Nick Inman

Putting it in words

Arguing about Arguments

Every month I write an editorial column for The Connexion, Europe’s English language newspaper. I'm asked to choose a topic relevant to readers and take a stance: to have an attitude and express it forcefully. This has made me question not only what I think but how I argue my case.


Opinion is the currency of our digitally free-for-all world. Everyone is entitled to express his or her opinion in any forum in any way. What we have forgotten is that there is a difference between a good and bad argument; and if we do not present good arguments to each other we do not communicate.

A good argument begins not with a conclusion that I need to justify but with one or more questions. It proceeds by way of clear steps in logic but always referring to the known facts. It doesn’t ignore inconvenient evidence and, while it might end in reasoned speculation, it does not begin with it.

Every argument rests on a premise, whether this is stated or not it needs to be acknowledged.

To argue successfully, I must be aware of my own premise and able to interrogate it. No premise is true a priori so every argument must proceed cautiously to nuanced conclusions. If the premise is not open to question and modification, you get ideology. Ideology may be of noble intention but it is not truth-seeking and it can seduce us to believing in the wisdom of bad decisions. You can win an argument on a dodgy premise if you are self-assertive enough but it won't make you happy.

Before I present an argued opinion I ask myself: is what I have to say and the way I have to say it likely to be useful to other people or is it just that saying it will make me feel better?