Whose side are you on in this dialogue? And can you justify your allegiance?
JO: There’s no point in arguing with you, I’ll never win.
TOM: No, because I’m right!
JO: Not because of that, because you’re better at arguing than me.
TOM: Eh? You’re not stupid. If I’m wrong, you should be able to show that I’m wrong. If you can’t, then saying I’m better at arguing than you is just another of saying I’m right and you’re wrong!
JO: Not at all. Just because you can construct better arguments than me, that doesn’t mean you’re right. People can construct very good arguments for false positions.
TOM: Sure they do, but if we’re committed to rational debate, then you surely have to accept whatever the best argument leads you to. You wouldn’t say “There’s no point arguing with you, your evidence is better than mine”. If I have better evidence, you should agree with me; likewise if I have better arguments.
JO: It’s not quite the same. If the evidence supports one theory better than another, then we both have good reasons for accepting that. But the strength of arguments depends much more on the strength of the arguer. For example, I bet if you wanted to, you could beat me in almost any argument, even if you chose to defend a position you thought was false.
TOM: I’m not sure about that! But even if it’s true, you’ve got a problem. I assume you think that as a rational person, you should accept whatever position has the best arguments in favour of it?
JO: I guess so.
TOM: Well better arguments are bound to come from people who are better arguers! So you can’t just refuse to accept what I say on the basis that I’m better at arguing than you.
JO: I still think I’m on to something here, but, as usual, right now, you have the better argument.
TOM: Because I’m right!
JO: Because you’re the better arguer – it’s not the same.