When discussing opinions with friends, I often resort to making extreme scenarios out of their opinions in an attempt to investigate the limits within which their statements hold true (to them). However, most people are not happy with extreme examples and discard them right away.
Now I'm trying to better understand whether there is something fundamentally wrong in my approach. Can somebody explain why stretching arguments in order to uncover their subjectivity is wrong? If it is not wrong, then is there a name for this technique/method? I just read the term "Reductio ad absurdum", but, in my case, I am not trying to disprove a statement, merely investigate the specifics of an established opinion.
Here is a hypothetical dialog:
- Friend: We ought to pay (health-care) for people who get sick from smoking.
- Me: Should we also pay for people who have accidents doing drag racing?
- Friend: Obviously, no.
- Me: How about (other) people who had accidents because of driving an old car with aged tires?
Here's another example:
- Friend: If you take a photo of my face, it belongs to me because the face is mine.
- Me: How about a realistic sketch of your face?
- Friend: That, too, belongs to me, because it is still my face.
- Me: What if I wrote a textual description of your face, "He has big eyes shaped like almonds, etc." Would this description also belong to you?
- Friend: No, not this one.
- Me: What if I wrote a very detailed and precise text?
- Friend: Still, no. It wouldn't belong to me.
- Me: What if I noted numeric proportions on a piece of paper (for example, "the eyes are 3 cm apart and the irises' radii are 8 mm each") and then went home and built a sketch of the face from the description and numbers. Would this new sketch belong to you?
- Friend: ...
- Me: What if I made a list of the local color value for 16 million points inside and around your face (using my 16 megapixels digital camera)? Would this "list" belong to me or you?
- Friend: No, that is a photograph. That would belong to me.
Through my stretched analogies I expect my friend to either:
Acknowledge that he or she subjectively draws the line on what is acceptable. From there the discussion focuses on less extreme examples onto pinpointing that tipping point/zone and debating on why the boundaries are where they are.
discard my example as dissimilar and explain why it doesn't relate to his or her original statement. From there I focus on defining a better (extreme) example.