Argument: When losing is winning


Wait… something is more important than having my ego stroked? I doubt it…


I’ve gained a friend/relative/acquaintance that is better educated (assuming that my side of the argument is correct). That’s worthwhile.


The loser abandoning their position after careful, drawn-out argumentation and consideration does not square with my observations of human behavior. While I agree that the winner of the argument often doesn’t win, it’s not that the loser gains greater knowledge or a greater understanding of the topic, it’s that the victor’s victory is most often pyrrhic.


Typical Philosophy Department bullshit. First of all, many arguments are about facts, which means it’s stupid to argue in the first place (plus as anjichpa pointed out, people tend to ignore reality in favor of what they want to think). Second, arguments about non-facts, e.g. opinions concerning Chinese takeout, pretty much collapse into “de gustibus non disputandam.” So what’s left, except for lawyers lying thru their teeth – and don’t tell me the loser in court has gained anything.


If he had a concrete example of this happening to him (losing an argument, then feeling he was better off afterward), it would be vastly more convincing than this abstraction that he’s putting out there.

A lot of arguments about fundamental philosophical disagreements which cannot really be resolved empirically wind up as stalemates, in so far as one party might make a better performance and “win” the debate, but the loser doesn’t really change their outlook.

If I think about the corollary, that winning an argument is losing in some other sense, I have plenty of personal examples that agree with his model. And thinking about the cognitive benefit the way he suggests, makes me think of that sense of loss one feels when there is no one on your team/in you circle who will challenge your ideas either because they agree with you or aren’t prepared to defend an opposing position. It’s a good way of articulating why it’s so important to stay close with people who disagree with you, especially if you respect their intellectual honesty.

Just my two bits, please feel free to disagree with me. :smiling_imp:


This seems to be him saying, “Educating someone else is you losing.” Rather than being seen as nothing more than a competition, perhaps a superior paradigm is to see debate as a cooperative refinement of ideas where, assuming any progress is made on any side, everyone wins. Though competitive on the surface, debate is one of the many processes through which the community as a whole, whether it be the individuals observing the debate, a field of study, or humanity as a whole, benefits from the developed conclusions and the upgraded knowledge.


Why is this a 0 sum game?


Stop bringing logic and questions to our discussions on arguments! You suck SpeedRacer and your mother’s breath smells of hominss.

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TL;DW So I’ll be doing what many people do when they want to argue, they start from a very different place with regards to facts and assumptions.

I’ve watched a lot of people argue about politics, economics, the constitution and assorted crap. You are very right.

Too many people don’t go into an argument with the goal of actually convincing the other person, but to beat them down. A BiL mentioned one time that he could “win the conversation” tThat is the attitude that too many people who want to argue have. It’s an entertainment for them…

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Utter horseshit. Sorry. As anyone knows who’s ever taught anyone anything, the act of explaining something helps you understand that thing better. So “from a cognitive point of view” the fact that you’ve just explained your case down to the last detail has allowed you to understand your own argument that much better. And this guy is a professor? That beard isn’t fooling me, he sounds more like a quack and a Sophist to me.


Uhm. I draw a distinction between argument (which is about convincing someone), discussion (which is about understanding), and debate (which is like argument, but with no requirement that either actually believe the position they’re defending).

I have no interest in debate; I don’t find it an entertaining game. I will sometimes argue, when I think it’s important to get consensus (or establish that doing so is impossible – sometimes the best you can do is agree to disagree). But I much prefer discussion; in my experience; too much heat prevents enlightenment.

Personal usages, personal preferences; your mileage will vary.

I don’t think it’s true that there are never legitimate disagreements about what the facts are or how they are best understood.

I would also dispute that every argument about opinions is merely an argument about tastes—that point of view entails a sort of relativism that most people (among both the general population and professional philosophers) find deeply objectionable. Some opinions are better supported than others, and although you may think that this makes it “stupid to argue [about them] in the first place,” having that argument can be intellectually rewarding for the person who holds the weaker position—which, of course, is Cohen’s point.

I’ve spent most of my life being wrong about mostly everything, but through “pointless” arguments with informed, intelligent people whose opinions I respect, I’ve developed more rational beliefs and broader knowledge. This may be unnecessary for those born into perfect understanding of the world, but I’ve had the misfortune of never meeting anyone like that (until we had this discussion, possibly!).


I think I get where he’s coming from, and no, this shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. Treating most arguments as such, in the terms of winners and losers, is exactly the sort of mindset that encourages us to look at every issue in binary terms. Black and white. Even “two sides of the same coin” tends to reinforce this often-mistaken assumption that any given position is either right OR wrong. Most argumentative positions that survive to the point of being argued have at least one leg to stand on, otherwise they wouldn’t really be arguable.

But more to the point, I have learned quite a bit myself from arguments which I have “lost.” My sister-in-law in particular is well-informed and articulate, and has more than once persuaded me to see an issue in a different light, and to reconsider positions which I had long considered settled in my own head. I like to argue with her, but not in a competitive sense. We are both passionate and intellectually honest (at least I flatter myself that I usually am, as much as I can be), and both of us would much rather concede a fairly won point than cling to our own stubborn wrongnesses. And that is soooo refreshing.


In On Liberty John Stuart Mill argues that defending a belief successfully strengthens one’s convictions in the belief. When we defend our ideas, we learn more about the foundations of those beliefs, so we understand our own beliefs better. As such, both parties benefit, no matter who “wins” the day. The war metaphor obscures that aspect of discourse theory.

That’s a harsh, and unfair critique.

Very few arguments are about facts, as it’s very difficult to speak about facts using language– many arguments are about generalizations of facts (e.g. telling someone it’s raining, rather than providing a holistic accounting for every molecule of water that fell and all the other forces and entanglements involved in raining), or sorting through perspectives relating to facts (e.g both perspectives of an argument are correct and together provide a more complete picture of what’s being argued, but both sides do not have the relevant information to see the missing components of their argument)… the closest thing we have to understanding our physical world is science, and even science, unfortunately, requires a subjective observation and interpretation of the object of its investigation… making science subject to all the flaws inherit in subjectivity– and so argumentation is necessary in reaching understanding and consensus. The purpose of an argument should be to refine our language and our understanding so that these generalizations we make about the world most accurately convey the truth. On your other note, if you are arguing in court and you are justly found guilty you gain what’s just and fair in relation to your tacit agreements in society– and there is a lot of literature over hundreds of years that can help you understand the underlying theories and agreements made in our justice system.

All I can say is that anyone who thinks people on the losing side of an argument say “You know what? I guess you’re right.” must not have spent much time on the internet.

Who “wins” an argument that ends with both sides slinging insults at each other in the form of derogatory terms for homosexuals?

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Losing is winning

Tiger’s blood! I’ve got one speed, one gear: GO.

Seems my mind is still contaminated by the interminable media barrage of that moron’s public meltdown a couple of years back.

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