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Manners and Argument

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Oldsalt asks here,

Perhaps the question to ask is: In the context of a debate or discussion, do manners serve a purpose beyond personal comportment and showing a basic respect for one's fellows? If so, what purpose(s) do manners serve? Should there be a limit to mannerly behavior? Yes or no, why?

What do good manners entail?

I thought this was an interesting question that deserved a separate thread. If anyone has any ideas, I'd appreciate reading about them. Manners are "1) a characteristic or customary mode of acting; 2) social conduct or rules of conduct as shown in the prevalent customs; 3) characteristic or distinctive bearing, air, or deportment" (Merriam Webster Online dictionary).

During an argument, sometimes things get heated and maintaining one's manners can be trying. I think it is important to maintain good manners because it demonstrates a few important points. Manners show confidence in one's argument, knowledge of the subject matter and an ability to transfer that knowledge to others. Most importantly, I think maintaining good manners during an argument is good for one's communication and is a way to keep one's mind clear and focused on the issues without letting emotion get control of you during a discussion.

Of course this presupposes that one has developed good manners during one's normal every day activities in other areas of one's life.

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One meaning of manners, is civilized behaviour. By civilized, I mean that people decide that it is much more pleasant to be with one another, if certain codes of behaviour are followed. IOW, reason, not feelings determine behaviour.

These can range from table manners, not doing unpleasant things in public, to just plain courtesy such as smiling and saying 'thank you'. In discourse, manners would (generally) entail refraining from insulting or belittling. Here is where tact comes in, (and that has never been a strong point of mine, although there has been an improvement through the years.)

In argument, bad manners are a "road block" to resolution, assuming there is a goal in the argument. The trap we often get caught up in, is the blurring of criticizing the argument and the person putting up that argument ---- "After all, anyone who thinks like you do, must be --------"

Quite frankly, I think we need to be taught manners in everything we do, including argument.

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Quite frankly, I think we need to be taught manners in everything we do, including argument.

But in what way is manners important to argument?

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In discourse, manners would (generally) entail refraining from insulting or belittling. Here is where tact comes in, (and that has never been a strong point of mine, although there has been an improvement through the years.)

In argument, bad manners are a "road block" to resolution, assuming there is a goal in the argument. The trap we often get caught up in, is the blurring of criticizing the argument and the person putting up that argument ---- "After all, anyone who thinks like you do, must be --------"

Is it indeed "manners" (ie simply 'social custom' etc) or is it the requirements of logic and the stringent demands of moral judgment which properly restrict insults or other forms of 'belittlement'?

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In discourse, manners would (generally) entail refraining from insulting or belittling. Here is where tact comes in, (and that has never been a strong point of mine, although there has been an improvement through the years.)

In argument, bad manners are a "road block" to resolution, assuming there is a goal in the argument. The trap we often get caught up in, is the blurring of criticizing the argument and the person putting up that argument ---- "After all, anyone who thinks like you do, must be --------"

Is it indeed "manners" (ie simply 'social custom' etc) or is it the requirements of logic and the stringent demands of moral judgment which properly restrict insults or other forms of 'belittlement'?

Manners came about as a logical requirement, so there should be no necessary conflict between custom and logic. (I realize that not all manners are logical, but that is another subject).

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It seems like the answer to this question should lie with the goal behind having an argument.

Usually when I am arguing with someone it is because I want to convince them of something. It is unlikely I am going to convince someone in the process of offending them. With that goal in mind I usually choose to mind my manners, because it seems like as soon as social graces break down so does the conversation.

If you do care about convincing the person you are arguing with of something you are presenting you have the responsibility of showing them that there is something in it for them. If you become rude they might decide that you are not worth dealing or that there is no value in continuing the debate and then your ultimate goal - of convincing them - will be thwarted when they end the conversation.

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Let's consider an example. Two people are engaged in a discussion. One says, "this is a complex issue and the truth can be arrived at by analyzing the premises and whether they correspond to reality." The other responds, "of course that is true, you idiot. You must be ignorant to think that I don't understand that."

The statements of each could be true. But what is the difference between them in terms of how the manners of each affects the argument?

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Is it indeed "manners" (ie simply 'social custom' etc) or is it the requirements of logic and the stringent demands of moral judgment which properly restrict insults or other forms of 'belittlement'?
Manners came about as a logical requirement, so there should be no necessary conflict between custom and logic. (I realize that not all manners are logical, but that is another subject).
It was not my intent to suggest that there was necessarily a conflict between custom and logic. Only that logic - and justice in moral judgment - were properly the source of what has been identified here as "manners" in discourse. As such, they would be why 'manners are important to argument'.

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It seems like the answer to this question should lie with the goal behind having an argument.

Usually when I am arguing with someone it is because I want to convince them of something. It is unlikely I am going to convince someone in the process of offending them. With that goal in mind I usually choose to mind my manners, because it seems like as soon as social graces break down so does the conversation.

If you do care about convincing the person you are arguing with of something you are presenting you have the responsibility of showing them that there is something in it for them. If you become rude they might decide that you are not worth dealing or that there is no value in continuing the debate and then your ultimate goal - of convincing them - will be thwarted when they end the conversation.

Interesting point. But what values do you seek when you engage in an argument or discussion, besides trying to convince someone to your point of view? Why do you want to convince them? How would those values be threatened by displaying bad manners?

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One says, "this is a complex issue and the truth can be arrived at by analyzing the premises and whether they correspond to reality." The other responds, "of course that is true, you idiot. You must be ignorant to think that I don't understand that."

...But what is the difference between them in terms of how the manners of each affects the argument?

The difference? One is the statement of a premise. The other is name calling. If one seeks to have a logical conversation, is the latter evidence that such is currently possible?

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Is it indeed "manners" (ie simply 'social custom' etc) or is it the requirements of logic and the stringent demands of moral judgment which properly restrict insults or other forms of 'belittlement'?
Manners came about as a logical requirement, so there should be no necessary conflict between custom and logic. (I realize that not all manners are logical, but that is another subject).
It was not my intent to suggest that there was necessarily a conflict between custom and logic. Only that logic - and justice in moral judgment - were properly the source of what has been identified here as "manners" in discourse. As such, they would be why 'manners are important to argument'.

This is getting to an issue that I think addresses what I had in mind when I started this thread. Could you elaborate on why manners are important to justice and moral judgment? To use the "Vulcan" comparison, why not just focus on content and not style, the logic of the argument and not whether someone is laughing at you while arguing? Why be offended if truth is your goal?

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One says, "this is a complex issue and the truth can be arrived at by analyzing the premises and whether they correspond to reality." The other responds, "of course that is true, you idiot. You must be ignorant to think that I don't understand that."

...But what is the difference between them in terms of how the manners of each affects the argument?

The difference? One is the statement of a premise. The other is name calling. If one seeks to have a logical conversation, is the latter evidence that such is currently possible?

But is not the name calling apart from the argument? The second person admits that the first statement is true. His second sentence seems to challenge an assumption of the first person.

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Paul, I think the reasons you state (below) speak to why manners are important in argument.

Manners show confidence in one's argument, knowledge of the subject matter and an ability to transfer that knowledge to others. Most importantly, I think maintaining good manners during an argument is good for one's communication and is a way to keep one's mind clear and focused on the issues without letting emotion get control of you during a discussion.

Another thought is that the concepts of "deportment" or "comportment" are used in various definitions. To me, this speaks to the behavioral aspect of an argument. For instance, call to mind two people having a face-to-face discussion that becomes an argument. As someone becomes more emotional, you can see the change in their demeanor and movements, even if basically under control. As an example, think of a heated argument between a baseball coach and umpire. Now consider the image of the person who is not under control, either because his realizes his knowledge is lacking or he loses it in a state of emotional upheaval. Such a persons physical movements can actually become threatening.

The loss of rationality in an argument is manifest behaviorally, metaphysically, in terms threat of potential physical force. Maintaining manners in an argument means to keep the discussion at the level of reason and assume a confident but non-threatening position or demeanor. As you point out, confidence in the rightness of one's ideas does not manifest in threatening actions toward others.

Obviously direct physical force is not the primary issue in online arguments. But through one's words, it is still possible to assume a position and demeanor of threat. And, there can be the real threat of public character assasination, or at least the attempt to do it.

So, from my perspective, manners in argument are the behavioral manifestation of a commitment to reason and rationality. They remove threat from debate.

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But what values do you seek when you engage in an argument or discussion, besides trying to convince someone to your point of view? Why do you want to convince them?
There are as many concrete reasons for seeking to convince others that one has identified reality correctly as there are things one can value.
How would those values be threatened by displaying bad manners?
Failure to convince and thus failure to achieve whatever value one sought in the attempt to convince.

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Could you elaborate on why manners are important to justice and moral judgment? To use the "Vulcan" comparison, why not just focus on content and not style, the logic of the argument and not whether someone is laughing at you while arguing? Why be offended if truth is your goal?
"Style" as you identify it is the methodology of discourse. And methodology is the means by which conclusions are derived. If methodology is wrong, then the conclusion cannot be identified as valid - as true or false.

You present an example where someone is laughing at you. Laughter is supposed to be an identification of something, is it not? On what logical or just basis does one dismiss this identification?

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But is not the name calling apart from the argument?
Since it has been included in the discourse, by what standard do you suggest it not be regarded as part of that discourse? In other words, on what basis should one ignore such claims by another? Would ignoring such claims - ie pretending they had not been uttered and treating the person as if they had not been uttered - be an example of justice towards that other person?

(Of course name calling is apart from the argument, since name calling is not a form of logical argumentation. It addresses the speaker, not the argument he presents. That is why it is identified as a logical fallacy.)

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Paul, I think the reasons you state (below) speak to why manners are important in argument.
Manners show confidence in one's argument, knowledge of the subject matter and an ability to transfer that knowledge to others. Most importantly, I think maintaining good manners during an argument is good for one's communication and is a way to keep one's mind clear and focused on the issues without letting emotion get control of you during a discussion.

Another thought is that the concepts of "deportment" or "comportment" are used in various definitions. To me, this speaks to the behavioral aspect of an argument. For instance, call to mind two people having a face-to-face discussion that becomes an argument. As someone becomes more emotional, you can see the change in their demeanor and movements, even if basically under control. As an example, think of a heated argument between a baseball coach and umpire. Now consider the image of the person who is not under control, either because his realizes his knowledge is lacking or he loses it in a state of emotional upheaval. Such a persons physical movements can actually become threatening.

The loss of rationality in an argument is manifest behaviorally, metaphysically, in terms threat of potential physical force. Maintaining manners in an argument means to keep the discussion at the level of reason and assume a confident but non-threatening position or demeanor. As you point out, confidence in the rightness of one's ideas does not manifest in threatening actions toward others.

Obviously direct physical force is not the primary issue in online arguments. But through one's words, it is still possible to assume a position and demeanor of threat. And, there can be the real threat of public character assasination, or at least the attempt to do it.

So, from my perspective, manners in argument are the behavioral manifestation of a commitment to reason and rationality. They remove threat from debate.

I think manners remove threat from more than just debate. When the "Free Speech" movement began, it was ostensibly about the freedom of college students to hold rallies on campus to speak about political issues. It very quickly morphed into a movement for the freedom to mouth dirty words like 5 year old. From there we were soon being told that good manners were the mark of phonies, used to mask their real feelings, thoughts, and intentions. Violence, usually mob violence, soon followed, with various justifications given.

The above is a very general statement, I know. But I have often thought of the damage done when those "fake manners" left the scene, replaced by raw human emotion--all in the name of honesty, peace and love. The dropping of manners is just one more manifestation of what happened in those years, but I think it is one that hasn't been given enough attention. Look at the destruction of civil debate in politics alone that has occurred. These days, we don't hear the issued discussed, we hear moral judgments made in the crudest fashion, spit like venom on and by every opponent.

I won't even go into what happened when the feminist movement married itself to the notion that manners were a form of male oppression. One story I either read or heard about sums up my own thinking about how I comport myself involved a man holding a door open for a young woman. For his efforts, he was lectured about the woman's ability to open her own doors, to which he answered: "I did not open the door for you because I think you are a lady. I did it because I am a gentleman."

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From there we were soon being told that good manners were the mark of phonies, used to mask their real feelings, thoughts, and intentions.

Manners can be used as a place for cowards to hide. Sometimes it's not polite to tell the truth, but that doesn't imply that it shouldn't be told.

"Manners", like "toleration", is not a virtue. Real virtues set the context for manners and determine whether they are in fact called for in a given situation.

But I have often thought of the damage done when those "fake manners" left the scene, replaced by raw human emotion--all in the name of honesty, peace and love.

There are three possible positions here: intrinsicism, subjectivism, and Objectivism. Intrinsicism declares that manners are intrinsically good and always appropriate; subjectivism is the false alternative you have focussed on. We all know what the third option is.

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Perhaps the question to ask is: In the context of a debate or discussion, do manners serve a purpose beyond personal comportment and showing a basic respect for one's fellows? If so, what purpose(s) do manners serve? Should there be a limit to mannerly behavior? Yes or no, why?

What do good manners entail?

Here is a principle of Ayn Rand's so applicable to the context of a debate or discussion that I would like to add it to THE FORUM Guidelines.

In regard to the question of how you should deal with people who disagree with you, I can only suggest the following general principle: you do not have to argue with people who do not care to discuss an issue; it is sufficient simply to state that you do not agree with them. If they insist on knowing your viewpoint, they cannot accuse you of being rude—provided, of course, that you present your viewpoint clearly, calmly and politely. The way to do this is to discuss the subject, without personal remarks or personal accusations. [emphasis added]

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Manners can be used as a place for cowards to hide.
I do not believe the fact that "manners" can be constructed in opposition to rationality rather than in accord with them is in dispute here.

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In regard to the question of how you should deal with people who disagree with you, I can only suggest the following general principle: you do not have to argue with people who do not care to discuss an issue; it is sufficient simply to state that you do not agree with them. If they insist on knowing your viewpoint, they cannot accuse you of being rude—provided, of course, that you present your viewpoint clearly, calmly and politely. The way to do this is to discuss the subject, without personal remarks or personal accusations. [emphasis added]
I believe confusion sometimes arises as to what is properly considered "the subject" and what is properly considered "personal remarks".

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But what values do you seek when you engage in an argument or discussion, besides trying to convince someone to your point of view?

I often engage in argument with people I have no hope of convincing in order to clarify the issues or prove my case to third parties who are watching and may be persuaded by my argument. Being polite and sticking to my subject help me win them over.

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Manners can be used as a place for cowards to hide.
I do not believe the fact that "manners" can be constructed in opposition to rationality rather than in accord with them is in dispute here.

Are you saying that my pointing out the contextual nature of manners is off-topic? If not then I don't see your point.

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But is not the name calling apart from the argument?
Since it has been included in the discourse, by what standard do you suggest it not be regarded as part of that discourse? In other words, on what basis should one ignore such claims by another? Would ignoring such claims - ie pretending they had not been uttered and treating the person as if they had not been uttered - be an example of justice towards that other person?

In most situations, yes!

Injecting personal issues into a factual debate is a common tactic used by trolls and by irrational people to derail an argument they are losing. They do it to change the subject from the substantive issues to personal ones in order to evade the substantive issues. A rational debater needs to be aware of what is going on and how to counter it effectively.

What I do is not pretend that inappropriate remarks had not been uttered, but ignore them as unimportant. Even if I mention them, I do so dismissively and get right back to the subject. For instance, I may reply to a long, ranting diatribe filled with personal insults by saying "Regardless of what you think of me, my position on the subject is true because ..." I don't have to comment on the insults, because rational people will read them and, without any help from me, conclude that anyone who carries on like that is a schmuck.

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