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Johnston: Political debate like two walruses fighting

Summarised by Centrist

In “Palaeolithic walruses in the age of reason”, Dr Michael Johnston says political debate is akin to male walruses fighting over a patch of beach. 

He says that a sound argument is built from defined premises, using evidence and logic, to reach a valid conclusion. 

“But people are actually more inclined to work backwards, cherry-picking evidence to support a preferred position,” he writes. 

He cites French psychologist Hugo Mercier’s “argumentative theory of reasoning”. He writes that according to Mercier, humans developed the capacity to reason, not to do so individually, but so that we can argue with one another.

For argumentative reasoning to work, the parties must engage with open minds. When people are just trying to win an argument, the error-correcting properties of argumentative reasoning don’t help them.

Johnston says the recent leaders’ debate did not have the kind of argument that produces sound conclusions because the good-faith element was just not there. 

Read more over at the NZ Initiative

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