Intro to Logic for Commenting on Social Media (aka, how not to be an idiot, when reading, thinking, and posting on social media)
Admit it, you’ve wondered why some people can’t help from saying stupid things. However, have you thought about what the ‘right way’ to read, think, and respond is, to another person’s argument? I’m going to give a run-down about how to start thinking about this.
First, seriously note that your feelings might be quite irrelevant. Your feelings might be very informative, but the reality is that humans do not do their best thinking when ruled by their unreflective reactions. Things are not entirely solved, however, by simply being calm and collected.
For instance, one can spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about something, and still come to the wrong conclusion (thinking carefully is good, but calm and careful thinking merely helps, it does not guarantee well-reasoned thought). Think about every horrible book that was written with a lot of forethought.
Second, remember your fallacies. Fallacious reasoning is reasoning that appears strong and good, but in reality, instead of actually giving valid reasoning, it appeals to something else, like emotion, prejudices, etc. Bracket in your mind the difference between valid reasoning from fallacious reasoning. I will put some resources on my website, but until then, there are a ton of helpful websites out there to clarify the differences. In short, though, don’t commit fallacies yourself.
Third, seek to understand the statement of the post from a charitable perspective. For instance, in political discussion, some people fail to notice that there is often agreement on the ends (goals) of a given policy, but only a disagreement of the means towards those shared goals. For instance, someone on the right might argue for less gun control, and someone on the left might argue for more gun control. Both, presumably, want safer neighborhoods, social health, prosperity for their nation, etc. In this instance, granting charity, then, both sides want to protect children, the only disagreement is the means. Likewise, two people might agree that healthcare is very important, and want all people to have great healthcare.
A free-market person would argue that free markets produce better results, and since healthcare is very important, therefore, free-markets should drive healthcare. On the other hand, someone for State-intervention (for every problem, because without the government, we couldn’t even tie our own shoes) might say that healthcare is very important, so the government should be tasked with it.
The free-market person and the Statist are both interested in getting the best healthcare system, and it would be wrong to mischaracterize one’s opponent, by assuming that they want something different from what they actually want (since they both want great healthcare for the country).
Fourth, know what your job is, as a critical reasoner. You didn’t know you had a job? Well, studying logic tells us that we actually have two major tasks to perform when we check an argument (thanks Aristotle, you rock). The first job is to check if the premises properly connect to each other. That is, check whether the form of the argument is right: one premise properly connects to another, and the conclusion follows from the premises.
This can get a little technical, but the gist is something like this: make sure there are no formal fallacies, and that the form of the argument is right. The second job is checking that the premises in the argument are true. If we checked that the form right, and it passes, then if the premises are true, then the conclusion must follow (logic is pretty cool, I know). Given these two jobs, checking for validity and for truth, we now know that if there is something wrong with the argument it is of two kinds: either one or more of the premises is false, or the reasoning is flawed (or some combination).
Fifth, if you are going to respond against the argument you need to show which premise is wrong and why, and if the reasoning is fallacious, note the fallacy (there are lists of fallacies, but once you familiarize yourself with them, you’ll get the hang of seeing how bad argument work, or rather, don’t work).
Sixth, you might be wondering if all of these steps are necessary, and think, ‘why can’t I just say whatever I feel like?’ Well, one reason you might not want to do that is that you want to think of yourself as a reasonable adult, rather than an unreasoning animal. Another reason is that there are already a surplus of stupid arguments, bad information, and irrationality in the world, and we simply don’t need anymore.
Seventh, when you don’t do the suggested steps, and haven’t done the proper research to talk about something intelligent say this phrase, which is the sure mark of being educated person…are you ready for it? Here it goes: “I don’t know”. I’d practice it in the mirror a few times if you are unfamiliar with the phrase.
Wise people know that they don’t know things (the wiser, the more they know of their ignorance). Honest people admit that they haven’t done all of the research, and don’t try to pretend to know more than they do. In short, don’t be a foolish and dishonest college-student stereotype, pretending to look and sound smart, with uncritical regurgitation of half-baked –but emotionally-charged- nonsense. Rather, say things like, ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I’ll have to look into that’, ‘I’m not sure’, and ‘I’ll have to think about this, thanks.’
I hope this introduction to logic is helpful, short though it is.
I am a philosopher that is interested in what makes life worth living, what is worth pursuing, and how we can learn from the past. I believe that good philosophy benefits everyone and that there should be philosophers that present philosophy to those outside of the academy.