The world is full of bad arguments, the resentments they cause, and the messes they leave behind. I have recently discovered a far better way to argue, which I want to share.

Serious Thinking amounts to having an argument with oneself — looking at the evidence, weighting the various clues, then coming to a measured conclusion — if the combined Odds look good enough. There’s no need to become angry with oneself in the process. So why do we sometimes get angry with someone else who disagrees with us about Brexit say or Immigration?

I am a scientist who has spent the past 20 years trying to find out exactly how successful scientists think. And now I know. It turns out that they use “Categorical Inference (CI)” which I will describe shortly. The point is that if Categorical Inference is the way to think successfully it should also be the way to argue successfully , where ‘successful’ doesn’t mean ‘winning’ but arriving at the correct conclusion.

I suspect that we sometimes get angry with our opponents in a conventional argument because we imagine that they are trying to cheat us by using illegitimate tactics. That may sometimes be the the case but most often it is because we cannot see how they have arrived at their conclusions, just as they cannot see how we could possibly have arrived at ours. In other words the conventional process of argumentation is insufficiently transparent.

But that is only part of the problem. A second bone of contention is the Weighting of the different pieces of evidence (Clues). At present one side can pick a certain clue and then weight it so heavily as to claim victory, whatever the other side might have to say. That cannot be either productive, or right. Finally there has to be a sensible way of putting all the clues, with their chosen Weights, together so as to arrive at their Combined Odds one way or the other. All these things Categorical Inference does, and has been doing for millions of years, for CI is nothing more or less than Common Sense (CS) — the main survival mechanism of all us creatures on Earth. It is just that we humans have latterly allowed Culture, Religion and Baducation to overwhelm it.

Let me give one dramatic, and ultimately tragic example: ‘Ludendorff’s Lie’. General von Ludendorff was the brilliant but unstable commander of the Kaiser’s armies in the First World War. In August 1918 those armies were comprehensively defeated in front of Amiens by the combined French and British Commonwealth forces, and recoiled in irreversible retreat towards Berlin. Ludendorff panicked , rang up his prime minister and demanded that the government conclude an armistice at once, before Germany was occupied. But after the Armistice he claimed that his brave armies hadn’t been defeated at all, but had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the civil government. A lot of angry Germans, including Corporal Hitler, believed him, and so the war had to be fought all over again in 1939, with tragic consequences for everyone, including Germany.

Now the point here is that a single clue — which happened to be false — carried enough Weight to plunge an entire continent into war. But there is a lot of misleading evidence out there in the world, not all of it deliberately false. In any productive argument there has to be a mechanism for curbing its influence, and in Categorical Inference there is; I call it ‘The Principle of Animal Wisdom‘ (PAW for short). Without PAW our species would never have survived.

If I am right in suggesting that Categorical Inference is an extremely ancient mechanism which evolved many millions of years ago among our animal forbears, then it must be pretty straightforward and indeed it is. In fact it was so bloody simple that I missed it altogether until I’d finished my Thinking book and had to go back and add it in retrospectively (Appendix 9). So let us look at a short outline of CI which can be found at:

If we don’t know how to argue dispassionately, either we will hold a passionate argument — seldom fruitful — or we will avoid the argument altogether, which could be even worse. Thus finding out how to argue dispassionately was an intensely liberating experience for me. Now I am prepared to discuss tendentious matters which I would have shied away from before. Let’s look at an example.

One of my family, who was being taught history at his school in Hackney, passionately claimed that “The Brits should be utterly ashamed of their empire”. I wasn’t so sure so I decided to put the evidence together using Categorical Inference and here is what turned out: an Inference Table which you can examine here:

In this context it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the conclusion. But you can see there is at least a transparent procedure for carrying out an argument about such a tendentious matter. You can examine all my chosen clues, the Weights I have attached to them, and the Odds for or against, building up in the final column. The vital PAW enters in preventing me from attaching a Weight of more than 4 in favour any clue , or of less than 1/4 against.

These rules for dispassionate arguing are no more and no less than the rules for wise thinking (Common Sense) laid out in black and white. Subconsciously perhaps, great scientists have followed them because they know that in the natural world evidence frequently conflicts, whilst even the strongest appearing clues may later prove to be unsound. For instance the evidence used to dismiss Evolution, namely that the Earth was far too young, turned out, once radioactivity was discovered, to be spectacularly wrong.

If we can’t all learn to argue dispassionately, then when is mankind ever going to move on?

There is a more detailed discussion of CI at:

but if you really want to delve into thinking and arguing, along with their entangled history, then you might like to look at my book Thinking For Ourselves which is intended to be accessible to everyone . It is described elsewhere on this site.

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