How To Argue About Politics

The Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday called for a General Election on June 8th (despite saying she would do no such thing).  We will doubtless hear political discourse, expert or otherwise, reach for new levels of over-blown rhetoric, unattainable promises and outlandish threats that go beyond even apocalyptio-dystopio proportions.

Politics is necessary and sometimes interesting, but of late it is rather like trying to fit the glass shoe on the feet of one of the Ugly Sisters….even if it fits, it’ll be the wrong foot!

Having said that, arguing and getting your point of view across, is a dying art in a world of fake news, opinionated blatherers and general social media swampery.  In our current political system, we often have soundbites and slogans; character assassinations; ridicule and dismissive gesturing.  Who really wants to be the winner in all this?  Afterall, even if the Ugly Sister did manage to squeeze into the tiny glass shoes of another….she would still be ugly!!!

I am reading through Gary Gutting’s book What Philosophy Can Do, and right from page one, he outlines the sheer practical force of philosophy as it relates to many areas of life.  He starts with politics, hence the opening quote below, but he goes on to tackle Science, Capitalism, Education, Art, Religion, Economics and Agnosticism. 

I hope the quote below helps others to think more clearly about what we say and how we say it; what we know and what we don’t know; for example, there’s a world of difference between “freedom of thought” and “correctness of thought”.

20170419_092639“Taking examples from recent political debates, this chapter explains and illustrates important logical principles and distinctions needed for effective argumentation.  

We first distinguish between real and bogus arguments and then discuss and illustrate the Principle of Charity, which shows how fairness to opponents can make arguments more compelling.

Next, we examine the distinction between deductive and inductive arguments, and, regarding inductive arguments, explore the essential but often neglected Principle of Relevant Evidence.

The following section introduces the notion of convictions (and the related notions of pictures).  Both concepts will have major roles in later chapters.  Reflection on the part convictions play in arguments will lead to an important distinction between what is logical and what is rational.

Two further sections explore arguments between people who are equally competant on a given topic (epistemic peers), leading to a distinction between freedom of thought and correctness of thought, and an analysis of the logic of disagreement.

Finally, we consider the value of arguments that fail to convince anyone else, formulating a Principle of Self-Understanding.”

pg.1 (all italics original).

Brexit: Some thoughts on words, politics and power-play

Brexit: Some thoughts on words, politics and power-play

Over the last few months I have read various books, and as certain comments struck me in regard to the current political situation in the UK, I posted on Facebook.  I have deliberately kept them “decision-neutral” not least because I am undecided, but also to highlight my thoughts, in the words of others, because I have found it difficult to navigate through this treacherous political terrain.  My opening gambit on every Facebook post began thus: 

“Reading this also reminded me of much political discourse in general, and the Brexit debate in particular:”

“For what counts as true for one group is often disparaged as a manipulative disguise to legitimate power-claims by another group. If different groups try to adopt different criteria of truth to determine what counts as true, or even what counts as a meaningful truth-claim, rational argument and dialogue become undermined by recurring appeals to what one group counts as axioms, but seem far from axiomatic for another. At this point argument becomes transposed as rhetoric. Rhetoric then comes to rely on force, seduction, or manipulation.”

Anthony Thiselton in ‘On Meaning, Manipulation and Promise’

“They set themselves to drive people to inward despair and then the game is in their hand…. And whom does it touch? A small number of people who regard themselves as the most important thing in the world, and who therefore like to busy themselves with themselves.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer , Letters and Papers from Prison

  Continue reading