Friday, January 1, 2016

Specious Arguments and Their Effect on Others' Respect to You

Recently, several of my students have offered arguments for why their grades might be higher (often from A- to A). Much like the proverbial lawyer, they throw arguments and evidence against the wall and hope that some of it sticks. The problem is that specious arguments decrease my respect for their case. The stuff that does not stick stinks up the room.

I am not talking about disagreement, but about internal inconsistency in the presented argument, about the relevance (actually lack of relevance) of the evidence or mode of analysis, and the mixture of potentially good reasons with manifest nonsense.

I've seen this in deans and department chairs, where their arguments or their comments are both self-serving and embarrassing (they would be embarrassed at their arguments or comments were they not so involved with pushing their case).

It is all right to want your position to prevail. It is terrific to provide arguments and evidence for your position, and attacks on the arguments and evidence of your adversaries. But if you are inconsistent, lacking in relevance, or just throwing stuff at a wall and hoping that some of it sticks, you are likely to hurt your case. Of course, you might well prevail, your adversary having become exhausted (or even convinced) by the unending variety of argument and evidence you offer, whatever their quality. But if you don't prevail, and even if you do, you will find that others will find you much less credible and effective in the future.


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