PUBlic Professor Series | Dr. Katharina Stevens

Arguing Without Being Cruel: What Morality Has to Say About How We Should Give Reasons

Dr. Katharina Stevens, Department of Philosophy

There are two different things that we can mean when we say that we are arguing with someone. We can mean that we are fighting, or we can mean that we are exchanging reasons in an attempt to justify an opinion or a belief that we have. It would be interesting to talk about how to have a fight without being cruel, but I want to talk to you about the other kind of arguing: arguing as exchanging reasons.

Even when we think about arguing as an exchange of reasons, we often think of it as having some things in common with fighting. Usually, we argue when we disagree, we argue against each other. We want to show our partner that we are right and they are wrong - and we want to show them this by demonstrating that we have the better reasons on our side. Is there anything wrong with doing this? At first glance, it seems perfectly ok. After all, if we actually do have the better reasons, then we should win. And if we don't, well, then the argument will show that, right? The better argument will prevail, and the truth will out, at least if no-one tries to cheat or starts fighting.

Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Even without resorting to fighting or dirty tricks, we can derail an argument. Worse: Even while trying to be reasonable, we can argue in a way that humiliates our partner or causes them harm. Of course, that is not what we want. And the best way of avoiding it is knowing why it happens. This talk is supposed to help with that.

Katharina Stevens is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Lethbridge. Her research is in Moral Argumentation Theory and in Legal Reasoning. Currently, she is working on a monograph about role-ethics of argumentation. She is the co-editor of Canada's argumentation theory journal Informal Logic and one of the co-organizers of a monthly speaker-series on the ethics of argumentation.

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