instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, June 24, 2013

On winning arguments

"Win an argument, lose a soul," as Ven. Fulton Sheen's warning goes. Implicit in that formula is that you are the judge of who wins; the lost soul need by no means agree with your judgment.

I am not very good at winning arguments, in the sense of changing minds from rejecting to accepting my position. When I argue, I usually try to construct the best argument I can, then put it forward and see how it goes over -- though everyone knows that even a rock-solid argument is no way to convince someone with a vested interest in something to the contrary. (And some of my arguments are, when you look at them, pretty flimsy.)

Naturally, I prefer to win an argument rather than not win. I'd like to think I'd rather lose an argument -- i.e., change my mind from rejecting to accepting someone else's position -- than to not win, because by that definition to lose an argument is to move from [what the loser now perceives as] an inferior position to a superior position. To lose an argument is to overcome some falsehood and to gain ground on the truth.

Maybe then the best arguments are the ones I win against myself. Not only do I win the argument (Excelsior!), but in admitting I'm right I move away from whatever bad position I was sort-of holding onto.

Particularly satisfying to win are the arguments along the lines of, "You don't need to comment on that, you know." I almost never need to comment on things, and I have far more regrets over things I've said that didn't need saying than over things I've kept to myself.