Debate Pro Tip: Call Out Your Own Fallacies

Circular reasoning. Strawmen. Appeals to nature. The “No True Scotsman.” Fallacies like these are easy for the casually-trained logician to spot in others, and they’re easy to pull out and critique in others.

But what should you do if you make a fallacious argument when debating someone?

Your fallacy will come, and it will seem convenient to gloss them over. But don’t. There are a few important reasons you should be calling out your own fallacies as soon as you catch them:

1) Debating is ideally a form of collaboration, not competition. If you want to have a productive dialogue with someone and hope to find truth, you need to start with a ground of trust, vulnerability, and honesty. If you are willing to admit when you make a mistake in reasoning, the person with whom you are arguing will also feel safe to correct their own reasoning. Remember: separate corrections in reasoning from corrections in positions – that way people feel less pressure to hold on to their mistakes.

2) Quick course correction will be in your favor as you build your argument out further. You don’t want to build a scaffolding of a long, serious debate on a structurally-unsound foundation. Correcting yourself is a lot cheaper than having your whole credibility destroyed when someone else corrects you.

3) Correcting yourself is actually a sort of a debate power move (reason #1 aside). By showing the confidence to correct your poor argument, you transcend that poor argument. You show that you have a superior grasp of logic that allows you to correct even yourself. You also show that you have a multiplicity of reasons to believe what you believe – you aren’t tied to just this one.

Happy debating!


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James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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