high school coaches. People who criticize their former employer are dishonestly dismissed as “disgruntled” or “bitter.” These are all efforts to distract the audience by changing the subject because the speaker cannot refute the facts or logic of the opponent.

Changing the subject: debater is losing so he tries to redirect the attention of the audience to another subject area where he thinks he can look better relative to the person he is debating, but admits to no change of subject and pretends to be refuting the original on-subject statement of his opponent

Questioning the motives of the opponent: this is a form of tactic number 2 changing the subject; as stated above, it is prohibited by Robert’s Rule of Order 43; a typical tactic used against critics is to say, “They’re just trying to sell newspapers” or in my case, books—questioning motives is not always wrong; only when it is used to prove the opponent’s facts or logic wrong is it invalid. If my facts or logic are wrong, my motive may be the answer to why. But let’s cut out the middleman of why my facts or logic are wrong and just point exactly what the error is. Pointing out the suspicious motive only indicates there is no error, just an attempt to insinuate an error by innuendo.

Citing irrelevant facts or logic: this is another form of tactic Number 2 changing the subject

False premise: debater makes a statement that assumes some other fact has already been proven when it has not; in court, such a statement will be objected to by opposing counsel on the grounds that it “assumes facts not in evidence”

Hearsay: debater cites something he heard but has not confirmed through his own personal observation or research from reliable sources, e.g., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s allegation that a Bain Capital investor whom he refuses to name told him that Mitt Romney has not paid any taxes for ten years.

Unqualified expert opinion: debater gives or cites an apparently expert opinion which is not from a qualified expert; in court, an expert must prove his qualifications and be certified by the judge before he can give an opinion

Sloganeering: Debater uses a slogan rather than using facts or logic. Slogans are vague sentences or phrases that derive their power from rhetorical devices like alliteration, repetition, cadence, or rhyming; Rich Dad Poor Dad’s “Don’t work for money, make money work for you” is a classic example. In sports, coaches frequently rely on cliches, a less rhetorical form of slogan, to deflect criticism.

Motivation end justifies dishonest means: debater admits he is lying or using fallacious logic but excuses this on the grounds that he is motivating the audience to accomplish a good thing and that end justifies the intellectually-dishonest means

Cult of personality: debater attempts to make the likability of each debate opponent the focus of the debate because he believes he is more likable than the opponent

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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