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10 Good Arguments

(Continued from EdWorld At Home)

7. Definition

Many times, it is useful to step back from an argument and to check whether everyone is using important terms in the same way. Very good essays have been written by simply taking a word or a term and writing about how people are mis-using it, or are using it in two different ways.

Being precise and complete about definitions is a great way of cutting through the nonsense of some of the most common logical lies. For example, let’s look at the debate over health care in America. One significant question that people debate about a lot is about how health insurance is obtained by people. The current situation finds most people who have health insurance have it as part of a benefits package they get at their jobs. Some people say that link needs to be broken, and that health insurance should be something state or federal government should provide to all citizens.

A very useful new point can be added to this debate by thinking about the definitions of the terms being used: Is the problem really about health insurance or is it about health care? By focusing on health insurance, that is, about a system that pays health-care providers, the debate is ignoring a logical possibility: What about getting rid of the insurance system altogether and coming up with a different way to pay health-care providers, for example, by simply making them all employees of a national health system?

This may or may not be the ultimate “winning” point of view, but it does re-define the terms of the debate and open up new directions for the argument to go that were previously closed off.

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