Sammy Greene learns to argue better (she hopes)

As many of you know from reading about me in Dead Air and Devil Wind, I graduated college a few years ago and have been working in Los Angeles at a small progressive talk radio station. To me this is an ideal forum for public dialogue and a vehicle for change. But it can be frustrating when I can’t get through to some of the people who call into my show Sammy Greene on the LA Scene.

Recently I started hearing about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – free university level courses taught by the best professors from the best schools. As  someone who considers herself a lifelong learner, I decided to check out one recommended to me called Coursera.org. I signed up for a course in critical thinking called Think Again: How to Reason and Argue jointly taught by Duke (Walter Sinnot-Armstrong) and UNC (Ram Netta).

I have to say- not only are both profs entertaining, they have really educated me about the power of critical thinking. And they’ve taught me to understand that you can present an argument for which every premise if absolutely true and in which every conceivable flaw in your argument can be negated and still not persuade everyone in the audience. Unfortunately, there are those (not among most of my listeners, thank goodness) who either misunderstand the argument presented or just blindly choose to believe the opposite of a premise in the face of facts.

As one of the students taking the course wrote in a discussion forum: “Human beings are not always logical. They don’t always believe scientifically proven cause and effect. Religious and cultural beliefs can be too hard to overcome. Even the best arguments have disbelievers.”

I get it now. A valid, strong and sound argument in and of itself may never persuade or convert someone to adopt a different way of thinking.

What a strong argument should do is communicate a point of view clearly and logically, providing reasons (evidence) to support the conclusion (s).

We all need to be more open-minded.

Anyone who blindly refutes an idea is not engaging in an intellectually honest exchange (you know who you are).

By taking this course, I’m learning to construct better, more thoughtful arguments. I know not everyone is going to  agree with me, but I hope they will be willing to hear and consider what I have to say. And I am listening much more intently to others views.

So thank you, Drs. Sinnott-Armstrong and Neta. For those of you, interested in this course, I hope it will be taught again. Look for it!!

– Sammy

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