As her face turned red and her speech became choppy, I realized that I was making her angry. I was embarrassing her. Torturing her. Making fun of her. The thing is, though, I wasn’t doing any of those things (at least not on purpose). I was merely objecting to her viewpoint. Offering my reasoning of why her view is incorrect.
I may as well have been some demon, sent from the depths of hell to make her doubt her entire life. That’s probably what it seemed like to her at the time.
The interesting thing is that all of us have most likely encountered this person at one point in our life. That person willing to shatter our glass views with their rock of hatred. It’s later we realize they were just talking to us.
An Argument With No Argument
When most hear the word “argument,” they think of some context involving a fight. They think of mom and dad quarreling over money problems. In reality an argument is merely an attempt to persuade someone of some viewpoint through the use of reasoning.
One of the first hurdles a potential academic must get over is to move from the former view of an “argument” to the latter. Except it’s not really a hurdle, its a damn castle wall, complete with moat and some archers just in case you escape the crocodiles.
The end result is an argument that actually focuses on the reasoning involved and not the feelings being hurt. That is when the material is thoroughly studied.
Keep A Little Bit Of Fire
Some people may claim that to erase this emotional response to someone objecting to your account is irresponsible. “You will merely become passive in the conversation,” they will say, and they do have a point. The key is to not erase it completely. You will need a little bit of emotion, of fire, to really be in the mood to back your viewpoint with enough vigor to give it a good showing.
But please refrain from going overboard. Think of a suave, collected, and cool Don Draper arguing for his point and you will get the drift.
Keeping a clear head in this way allows you to overcome those emotions of childhood and pay attention to the problem at hand, giving you a chance to cultivate key virtues that any person with ambitions to be an intellectual will want to have.
To Get Strong, Fight Someone Stronger
To understand what it takes to be a competing leader for a field of study, look at those in those positions. One of the things you will notice about them is that they surround themselves with other experts in the field. It’s not just one person running the show. It is a collaboration of multiple experts having many discussions on tough subjects.
Most likely you are not in a place with such a plethora of experts to chat with. You are probably around others, like yourself, who have a limited knowledge of the field. So your discussions reflect this fact.
While this is not a bad thing, habits that may hinder later growth can sprout without notice. Take for instance a case where you have found yourself leading the pack in your group. You are able to take care of your own arguments and shoot down others with ease. You are feeling pretty good about yourself.
Well, the truth is, you may only be able to do so because your colleagues are producing poor viewpoints of stronger arguments. Their argument, in essence, becomes a caricature of the actual argument, espoused by a particular expert.
What ends up happening is that you cultivate a habit of not paying true attention to these arguments because the way they are expressed put a mask on the argument itself.
A key academic virtue that needs to be attained is to frame your opponent’s argument in its strongest possible form. This means being aware of works in the field that pertain to that argument.
While this puts more pressure on you, it also creates an environment where you can draw from various experts. Instead of some pseudo-intellectual discussion you have a truly wholesome collaboration.
Certainty Is Overrated
Growing up, we are taught an abundance of facts relating to various fields of study. These facts are thrown at us in textbooks. We are given bolded wording with the “true” definition behind it. While this is an okay style of learning, it sets us up to think that every academic pursuit fits this mold.
Reality is that very few fields are actually this way. Philosophy is aware of this problem outright, while others seem to try to avoid it. I had the pleasure of attending a business class during a day where the topic of study was business ethics. The teacher began throwing around philosophically loaded words as if they had concrete definitions and to my dismay, basically threw out the entire field of ethics by stating ethics were relative with no reasoning behind it at all.
It may be that relativism is true, but the matter is hardly settled enough to act like it is. This is a dangerous habit to have: To think that the object of education is certainty.
Truly, the academic knows that things are hardly ever certain. Studies bring new evidence to light. Experiments show large discrepancies within theories. This is how progress is possible.
To work with this in mind is to be ready to take on a new challenge when that challenge seems worth it when it comes to progression.
These Are Just The Basics
To summarize, there are three main virtues a person should have if they are wanting to grow within their field.
* The ability to see an argument as something not involving a yelling match, but as an intellectual pursuit.
* The awareness to to understand when a stronger form of someone’s argument exists, and to take on that argument.
* The courage to realize that certainty is not all it’s cracked up to be and that some disputes may be more gray than black and white.
Keeping these three basic virtues in mind will allow you to build other important virtues when it comes to rigorous study.