Saturday, February 14, 2009

On Arguing Well

Thomas Aquinas' generosity and fairness to his opponents is the ideal model for studying how to engage in debate with others. At times, Thomas seems to present a better argument for his opponents’ positions than they themselves managed to do. Josef Pieper, for example, in his Guide to Thomas Aquinas, notes how Thomas’ fairness to his opponents can sometimes catch the reader off guard:

An unsuspecting reader, rather stunned and confused, may read whole pages containing nothing but opposing arguments formulated in a highly convincing manner. There will be nothing at all in the phraseology to indicate that Thomas rejects these arguments-not the trace of a hint at the weakness of the argument, not the slightest nuance of ironical exaggeration. The opponent himself speaks, and an opponent who is obviously in splendid form, calm, objective, moderate. . . . In this procedure there emerges an element profoundly characteristic of St. Thomas’ intellectual style: the spirit of the disputatio, of disciplined opposition; the spirit of genuine discussion which remains a dialogue even while it is a dispute.

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