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Political Blogging: The Power of the Premises

06.19.10

What’s more important to an argument — a solid set of premises leading up to a logical conclusion, or the conclusion itself?

The political blogosphere is mainly just opinion writing, most often by non-professionals — myself included.  People take a stance on a law, bill, event, political figure – anything at all, really – and have an opinion on the matter.  So they then write a blog post explaining why they feel that way and why that way is the right way to feel about the topic.  Opinion writing is argumentative writing.  And yes, we’re all entitled to our own opinions; but, when it comes to arguments, there are sound arguments and there are unsound arguments.

A recent comment from one of my older posts began a conversation about this very topic that I thought it was worthy of its own post.  This notion of arguments and logic is something that I find extremely interesting and will be exploring even more in-depth on a consistent basis with a new project of mine coming soon (shameless teaser, I know — but get ready for it).

Something I always try to do with this blog is present my opinions as thought-out arguments, not merely rhetoric spewed onto the page to either rile up those who already agree with me or to infuriate those who don’t see things quite the same way.  There’s enough of that out there already.  I’ve definitely had moments of weakness and failure in this aim, to be sure; and I’m sure that looking back through my archives, I’d find those moments happened more frequently when I began.  And while I know that I will write both solid and weak arguments going forward, they will all be written from the perspective and intention of providing logical rationale to support my conclusion.

Many people read blogs that already cater to their tastes.  If you’re liberal, you probably don’t read Andrew Breitbart.  If you’re conservative, doubtful you frequent the Huffington Post.  (Although, it’s become trendy for some to follow those with whom they disagree just so they can leave extreme comments announcing their disgust through name-calling and other pointless commentary.)  In fact, many with opposing viewpoints are not welcome in the comments section of some blogs — not always by the bloggers themselves, but as evident from the response by the fellow commenters.

Perhaps it’s this chasm between the liberal and conservative blogs and their readership that causes most bloggers to not feel the pressure of forming logical arguments for their opinions — they don’t need them because they have the power of their already-devoted followers to lend their support to any dissenters, should any happen by.  Regardless — we have enough of those blogs out there that merely mimic the thoughts of their political faction and treat dissent without any intellectual respect whatsoever.  I’d like to hold myself to a higher standard and think that we should all demand the same from those bloggers we follow.

It’s true that one can accidentally arrive at the right conclusion despite having a total mess of inaccuracy in the preceding premises.  But that doesn’t lend much confidence to the one behind that opinion.  The commenter on my previous post that got this whole thing started brought up the notion that if one’s conclusion was “2+2 = 4,” it wouldn’t matter what kind of nonsense made this person arrive at that answer because it’s a true statement.  For that I have two rebuttals:  one, the premises do matter, as I recall from my days in high school algebra.  If you happened upon the right answer but didn’t get their the correct way, you lost points.  It’s not always about the answer; it’s also about how you get there.  And secondly, political discourse lives in the gray area and doesn’t always have a right or wrong answer like arithmetic — which makes your supporting evidence that much more important.

I’d argue that the basis for your opinion is more important than your opinion itself.  Think about it.  When someone gives you their opinion, the first thing you most likely will ask is: “Why?”  This invites the person to explain the reasoning behind their opinion.  Unless you blindly follow someone else’s stance on everything without a second thought (and I strongly recommend not doing this), you’re going to want to hear more than a response of: “Just because.”

So, the lesson to be learned from all of this is that we should take care to note the argument’s premises – if there are any – the next time you’re reading an opinion blog rather than only focusing on the conclusion.   You might be surprised.  You might find that while you thought you agreed wholeheartedly with the opinion at first,  after seeing the support being mainly comprised of empty rhetoric and other meandering opinion instead of rational evidence, you’re not so sure after all.

It’s always nice to read something that completely validates how you’re feeling — but it’s even better when you can be sure that you have a factual leg to stand on when people question your opinion and you can respond with more than “just because.”

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2 comments

  1. I agree, the premises matter a lot. Even the laws of logic only take you so far, you have to start by assuming certain axioms and then work your way from there.
    This is essentially the problem of induction, raised by David Hume– and is a major problem for epistomology (and Science, if it didn’t work so well).
    Glad to see you are interested in improving your reasoning skills to get at the truth, rather than sticking to your assumptions.
    I plan to start a blog soon, and I would be your most formidable opponent– if we didn’t already agree on everything. Good work, keep it up.


    • Looking forward to your blog when you get it going. It’s forced me to form better arguments. And in doing so, makes me second guess many things that I would want to believe sometimes. Which is a good thing. I have so many posts that I’ve started but then just didn’t have the back-up to support my claim. It’s easier to just say something aloud but to write it out and proclaim it, you need more than just your personal opinion.



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