Discover more from Less Foolish
Arguments vs. Opinions
Live Journaling w/ Peter Limberg. Daily @ 8:00 AM ET. Patreon event. 90 mins.
Social Meditation: Mini-Practicum w/ Vince Horn and the Buddhist Geeks. May 18th, and 25th @ 6:00 PM ET. RSVP here. 60 mins.
Newly posted event:
Where are the Elders? w/ Stephen Jenkinson. June 8th @ 12:00 PM ET. RSVP here. 60 mins.
An event to get excited about:
The Egregore in the Room w/ Ray Doraisamy. May 20th @ 6:00 PM ET. RSVP here.
When we look at how we act from the eyes of a group instead of the eyes of one person, some of the ways we act are less surprising. We call groups that have strong wants an 'egregore'. Ray Doraisamy visits The Stoa this Thursday to discuss the egregore in us.
May 17th, 2021
I launched a ‘Live Journaling’ experiment for the duration of the ‘Becoming a Live Player’ course at Rebel Wisdom. It is basically me jumping on a Zoom call with other Stoans, and we journal together in silence for 90 mins. This is where I am writing now.
The idea is to attempt to do this every day until the end of June, which is when the course ends. I might not post all of my journals while doing this, but I might post all of them while doing this, hence I might be publishing my journals daily once again. If you do not want to be bombarded with daily journals from a daemonic Stoic, perhaps it is best to unsubscribe now.
I started writing here on March 23rd of last year and then wrote for 121 days in a row, which was my longest journaling streak. There was a certain beauty to that, as there is a beauty to consistency. It also felt risky in a sense, putting stuff out there with that much consistency, because of the fear that it will get boring, and that people will stop reading.
That is fine though. I am not writing here to be interesting, or to be likable, nor do I need to be dropping wisdom bombs like a meta boss every day. Stoically speaking, those are preferred indifferents. When facilitating a course on live players, you really need to embody being a live player, or at least sincerely attempt to. Journaling for me is one of my practices for sincerely attempting this.
In the Zoom call I am in right now, I opened the space by incoherently talking about some guidelines I use while writing here. I had a good workout and cold shower this morning before jumping on, but I had not yet had my espresso, so words did not know how to effectively leave my mouth. So let me attempt to express these guidelines again…
Do not try to accomplish anything.
Do not try to be a good writer, whatever the fuck that means.
Allow yourself to delete the entry, and be cool if it is never seen by anyone.
Settle into what is most ‘alive’ or ‘existentially salient’ and allow your words to start from there.
Write to yourself (‘ta eis heauton’) while attempting to make it beautiful for others to read.
The last one is probably the hardest one to do. That is the knife’s edge. That is where the egoic temptations await and it is where virtue is most needed. I do not always write on the edge of the knife, but the daemon seems to come and play when I attempt to do so.
There is an art in doing this kind of writing, and I am discovering this art while doing it. Discernment is needed, and not everything is prudent to write about. Sometimes it is best to privately journal, and delete it afterward. To me this is about philosophizing with oneself, with all three epistemics (objective, intersubjective, and intrasubjective) in the game.
Philosophizing with oneself, at least in the way I understand it, is about engaging in prudence, or phronesis. This is the first of the cardinal virtues, and it is known as the mother of all virtues. In his last session at The Stoa, Evan McMullen made the case for more embodiment practices to engage in phronesis, and suggested that less syllogism and critical thinking is needed, at least for the type of people who find their way to The Stoa.
I agree (and so would Epictetus) that embodiment is critical for living one’s philosophy, but I do sense it is good to have the basics at hand with good reasoning, and to be on guard for overextending the importance of embodiment type practices. I do notice that some really intelligent people, even those who are plugged into the sensemaking web, are lacking the basics of reasoning comprehension.
I was talking to a conversational partner in my practice, and he wanted to get better at argumentation, and I recommended Walter Sinnot-Armstrong’s book and free course. I would also recommend the work from Robert Talisse and Scott Aikin. Walter, Robert, and Scott are all academic philosophers whom I spoke to before, and I would say they are the best in the reasoning game.
Academic philosophers talking about the basics of how to reason is not that sexy though. I am optimistic that learning about the basics can be sexy, perhaps if we sprinkle in some punk rock and anchor the starting point of the inquiry to what is most alive.
Some basic reasoning models might be helpful to know as well, and maybe some kind of online course on reasoning, as a prerequisite to attend certain sessions at The Stoa, might be needed. Even basic terminologies can be super helpful, like getting a sense of the difference between an argument versus an opinion.
I just went to get my philosophy textbook from University that originally introduced me to argumentation. It was called ‘A Practical Study of Argument’ and it was written by Trudy Govier. Flipping through it now, it looks pretty solid still. Here is how Trudy defines an argument …
An argument is a set of claims in which one or more of the claims, the premises, are put forward so as to offer reasons for another claim, the conclusion.
She then defines an opinion as …
An opinion is a belief, often held with a rather low degree of confidence. Usually when we hold opinions, we are aware that they are our opinions in the sense that we cannot fully defend them by citing reasons or evidence in support.
She goes on to say: Some opinions are mere opinions, whereas other opinions are based on evidence and careful thinking. Most people have opinions on many things that are above their pay grade, and as the saying goes from Simone Elkeles: Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one but they think each other's stink.
Doing philosophy in the right way allows you to differentiate an opinion from an argument, in others and in yourself. This is the heart of the examined life. You want to sense where you have a mere opinion on something, and then see if there is an actual argument to be had there. That is scary though, because your opinion might change, and it probably will.
I would also add that just because you have an argument ready to be articulated does not automatically mean that you are living the examined life. You can easily download arguments, and memorize them. This is the apologetic way of reasoning. This is also what Jordan Hall calls simulated thinking.
In a private journal entry yesterday, I was sensemaking the vaccine battlefront of the culture war, mapping out a taxonomy of the different positions that currently exist (vax evangelist, vax advocate, vax hesitant, vax critic, vax conspiracist, etc.). My encounters with most people who have these positions indicate a trend, wherein if you engage in basic reasonable inquiry, many will just stumble. It will be clear that they have mere opinions and not arguments, or that their arguments are just downloaded from wherever they are outsourcing their sensemaking and choicemaking to.
It would be good to have a sacred space to examine one’s opinions and transmute them into arguments, but the clearnet (which is where the ‘spectacle’ resides) is usually not the best place for that. The clearnet incentive structure will just suck you into culture war mode, and the ‘dialectical fallacy’ comes online hard in the culture war, which we wrote about in the anti-debate piece for Emerge:
This is what philosophers Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse call the dialectical fallacy: Participants gesture to each other that they are interested in convincing each other, but their real aim is to signal, score points, and win with their tribe.
I am pretty good at second-person epistemics (intersubjective) given my Dale Carnegie training and explorations in intersubjective modalities like Circling. I am also decent at first-person epistemics (intrasubjective), thanks to my acting background, and the ridiculous amounts of psychotherapeutic modalities I’ve engaged in.
Both of these are super useful in understanding the culture war, but I sense it is my third-person epistemics (objective) that affords the finishing touches. I am no slouch in the reasoning department, and this ability allows me to map out others' reasoning well, which helps me holistically grok all the reality tunnels zipping around in the noosphere.
Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy is a great book. I should invite these guys onto The Stoa. It maps out the best arguments in western philosophy, in a premises leading to a conclusion sort of way. I’ll pull a random example. Here is their take on Descartes’ Arguments for the Mind–Body Distinction …
P1. My body has the property of being such that it is divisible, capable of being divided into like self-subsistent parts that are also component physical bodies (bodily divisibility).
P2. My mind does not have the property of being such that it is divisible in the comparable sense as that above into self-subsistent parts that are also component minds (mental indivisibility).
C1. My mind ≠ my body (Leibniz’ Law, P1, P2).
P3. Only entities constituted by like parts are capable of being destroyed (concept of destructibility).
C2. My mind, unlike my body, is indestructible; from which it further follows that the mind or soul, unlike the body, as religion teaches as an article of faith, is immortal (P2, C1, P3)
While I do not particularly care for this argument, we can reasonably discuss if it is valid or invalid, sound or unsound, strong or weak, cogent or uncogent. All of these mean different things, and it would be good to tease out these different things. The thing is though, most people do not know the difference between these things, moreover they do not have any argumentative structure like the one listed above for the opinions they currently hold.
This is partly the reason I Stoically remain laconic when things get too galaxy brain, lots of shit is above my paygrade, and not within my circle of competence. I may have asshole-like opinions on the subject, but I do not have good arguments for most things, so it is wise for me to simply shut the fuck up.
That being said, I would also argue that you can have an opinion without an argument and land closer to the truth than somebody who has many well-examined arguments. I do not think it is wise to underestimate the sophistication of intuitive intelligence, some people’s embodied system 1 knowing is way more spot on than others' disembodied system 2 knowing.
I sense it is super important to develop a modality that exercises ‘embodied reasoning,’ which is something that Evan and I have been talking about. As far as I know, I do not see anybody doing this. It would be wonderful to have some kind of course that allows one to know how to reason well, but from an embodied place, so we can all practice the wisdom stated in the quote that I will never get tired of saying:
Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it.
Support The Stoa @ patreon.com/the_stoa
Receive coaching from Peter and others @ thestoa.ca/coaches