Philosophical Multicore

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Archive for the ‘Debate’ Category

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Posted by Michael Dickens on July 16, 2012

These three concepts constitute Aristotle’s appeals: ethos, an appeal to character; pathos, an appeal to emotion; and logos, an appeal to logic. Although these rhetorical strategies have a longstanding history, this three-pronged model does not effectively represent honest rhetoric.


Ethos usually manifests as an appeal to authority, in which the author explains that his argument comes from a credible source and is therefore correct. This is not a distinct type of argument, but actually a subset of logos. An appeal to authority, when done properly, forms a logical argument:

1. This authority figure is usually correct on this subject.
2. This authority figure claims X is true.
3. Therefore, X is probably true.

Of course, an appeal to authority can be done improperly, such as when it uses a non-expert or makes a more strict claim than it can (i.e., this authority figure claims X is true, therefore X must be true). Such incorrect applications are fallacious. But when used correctly, an appeal to authority—ethos—is simply a type of logos.

Sometimes, ethos may represent the reverse: an attempt to demonstrate that one’s opponent is not credible—an argument ad hominem. This type of argument is nearly always fallacious. And in this case as well, if it is not fallacious then it can be expressed as a logical argument and is therefore a subset of logos.


Of Aristotle’s three strategies, pathos has the least sway. An appeal to emotion is a logical fallacy: it represents an attempt to subvert the reader’s sense of reason. According to Fallacy Files, “Appeals to emotion are always fallacious when intended to influence our beliefs, but they are sometimes reasonable when they aim to motivate us to act.” (More on this second clause in a future essay.)

The emotional appeal probably occurs more frequently than any other logical fallacy, but that makes it no less fallacious. A strong rhetorician makes frequent use of emotional appeals, but an honest debater uses emotion only as a supplement to logical argumentation, and only, as Fallacy Files explains, to motivate the reader to action.


Logos—the appeal to logic—represents the only true means of argumentation. Any other form of argument is, by definition, unsound. Logos is the only of Aristotle’s appeals that holds serious rational merit, and therefore deserves the greatest consideration. Ethos and pathos do not deserve to rest on the same plane as logos; any non-logical form of argumentation exists either to supplement or to subvert logic.

A Better Model

Sound argument rests not on three pillars, but on one: the pillar of logic. But there is no reason to consider argumentation as a single thing: one could devise a number of models to represent the process of rational thought in different terms. It could be represented as the unity of pure reason a priori and factual information a posteriori; it could be thought of as a logical core with branches representing the myriad logical fallacies. Either of these models would make a more effective model than Aristotle’s appeals, and surely there exist even better models than these.

Instead of teaching Aristotle’s rhetorical devices to debaters and writers, we should teach how to speak and write persuasively without resorting to logical fallacies, and how to identify and respond to fallacious reasoning when others use it. If people understand how to form strong logical arguments and avoid emotional appeals and reactions, we as a society will be empowered to make wiser decisions—and side with the people who are the most correct rather than the most persuasive.

Posted in Debate, Rationality | 2 Comments »

Resolved: Justice requires the recognition of animal rights.

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 28, 2011

This is the September/October 2011 LD resolution. I can see many arguments to be made for the affirmative and a few arguments for the negative, which I will outline here. Assume that “animal” refers to “non-human animal”, because defining “animal” ambiguously would lead to serious arguments over semantics.

I will begin by talking about my favorite system of ethics, Utilitarianism. Under this system, it is clear that failing to recognize the importance of animals is to miss out on a huge source of happiness and suffering. Any ethical theory that grants rights to beings capable of suffering must acknowledge non-human animals.

Some ethical theories only give moral worth to beings capable of reason. Some animals, such as chimpanzees and dolphins, are capable of self-awareness in the same way that we are and are in some sense capable of reason. But this is not always enough: consider Kant’s formulation of the categorical imperative. He wrote that “every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.” In effect, for an animal to have moral worth it must be capable of comprehending the maxims of ethics, which I do not think a chimpanzee or dolphin is capable of doing. Therefore, according to Kant, animals do not have rights.

Whether animals deserve rights depends on how rights are derived. If the capacity to suffer is the source of rights, many species of animal would be granted rights. If rights instead stem from self-awareness, only a few animals would have rights.

There are very few properties that humans have that no other animals have, so it would be difficult to make an argument against animal rights without resorting to speciesism. The only way I can see to do it is to argue that rights in some way stem from the capacity for sophisticated abstract thought, e.g. Kant or contractualism. Contractualism, the belief that rights stem from an implicit contract made between the members of society, does not necessarily grant rights to animals since even the smartest animals are probably unable to comprehend the concept of the social contract.

Returning to Utilitarianism, it may be possible for the negative to argue that exploitation of animals increases utility overall. However, making such an argument would require assuming that humans are capable of far more happiness than animals, which is almost certainly not true and should be pretty easy to refute.

For a more thorough review of this resolution, see Decorabilia.

Posted in Debate | 3 Comments »

A Question of Burden

Posted by Michael Dickens on April 16, 2010

Burden of proof is an issue that is often muddled or misunderstood. I will not be addressing burden of proof in general; rather, I am going to focus on a particular situation.

There are many cases in which one side is arguing to allow a particular behavior, and the other side is arguing against it. The opponent asks, Why should this behavior be allowed?

There are myriad examples. Three rather prominent ones are, Why should gays be allowed to marry? Why should people under 18 be allowed to vote? Why should people be allowed to carry guns?

In some cases, the opponent will take this argument a little further. People don’t need to carry guns, so there is no reason to allow people to legally carry guns. Or, minors don’t need to vote. Most teenagers just care about Britney Spears’ latest song. They’re not interested in politics.

These questions misconstrue the concept of burden of proof. They do so because of a certain well-established human right: liberty.

It is widely agreed that, all else being equal, liberty is a good thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. The likes of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson argued for the fundamental rights of life, liberty, and property. (And if you think about it, these three rights can be compressed into the single supreme right of liberty.) Libertarianism (the philosophy, not just the political party) is founded on the concept of self-ownership, a synonym for liberty. Kantian Deontology dictates that we treat other people as ends rather than as means — that is, that we do not restrict their liberty. Even Utilitarianism strongly supports the idea of liberty, although not quite so severely: in most cases, liberty is conducive to maximizing utility.

From this, we can infer that liberty should be maximized whenever possible. Our justice system reflects this. Even laws that restrict liberty are ultimately intended to increase liberty overall. For example, our freedom is restricted in the case of murder because if we murder someone, that completely robs them of their liberty.

I expect it is widely agreed upon that, all else being equal, liberty is preferential to restriction. This can be seen anecdotally. Many of what are considered to be the most horrible of situations are based primarily upon a restriction of freedom: slavery, imprisonment, and even death are all excellent examples. The more restrictive it is, the more suffering it will entail.

Now that we have examined the topic of liberty, we are equipped to answer the first three questions. Why should gays be allowed to marry? Why should people under 18 be allowed to vote? Why should people be allowed to carry guns?

The response is, why not? Liberty is preferential to restriction. All else being equal, we ought to allow gays to marry. We ought to allow anyone to vote. We ought to allow people to carry guns. In fact, all else being equal, we ought to allow people to marry animals and carry nuclear weapons. So why don’t we?

We don’t allow people to marry animals or carry nuclear weapons because, in those cases, all else is not equal. Animals cannot offer consent to marriage, so the contract would be meaningless and to enforce it would be to restrict the freedom of the animal. Furthermore, this would nearly always be used as an excuse to reap the legal benefits of marriage without the difficulty of marrying an actual person — in very few cases would someone actually be in love with an animal. In the case of carrying a nuclear weapon, the risks far outweigh the benefits.

Even as obvious as those arguments were, it is still my side’s responsibility to make those arguments. I was arguing for the restriction of liberty. If those arguments had never been made, then we would be morally obligated to allow inter-species marriage and the carrying of WMDs. However, since those arguments were made, we have legitimate reason to restrict freedom in those cases.

Am I saying that no one has ever made an argument for why gay marriage should be illegal, or for why minors should not be able to vote, or for why guns should be banned? Not at all. Rather, I am addressing the specific argument that attempts to shift the burden of proof. The question is not why we should allow these things. The question is why we should NOT allow these things. By default, we are allowed to do anything. Liberty cannot be restricted without a good reason, and this is why the question of why we should allow something is not a legitimate one.

Posted in Debate, Rationality | Leave a Comment »

How to have an argument — and actually get somewhere!

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 2, 2010

Now, I’ve been in a lot of arguments.

A lot.

More than I’d like to talk about.

So I am pretty good at having arguments. Not just at “winning”, but at actually making a point and coming to a conclusion. Today I am here to talk about how to actually get somewhere in an argument. We’ve all been in plenty of arguments where both sides are thoroughly convinced of their own position’s correctness, and argue for hours without ever making any progress. Okay, maybe not hours, but you get my point.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Debate | Leave a Comment »

Straw Man Argument: the Most Powerful Fallacy Known to Man

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 9, 2009

The Straw Man Argument is a very commonly used fallacy in the world of debating. And no wonder: it’s incredibly powerful. If used correctly, it can be highly deceptive and very difficult to notice. If done poorly, of course, it doesn’t work at all. But what matters not is the tools that you possess; what matters is that you can effectively utilize them to achieve your goals.

So what exactly is this infamous Straw Man Argument? Read the rest of this entry »

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How to Win Any Debate

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 1, 2009

There is one fundamental secret that is the key to winning a debate. If you know this key, you cannot possibly lose.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Debate, Humor | 3 Comments »

Resolved: Public high school students in the US ought not be required to pass standardized exit exams.

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 19, 2009

This is the September/October LD debate resolution. Here are my thoughts.

Arguments for the Affirmative

  • The most obvious argument for the affirmative is to argue that not everyone is the same so standardization is inherently flawed.
  • Standardized tests are not good measures of ability.
  • —Rebuttal: That is a different problem entirely. We just need better standardized tests, that’s all.

  • States should be able to decide whether students take exit exams; there should be no nationwide standard.
  • Standardized exams are unfair to minorities.
  • Arguments for the Negative

  • Standardized exams can give universities and employers an objective measure of a student’s ability.
  • —Rebuttal: It is erroneous to try to objectively compare students. Students cannot be compared like that because people are not the same.

  • Standardized exams objectively compare different school districts to measure the effectiveness of the education.
  • —Rebuttal: It only really measures the district’s ability at teaching that test. Teachers will focus on the test material and ignore other (possibly more important) subjects.
    ——Counter-Rebuttal: That is the result of a flawed exam, not exams themselves.
    ———Double-Counter-Rebuttal: All exams are flawed. Teachers and students will always exploit a standardized exam.

  • The original purpose of education was to prepare youth to work in the industrial world. Standardized exit exams fit this model perfectly.
  • —Rebuttal: The purpose of education has changed.


    The number of arguments for the negative is extremely limited (there are rebuttals to all three of the arguments that I came up with). I have looked at various sites such as Decorabilia and I have not come up with any more than these two. This topic seems like it could have depth, but it would require some serious digging. It is not up to usual LD standards. An argument on this topic would end up spinning in circles, simply because there is not enough to say.

    This resolution is biased in favor of the Affirmative. It is a decent topic; it could certainly be worse, but it is also just not all that great.

    Posted in Debate | Leave a Comment »

    The Ultimate Contest: Legos vs. Mega Blocks

    Posted by Michael Dickens on April 27, 2009

    I argue that Mega Blocks are superior to Legos, though I think the products are essentially identical and my arguments have a ton of holes in them. I challenge you to find the holes in my arguments. I committed at least two logical fallacies and made at least one additional bad argument. Try to find them all, plus see if you can find any that I missed.

    Posted in Debate, Humor | Leave a Comment »

    Are Teenagers Capable of Intelligent Debate?

    Posted by Michael Dickens on April 24, 2009

    I love

    There was a debate with the resolution Young people between the ages of 13 and 17 are able to make an argument that can be used in a debate. The PRO side actually instantly wins, since it is stupendously easy to make an argument that can be used in a debate. So I will assume that this resolution really means “…are able to make an argument that can be effectively used…”.

    Ok to tell the truth I am 13 too, and I agree we can be good at debating. But in this case i’ll play as the devil’s advocate.

    I don’t think that younger people can be good debaters, they have barely lived a few years and only base their arguments on book or obtained knowledge, not natural intelligence or experience. 13-17 year olds haven’t lived life enough to actually know what is right or what is wrong. Even though if they have won a few debates that doesn’t mean that they are the best at debating.

    That is a bad argument for the CON side, which means CON wins. (Not really, since the resolution is not that all teenagers are capable of intelligent debate, only that some are.)

    No, but really. That’s a bad argument. The PRO side doesn’t do a very good job of rebutting it (the PRO was 13 at the time, so also provides evidence to support CON), so I will.
    1. Arguments based on obtained knowledge are close to as good as those based on experience.
    2. Right and wrong are not based primarily on experience; they are based on evolutionary logic, if you’ll allow me to coin that phrase.
    3. Even if morals were based on experience, many adults lack experience as well. The PRO side cites abortion as an example, but uses it to prove a different point. I will use it to prove this point: men have no experience with having abortions, but they are still fully qualified to argue about whether abortion is moral. Why? Because they have experience with people. Abortion is really about fetuses, and whether they deserve the rights that fully-fledged people have. Teenagers also have experience with people, though not as much. However, not a lot is necessary.

    In conclusion, I win. (You were expecting a beautiful and inspirational closing sentence, weren’t you?)

    Posted in Debate | Leave a Comment »

    The BIG Issues

    Posted by Michael Dickens on April 24, 2009

    On, each person has a list of their standpoint on “the BIG issues”, so I will try to justify all of my standpoints if I have not already done so. Here is a listing of all the big issues:

    • Abortion
    • Affirmative Action
    • Border Fence
    • Campaign Finance Reform
    • Civil Unions
    • Death Penalty
    • Drug Legalization
    • Environmental Protection
    • Estate Tax
    • Euthanasia
    • Flag Burning
    • Flat Tax
    • Gay Marriage
    • Global Warming Exists
    • Gun Rights
    • Labor Unions
    • Late Term Abortion
    • Medicaid & Medicare
    • Medical Marijuana
    • Minimum Wage
    • Missile Defense System
    • NAFTA
    • National Health Care
    • National Retail Sales Tax
    • Patriotism
    • PETA
    • Police Profiling
    • President George W. Bush
    • Progressive Tax
    • School Vouchers
    • Social Programs
    • Social Security
    • Term Limits
    • Tobacco Rights
    • United Nations
    • United States
    • War in Afghanistan
    • War in Iran
    • War in Iraq
    • War on Terrorism
    • Water Boarding
    • Welfare
    • World Trade Organization

    You can view my profile to see my opinions on this issues. I am undecided on many of them, so I will work out my opinions on them.

    I have already explained my beliefs on abortion and gay marriage. However, I have yet to justify my other beliefs. I will now proceed to justify the easily justifiable beliefs.

    Border Fence: Expensive, with minimal effect. CON.
    Death Penalty: More expensive than a life sentence; takes away right to life. CON.
    Flag Burning: Free speech. If people don’t like an object being defaced, that’s their problem, as long as the object is owned by the one doing the defacing and no one gets harmed. PRO.
    Labor Unions: Protect the rights of workers. PRO.
    Medical Marijuana: It’s medical. PRO.
    PETA: Many of them are terrorists. Their goals are foolish. And I will not affiliate myself with an organization that wants to rename fish to “sea kittens”. CON.
    President George W. Bush: Among other things, he (partially) screwed up the education system and started a pointless war. CON.
    Term Limits: Term limits prevent dictatorship. PRO.
    United States: What does it mean to be pro a country? I think the united states is a country. PRO.
    War in Iraq: Pointless. CON.
    Water Boarding: Torture is not only painful, but for the most part ineffective. CON.

    I will write posts about the other ones (provided they are interesting) in the future.

    Posted in Debate, Politics | Leave a Comment »

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