Arguments: Virtue or Vice?
Ironically, the question, “Is arguing a virtue or a vice?” can only be answered by arguing whether or not arguments are a virtue or a vice. So it seems clear, at least initially, arguing must be a virtue, assuming of course it’s done in a principled way.
Besides, how else can the truth be discovered? How else can our perception of reality accurately reflect the truth? If we don’t question, if we don’t challenge, if we don’t gather the relevant data, if we don’t compile the evidence, what hope is there in establishing a foundation upon which we can build our lives?
And whether we want to be or not, we are, all of us, engaged in the struggle between truth and error.
Imagine, therefore, not being able to distinguish between truth and error. What would happen in a world in which light could not be distinguished from darkness; a world where right could not be distinguished from wrong, pain from pleasure, or safe from unsafe? We wouldn’t survive long. Our lives would be fraught with danger and disaster.
So to help protect us from the peril that would inevitably result we seek the safety of the truth. And there is nothing error fears more than a good argument, because a good argument reveals the truth. It separates fact from fiction and it does so persuasively.
But please do not misunderstand. There is a significant and distinct difference between arguing in a principled way in an attempt to uncover the truth, and arguing in an attempt to be right. If we’re committed to being right regardless of the truth, or worse, despite the truth, eventually our argument will be revealed for what it is: deceptive and manipulative. And rather than arguing we’ll begin quarreling. We may even become angry. And angry individuals are easily defeated because they generally defeat themselves, even when they’re right; even if the truth is on their side.
Skilled debaters don’t need to employ bully tactics to win an argument. In fact, skilled debaters recognize that bullying and intimidation demonstrate weakness; it reveals a lack of confidence in one’s ideas.
Therefore, not only is arguing a virtue, it is a requisite skill in a world replete with competing and contradictory voices. If done well, arguing can shield us from what is false. It can disarm the dishonest. It can enable us to know the truth; which, if acted upon, can ultimately make us free.