A heated discussion with a friend about the purpose of a post-graduate education has got me thinking. Not only about education and university, but also about the nature of arguments. We argue because we disagree, but how do we validate our arguments? A rationalistic argument should be justified by facts, but when all you are doing is arguing in a non-legal-I-want-to-sue-you kind of way, how do you validate your ideas and beliefs?
I ask this question because in the many arguments and debates I have gotten myself into, much of the time we have to end it by agreeing to disagree. Why? Well, mostly due to the fact that we have had significantly different experiences surrounding the same issue, different primary assumptions about the issue (though that is usually challenged within 5 minutes of the debate beginning), and difficulties in projecting our experiences and observations to a large worldview.
It seemed to me that if those factors exist, how can you have a constructive argument? Neither side would concede because of fundamental differences. To put this in a competitive context, it would mean that one side would need to take apart the other’s fundamental argument by attacking assumptions. But, by attacking the assumptions, one would also need to destabilise the projections of a personal belief onto a larger worldview. It then begs the question, can and should personal beliefs be projected upon a larger worldview – in the context or an argument? And can an argument even be constructed based upon those projections?
An assumption within all this is that arguments can be delineated from personal beliefs. Also, nature of arguments is that a more logically constructed argument would and should triumph, unless your opponent is a ultra-conservative right-wing madman. But this I have perceived not to be the case. People of common beliefs an disagree immeasurably on the basis of small differences of process and methods of achieving a common goal. And their assumptions frame their arguments, but can assumptions be destroyed?
So a list of primary ideas of arguments and debates (compiled from observation – by no means definitive):
1. Constructive arguments are good for your brain – it hones your critical thinking skills
2. There is a winner in arguments.
3. The most logical and convincing proposal will win.
4. Deconstruction of an opposing argument will achieve success
5. The more you know about an idea the better
6. Contributions of different ideas makes an argument richer.
Oh ’tis the world of philosophy. It’s like an avalanche – once the primary thought forms, it’s just downhill from there. I have of course been unable to answer my own questions and musings – only simply being able to form new beliefs about the world – but I have seen that the next question is: Is such philosophising constructive? And is action more important than thought?
Is this supposed to be what university life is about? It’s by no means the singular purpose of university life, but I certainly feel that it is a good chunk of it. At the end of the day, don’t we all come here to think after all?
I have by no means achieved closure on this. And perhaps I won’t until I’m 80, wrinkly, eating prunes and grumpy. Why so long? In my experience, I have little patience for philosophy. It frustrates me, to say the least. I like answers. Perhaps a bit too much. If answers were dogs, I’d probably have a litter of them by now. But of to study philosophy I go.