When someone assert some statement in a debate, I often try to test the validity of the statement by using examples that apply to that statement. For instance, in some polemic theme, someone asserted "If something gets that kind of rejection, it's because it is good and important". I don't agree with that statement so I responded back "Other things that cause even more rejection than X are pedophile, violations, murder... Are you saying pedophile is good and important?". But then he replies back "How can you compare pedophile with X?". Of course, I'm not trying to compare pedophile with X, I'm just trying to figure out the validity of their own statement, and pedophile or murder just would demonstrate that the statement is false, nothing else.

My main problem is that this is not an isolated issue, I face this kind of responses too often, people assert something, I try to demonstrate if the statement is false by using (often radical because they are usually more obvious) examples that apply to the statement, and then they just try to avoid debate by saying that they are not comparable, often trying to make it as a silly comparison. I think my way of proving is perfectly right, but I'd like to make it clear to my opponent, by using examples I don't want to make a comparison, just to test the statement. How could I keep using this kind of demostrations without giving the impression I'm trying to establish a comparison?

  • 1
    We can descrive your move as an attempt to uncover examples of Faulty generalization. The statement "If something gets that kind of rejection, it's because it is good and important" is an instance of the (faulty) "general law": "Everything that gets that kind of rejection, is good and important". From a logical point of view a falsifying instance is enough to how that a general statement is false. Jun 18 at 12:57
  • Often people don't speak literally, so interpreting the "if" statement as being equivalent to "all things that are rejected like that are good and important" may be a kind of inadvertent straw man. It might be better to start with a question about how general the statement was really meant to be, like "surely you don't mean that all things rejected like that are good and important?" and that either forces them to come up with additional arguments about features of the particular case they're discussing, or if they really do affirm the "all" statement you can bring in the counter-example.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 18 at 14:21
  • @Hypnosifl You are right, but even if they don't mean "all things" and it's me being too literal, my problem still remains, they claim I'm comparing things when I'm not. I want to approach this so the opponent realize the idea I'm trying to communicate: "I'm testing your premise, I'm not even saying if I agree with what you stand by or against, I'm just saying I disagree with the reasons or the arguments you are using to stand by or against". I might even think that X is good and important too.
    – LesPaul
    Jun 18 at 15:46
  • But I think in most cases where people object to an example that was intended to test the premise, it's usually because the premise was informally stated and they can claim that they weren't actually arguing for the precise premise the example is intended to refute. So I think to make clear why one is bringing up some potentially emotionally inflammatory example, it's useful to first ask them explicitly about whether they're arguing for some fully general premise that seems implicit in their stated reasons.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 18 at 18:10
  • And I think it's good to keep in mind that ordinary argument often doesn't involve fully general premises, but rather premises more like "if something gets that kind of rejection and is sufficiently analogous to the case we're discussing, it must be good and important." This is vaguer and allows for more possibility of no true scotsmen arguments, but it seems to be how people tend to think (it has some resemblance to the notion of a nearest possible world in counterfactual arguments).
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 18 at 18:13

Yes, I notice this happens all the time online. The problem is people don't understand the purpose of "extreme" "simple" examples. The point is to "test the principle" in question, rather than make comparisons. But whether or not you're making a comparison is irrelevant to the argument.

One thing I noticed... you ended your argument with a question to your opponent, "Are you saying pedophilia is good and important?". The problem here is that you have to wait for the opponent to give an answer for you to complete the argument. Your opponent has a chance to distract from the issue at hand. My suggestion is for you to make the complete argument beforehand:

  1. You justify X using principle Y.
  2. If principle Y is true then pedophilia is good and important.
  3. Pedophilia is not good and important, and therefore principle Y is false.
  4. Since principle Y is false, your justification for X using principle Y is invalid.

Now, you've completed the argument. Now it's slightly clearer that you're just using 'pedophilia' as a 'middle point' to disprove a principle. Your opponent can still say, "you're comparing X to pedophilia" but I think it's more difficult to do so now. You can present the finished argument and ask your opponent where the argument fails.

If he/she still insists on the "comparison" issue, tell your opponent it doesn't matter if you're making a comparison or not. If the argument is invalid, where is it invalid? If the opponent still persists with the "comparison" point and refuses to engage the argument, just let it go. Pointless at that stage.

  • 3
    About why it happens... I feel that people in general have lost the congitive ability to follow complex arguments, they do not know what does it mean to deduce something. They lack of a meta-logic level. I.e. I see your solution as likely doomed to fail too. It is too long. The reaction IMHO underlines just the fact that people nowadays are more prone to be convinced by emotive hits than deductions. Byproduct of decades of pervasive marketing strategies applied to every aspect of our society.
    – MphLee
    Jun 18 at 19:02

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