Tactics for Argument
“The question is which is to be master, that’s all.” – Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.
Shifting the Ground
Consider an argument as a game, in which conclusions and premises are argued and then sit like pieces on a board: black for true, white for false, or in the case of an argument comparing two alternatives black for ‘a’ and white for ‘b’.
One piece is set on a particular statement – the proposition, argument, or conclusion. This is an arbitrary decision decided at the outset. Other statements can then be picked out or presented, supporting the conclusion or refuting it. Statements that support the conclusion are represented in the game with a black tile. Statements that refute the conclusion are represented in the game with a white tile.
In a debate in which one person defends a proposition, arguing it is true, and another person attacks the proposition, the game for the defender is to ensure that all of the premises on the board remain true.
The debater attacking the proposition has to try to turn over any piece, making it ‘white’ or ‘false’. Technically, if any piece on the board is white, the conclusion does not hold: the central piece in the game becomes white, and the game is over.
Dialectic or comparative argument
A comparative argument between two options has different rules. These rules describe an argument structure akin to the Socratic method – the dialectic.
In the case of opposing arguments ‘a’ and ‘b’ both sides of the argument can be developed constructively, and both sides of the argument can be refuted. In this case the stronger argument prevails: using the allegory of the game, one white piece or false premise does not win the game in this case: the rules have changed.
Instead the game involves trying to turn most of the pieces on the board to one colour. The colour of the ‘conclusion’ tile is determined by the quantity (or quality, to break with the allegory) of the premises on each side.