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How to spot weak arguments  

When you’re debating, you’ll come up against many styles of arguing, based on all different levels of arguing.   If you’re in the debate to win, you’ll have to spot the flaws in opposing arguments and point them out, or exploit them like a weak spot.  Sometimes it’s as easy as listening for fuzzy words.  Here are some words and phrases that are easy indications of flaws: 

many, all, a lot, every, none, nobody, much, more – Solid arguments use actual numbers with references to their source.   These words can indicate implied statistics that show the debater is making up a fact rather than working off real data. Example: “Many Christians disagree”

never, always, usually, tend, trend – These may be blanket statements that imply cause and effect, or assumptions about overall responses and opinions that don’t hold up under scrutiny. Example: “the rich have always been getting richer”

I, I don’t think, I believe – including yourself in the argument can indicate thinking personal experience equals the overall trend. If the debate is not a poll or about individual views, this can be Hasty Generalization.  Here are some examples from CreateDebate:  From: Should the US have seatbelt laws?  Someone who manages to use words from two categories:”I always choose to wear one”  From: Man vs. Elephant : can you escape?“I am much more shifty than an elephant and would be able to escape if ONE was chasing me in a large field by cutting and weaving.”and one rebuttal that found the critical flaw:”Elephants charge at up to 25mph. Way faster than you can run…”

So next time you’re arguing with friends or proving your point in an online debate, listen in for these hints for weak arguments and when you make your response make it stronger by avoiding the same flaws.

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15 responses

Written by Dan

May 14th, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Debate Commentary,Random Musings

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15 Responses to 'How to spot weak arguments'

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  1. If you want to advance even further, you can name the logical fallacies your opponents employ to further their opinion:

    A lot of arguments can be completely deconstructed, because they are based on one or many of the 20 fallacies listed.

    PS: The SGU podcast is great, if you haven’t checked it out.


    15 May 08 at 2:15 am

  2. I don’t know: Often times I use myself as an example, or as more of a standard I suppose, in arguments and I dominate most discussions that I get myself into.

    Charles Lumia

    15 May 08 at 10:41 pm

  3. “I” think this was a good post


    15 May 08 at 10:59 pm

  4. Although these rules apply only in situations where your audience reacts solely to logic. However, they ignore the fact that people often act irrationally and may easily persuaded by appeals to emotion.


    16 May 08 at 9:51 am

  5. Often times I use Charles Lumia as an example too, or as more of a standard I suppose, and people say, “what are you talking about” or “who the f*@K is Charles Lumia?”

    Not Charles Lumia

    16 May 08 at 5:54 pm

  6. I stll think a man could out-weave an elephant


    16 May 08 at 6:10 pm

  7. “Elephants charge at up to 25mph. Way faster than you can run…”

    That was a terrible example of debating! it completely missed the point. the argument that you could escape an elephant by ducking and weaving is so full of flaws and yet that rebuttle completely misses them and quotes a nigh on irrelevent statistic.


    16 May 08 at 6:10 pm

  8. I don’t remember who I got this from but a good way to end an argument is to say, “That sounds like something Stalin [or insert any other undesirable person here] would say…


    16 May 08 at 6:26 pm

  9. These of course, are contextual rules – as are all rules. If someone uses terminology such as “more” or “many”, it may be the case that they actually know the real statistics; or perhaps in a debate between two or more persons in the same field, such words are used because the statistics or information is practically common knowledge.

    The first and most important rule of thumb is remembering that people only truly know something if they have had direct experience with it. Call them out on what they say – whatever they say.


    16 May 08 at 6:28 pm

  10. Look for absolute statements and try to use non-absolute assertions in your arguments: use “few”, “many” and “most” instead of “all”, “none” or “never” (never say never). Absolute assertions in debates are rarely true – assertions with relative amounts are debatable but much harder to disprove without hard numbers – for most issues there are exceptions to the rule.

    Lookup the facts behind an assertion before making it.

    Try to understand the difference between someone stating an opinion and someone making an assertion of fact. Be careful about asserting that “I know” something vs. “I believe” something vs. “I think” something – three different statements that are often conflated both by the people making them and the people reading them.

    Know what words mean and use them properly.

    Don’t attack the person – attack the message.

    When the opposition makes a point that is valid don’t bother trying to dispute it, either acknowledge it or don’t address it. My goal is to arrive at the truth, not necessarily to win, so lying or disputing the truth defeats my purpose.

    The Heretic

    16 May 08 at 6:34 pm

  11. I agree with the first commenter. Learning how to spot logical fallacies is quite useful…and SGU is teh awesome.


    16 May 08 at 6:39 pm

  12. Good luck winning arguements relying on those rules. People tune out when you feed them nothing but facts. They like hearing stories, experiences, things they can imagine or relate to.

    Oh, and have fun trying to remember all those stats next time you get into a discussion on how more gun ownership means less crime or how many people were left homeless and landless when the US occupied many of the thirdworld countries out there.


    16 May 08 at 6:44 pm

  13. The problem with your little delusion is that you presume the existence of “facts”: Unless you are omniscient, as in capable of knowing *ALL* variables & how to correctly interpret &/or apply them, you have to rely on statistics; & as any freshman stat class graduate can tell you, statistics can be made to say anything you want. The sad fact is that even repeatable hard-core science is pretty much entirely comprised of **guesses** (AKA theories) that haven’t encountered anomalies that make current *THEORY* fall apart. This all makes the vaguenesses you equate with dubiousness turn out to be *more correct* because they acknowledge the limits of certitude inherent in reasoning without being all-knowing.


    16 May 08 at 6:45 pm

  14. The elephant may be able to charge at 25MPH but how fast can he turn?


    16 May 08 at 6:46 pm

  15. Upon analysis of the comments, roughly 75% were positive answers, which leads us to conclude that this can be considered a great post.

    Jonathan Grand

    16 May 08 at 7:01 pm

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