David Bruce (born 1954): Ethical Ways of Arguing


If you ever need to write an argument about something, you are likely to consider morality. Here are a few things to consider:

Argue on the Basis of Consequences

If something will have bad consequences, we probably ought not to do it. If something will have good consequences, we probably ought to do it. This seems obvious. If hitting yourself on the head with a hammer gives you headaches, I recommend that you stop hitting yourself on the head with a hammer. Ask yourself: What are the consequences of what you are arguing?

Argue on the Basis of the Golden Rule

Here are two formulations of the Golden Rule, one stated positively and the other stated negatively:

  • Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
  • Do not treat other people the way that you do not want to be treated.

Ask yourself: Is what you are arguing consistent with the Golden Rule?

Argue on the Basis of Reversibility

One way to find out if something is morally right is to ask if you want something done to you. You may be thinking that you would like other people to be forced to do something, but would you want to be forced to do that thing?

Argue on the Basis that Human Beings are Valuable

To be moral, we ought to treat human beings as valuable, and we ought not to treat other human beings badly. In philosophical language, we ought to treat other human beings and ourselves as ends (valuable in itself) rather than as means (something to be used, then tossed aside). Make sure that what you are arguing treats other people with respect.

Argue on the Basis of Happiness

Happiness is good. We have to do some things, such as make a living and pay our bills. We ought to do some things, such as exercise and eat healthily. We want to do some things, maybe even things that other people find silly. As long as the things we want to do don’t conflict with the things we have to do and the things we ought to do, go ahead and do them. Ask yourself: Will what you are arguing bring happiness to people, including yourself?

Argue on the Basis of What Would Happen if Everybody Did It

If everybody pirates music, what would happen? Chances are, less new music will be written. If musicians can’t make a living from their music, they will have to get money from other sources, including jobs that may not allow them enough time to write and perform good music.

A Few More Points

Here are a few more points to consider:

  1. Use Pathos

Pathos is simply the human element. For example, how will a governmental policy affect a certain family? Putting a human face on a policy can be effective in arguments. Writing about a certain person or a certain family can make politicians understand how a policy affects people. If you are writing about abortion, write about a person who had to decide whether to get an abortion. This is a way to make your paper more interesting and more persuasive.

  1. Use Logos

Logos is reason, facts, and figures. Use good reasoning in your arguments, and support what you are arguing with facts and figures.

  1. Use Ethos

Ethos is ethics and personal character. Avoid manipulating the facts in your argument papers. Argue fairly. Remember that you are not a highly paid and sometimes highly stupid pundit who gets paid to stir up controversy rather than solve problems.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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