I have a minor in Philosophy and I feel it is time to use it! This site is called the Philosophical Physicist after all. In this post I will briefly describe my theory about the way humans argue with one another. Some of you may be familiar with this already (names will be omitted) because it is from watching some of my friends argue that I have been able to formulate my ideas. And, trust me, there is no shortage of disagreements between my friends (all in good fun of course).
To understand the eventual conclusion of an argument, we must first look at its beginning. The inception of an argument, at its core, is when somebody else says something that you disagree with. Once that occurs, you feel compelled to tell that person that they are wrong and you proceed to make your case for your point of view. The other person, not wanting to be proven wrong, passionately tries to make a case for their point of view. In this way, an argument will proceed back and forth, each side introducing new evidence supporting their side. So, what an argument truly is, is a game of persuasion; each side trying to persuade the other to their point of view.
In the course of an argument, as each side is trying to persuade the other, they will try to reformulate their position over and over and over, trying to make it clearer and less objectionable. This reformulation by each side, even though it is an effort to make their case stronger, allows the opponent to question each formulation; to probe the case a little deeper looking for cracks in the armor. As each side probes deeper into the argument, they will find less and less to find fault with. Eventually, the only thing left to argue about, the only thing that will sustain the disagreement, is to argue over the words of the argument themselves. This is Schwenger’s Law of Argument: Arguments, as they progress, move toward an argument over definitions.
Not every argument is going to follow this law. Arguments that have a clear winner and loser, for instance, will not reach the point of arguing over definitions. It is only arguments where there is no clear winner, but both sides are unwilling to compromise with the other that follows this law.
All you have to do to see this law in action is look at the headlines. Some of the most controversial issues of our day have reached the stage of arguing over definitions. The argument about abortion is a fundamental difference about the definition of life. The argument about gay marriage has become an argument about what the definition of marriage should be. These are just two examples out of many. I am not saying that this is always going to be the case, it is just something I have noticed. Also, some real philosopher has probably posed this before, but I am not aware of it, and if they have, then I apologize for not giving credit where it is due.