As important as it is to avoid logical fallacies and poor rhetoric, it is equally important to understand what it is that you believe and what is it that you are fighting for. To truly understand where you stand on a topic one must apply a degree of critical thinking to their stances and arguments before venturing into the public forum (or voting booth for that matter). A good argument in a debate requires not only a sound basis but also a preemptive understanding of potential counterarguments. In this article, we will delve into both critical thinking processes as well as examples of “double-edged” arguments and what we mean by this.
First, let’s dive into critical thinking. Critical thinking, even being as simple of a term as it seems, has many different definitions. The universal concept, however, is that it is the practice of objectively judging and evaluating information to reach a conclusion. Why is this important? Without critical thinking, our decisions, stances, politics, and beliefs end up being driven by little more than feelings. Without critical thinking debate becomes pointless and politics hollow. Proper debate’s purpose is to compare your conclusions, facts, and reasoning, against the conclusions of others to reach something closer to the truth of a matter. Without the objective, analytical side of coming to your stances you walk into debate unarmed (see my recent article regarding a similar issue with Jordan Peterson).
Next, let’s look at “Double-edged arguments.” A double-edged argument is one that easily and accurately applies to something else you or your opponent may believe. Generally, it doesn’t necessarily apply to the particular debate at hand, but if your debate covers a range of topics you’re far more likely to see it arise. For example, if the debate at hand is gun control and your opponent declares “Only police should have guns! It’s for our safety!” but earlier argued that police are excessive, violent oppressors then they have made a double-edged argument. If police are truly violent oppressors why would you want them to be the only ones armed? Another example would be saying “it’s the law” as a justification of some act of the government. By logical extension, this would apply to the laws you dislike as well. If you argue against any law at that point you are running counter to your previous “it’s the law” argument.
The importance of critical thinking in this regard is to avoid crafting these types of bad arguments. If you think you’ve found an argument that will definitively prove you right, attempt attacking it first, then compare that argument with other things you stand for. This process will allow you to pre-screen both your beliefs and the arguments you come to a debate with. In doing so you will walk away with a better quality discussion and a better footing and understanding of what you stand for. So I ask you to take the time to review the arguments you use and the conclusions you’ve reached, otherwise you could very well find yourself falling on your own double-edged sword.
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