|SIOUX CITY, IA - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidates U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) (L), gets into a heated exchange with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)|
Not the Real Truth
In last Wednesday's post we looked at the question "Would You Rather Hear the Truth or Flattery?". The consensus, and I don't know if it was the real truth or not, was that we would in most cases rather hear the truth. The context of the question primarily dealt with subjective truth, which more appropriately should probably be referred to as opinion or preference.
Although evaluation or criticism may incorporate some elements of fact and truth, an opinion or preference may be true to the beholder, but it may not be universally true or even a widely held truth. Since there are so many variables in this type of judgement, subjective truth would almost always be an invalid evidence to use as a debate strategy. For this reason I'll let this introduction suffice in laying aside any considerations of subjective truth. Some future debate day topics will certainly include topics such as "favorites" but there is probably little reason to establish a rigid definition of subjective truth.
What Is The Truth?
For the purpose of attempting to resolve or at least have greater understanding of controversy we would hope to uncover the truth with a fact based approach as mentioned in the list from my previous post. Am I going to tell you in totality what truth is and go into the entirety of theories about truth and how to uncover the truth? No way--unless you want to read a lot of text about the topic and I don't intend to write this at present. There are books written on the topic. If you're interested in reading a fairly comprehensive summary you can check out the overview presented at Wikipedia. Let's face it, the concept of "truth" is itself a controversy.
Some Basic Considerations
I for one, and I would hope most intelligent people considering a controversial issue, believe that the fact based argument is the most effective one to use in a general debate. Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with the fact based argument:
1) Consider the source--Is the argument being presented by a trustworthy source? Is your own personal bias concerning that source skewing what you believe about what you hear or read?
2) Consider the source the presenter is using-- Are they using a credible source or is their source prejudiced toward some particular agenda? Data from something like the census or an unbiased scholarly source can probably be trusted to a certain extent whereas the internet or mainstream media could be suspect.
3) Facts can be misrepresented to work in the favor of the argument or against the other side.
4) Statistics can be very useful, but they can also lie depending on how they have been collected or processed. If alternate statistical data is available it might be wise to make some comparisons.
5) Polls can provide some great information, but they can also be dramatically skewed. Similar polls administered by Fox News, MSNBC, Gallup, or the Pew Research Center could show very different results.
6) Stay informed! Having a good knowledge of many issues attained from reading a variety of reputable resources can be a big help in separating truth and fiction. It's a good thing to be educated.
7) Ask questions--If the item that has been presented as truth seems dubious, ask the presenter questions to see how well they understand the claim they've made. If possible ask someone else who might know--ask an expert if you can.
8) Follow your gut--Fall back on your experience. Resort to critical thinking. If an important point has been offered as truth, put it to your own test to see if it makes sense.
This is a start and following this procedure might help you from getting duped by a charlatan. Granted most of us just accept much of what we hear. Who wants to go to all this hassle of sorting out the facts? Then again some things might be worth the trouble. If it's a matter of your health, a major purchase, entering a new relationship, or electing a president, fact-checking might be a wise thing to take the time to do. Start with the next few presidential debates. The Biden--Ryan debate could be great fun.
How readily do you accept things that people present to you as fact? Do you consider yourself to be somewhat gullible? What is the most important truth test that you use?