Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Crash Course on How To Argue Better

This post is dedicated to people who have no idea on how to argue their viewpoints properly. Needless to say, this is in reference to the mass "dumbass comments" (as Eddy calls them) that were left on his blog.

I generally agree with Eddy's views on discourse. To have a proper debate, we must first have respect. Use logical and sound arguments to make your point. If you start asking rhetorical questions like FGM, then it is no longer an argument. It is political spin. Also, it makes no sense to just simply assert your own viewpoint and then fold your arms and say "I am entitled to my own opinion". Yeah OK, last I checked, it's a relatively free country. But assertion without justification is the fastest way to prove that you are not very smart.

So here is the Idiot's Guide on How to Make Better Arguments:

1. State your assumptions and assertion

2. Explain your assertions based on your assumptions

3. Give examples to support your assertions

4. State conclusion

5. Check whether your arguments make sense

Of all the steps above, No. 5 is the hardest to do. Steps 1 to 4 are probably taught to you when you were in primary school. Of course you do not have to do it in numerical order, but these are the bare necessities of any cogent argument. But often, we get lazy and just jump from assertion to conclusion, without even checking whether it makes sense. I must admit that I am one of those people sometimes, but I try very hard to avoid it.

The most useful way that I found to check whether your arguments make sense is the "5 Whys". This is one of the underlying techniques of Toyota's kaizen philosophy, which brought it to great heights. As an aside, Toyota seems to have lost its way, but that is not the focus of today's topic.

Let me use Ronnie's arguments as an example:


In fact, I would claim that despite the fact that an 11-year old Yeap Eng Chiam or an 11-year old Fong Yit San is likely to beat an 11-year old Yee Weng, Zi Jing, Ee Vern or Jonathan, the tables are turned as they are older.

Yes, I do believe that a 15-year-old Yee Weng (already two-time national champion), Zi Jing, Ee Vern or Jonathan (already a national champion at 13) is probably able to beat a 15-year-old Eng Chiam or Yit San. And even more surely, an 18-year old Yee Weng, Zi Jing, Ee Vern, Jonathan, Nicholas or Tze Han (all already national champions by then except Zi Jing who only won it at 20 years old) would in all likelihood win an 18-year old Eng Chiam or Yit San. Even an 18-year-old Anas might not stand a chance.
Examples to justify:

To go further, the 20-year old Yee Weng, Zi Jing, Jonathan, Nicholas, Marcus and Tze Han were National Champions (except Marcus who won it at 21), mostly rated around 2200 plus, performed strongly in local tournaments, represented Malaysia internationally (with some good perfomances) and have beaten FMs and IMs internationally. Some of course improved further, getting their IM titles in their twenties while some basically stopped playing.

I hope you get my point. What I'm trying to say is that the OVERALL achievements of these players before they reached 20 were unparalleled by juniors in the years after (I'm pretty sure in the years before too).
The point here is not to discuss whether Ronnie's arguments are true or not. But this is just to show how a good, strong, logical argument is made. Hopefully, future discussions will be more productive and that some idiots would also have learnt a thing or two in making logical arguments. 


  1. U mean 5 Ws? meaning who, what where, when & why or really 5 whys

  2. I meant 5 whys. My apologies for not elaborating further. It is basically the discipline of asking "why" 5 times successively. To steal wikipedia's example:

    The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
    Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
    Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
    Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
    Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
    Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
    Why? - Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why, optional footnote)

    This approach enables you to get down towards the root cause of the problem. You can click on the link I provided for more details.

    1. Great! many thanks! I learned something new

  3. very educative...thousand thanks...