Quod erat demonstrandum

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We haven’t talked about common sense recently. Especially, you might have wondered why, when devoting two full columns to gun control (don’t worry – this isn’t a third), I didn’t propose measures about which the popular, adjectival form … “commonsense” … apply.

I didn’t because I couldn’t – not after having published this way back in November of 1998:

Management Speak: You have to apply common sense to this problem.

Translation: You have to think like me.

“Common sense” is a popular way to affirm a person’s commitment to an idea. It’s a seductive alternative to presenting a coherent analysis of a situation, and far from the only one.

Here’s another: “It’s only logical.” Thank you, Mr. Spock. But even when a proposition is logical (or “only logical”) that doesn’t mean it’s the only proper conclusion that can be drawn about the subject at hand. If it were, we’d have to choose between Euclid and János Bolyai when evaluating the correctness of geometrical formulations.

Different premises, including but not limited to different priorities, lead to different conclusions for even the most rigorous thinkers. So no matter how certain you are that you’re on the right side of an argument, take the time to wonder if a person who disagrees with you might be just as right as you are, only their “right” is the result of having started with different premises, postulates, assumptions, or axioms.

Getting the hang of it? Here’s another one for your repertoire: “Everyone knows that …” In addition to helping you make your point without resorting to the hard work of thinking, it also plunges your debating adversary into the utter despair of deep loneliness. After all, if everyone knows something but your adversary disagrees, they’re the only person in the world who doesn’t belong to the set of “everyone.”

One more: “In reality.” If you’re theologically inclined, you at least might claim divine support for your perception of what’s real and what isn’t. Or, if you’re properly prepared with actual evidence … and even better, if your perception of reality resulted from evidence rather than vice versa, then okay. “The evidence says,” would still be better.

Then there’s the popular “And don’t tell me that …” followed by a point that, had it not been pre-empted and prevented, would have been a perfectly reasonable point to make. But after someone tells you they won’t allow you to even make the point in question, making it anyway just wouldn’t be polite now, would it? Maybe negotiation would work: “Okay, I won’t make that point if you promise not to make this one.”

Finally, no rogue’s gallery of improper discourse would be complete without including the the inverted form – empty arguments against someone else’s position.

“That’s B.S.” is a popular version. It’s okay when it’s attached to a statement that’s utterly preposterous and immediately followed by reasons the statement is utterly preposterous.

Sadly, it’s more often used instead of listing reasons the statement is utterly preposterous. “It’s B.S.” Q.E.D. Case closed.

Bob’s last word: What all of these annoying rhetorical tricks have in common is, as you’ve undoubtedly figured out already, that they’re examples of argument by assertion. If you find yourself at odds with a perpetrator of this argumentative sin, don’t even bother to call your opponent on resorting to it.

You’ll be better off just walking away.

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Contact him here to get your planning started.

Now on CIO.com: 7 tools for mastering organizational listening – leadership’s most poorly understood and undervalued responsibility.

Comments (3)

  • Here’s another one: “That’s been debunked.”

    The beauty of this one is that you can completely dismiss and ignore what they said without providing a single argument.

  • In theory, there is no difference between theory and reality. In reality, there is.

  • Another in the “arguments by assertion” group: “that’s outdated”, “that’s obsolete”, or “nobody believes THAT any more”. Which might actually be a GOOD argument after all, but ONLY if it is followed by the story of how counter-evidence against Whatever-It-Is first appeared, then accumulated, until it became convincing enough for the tide of opinion to shift (assuming, of course, that it actually DID shift).

    Not actually a part of this group, but somewhere in the neighborhood: “Two plus two can equal five, for small values of five and/or large values of two.” If everything under discussion isn’t the actual THING itself, but merely an APPROXIMATION to the thing, then if there are enough approximations involved, it turns out: everything is approximately EVERYTHING!

    And then there’s: “that’s just propaganda”, “that’s just fake news”, “that’s just disinformation”, “that’s what THEY want you to believe”. (And **I ALONE** am honest enough, brave enough, dumb enough, to tell you the truth! Unlike all of THEM.)

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