Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Ideas: 3 Questions

When debating, it is good to keep three questions in mind:

1. Compared to what?
2. At what cost?
3. Do you have any hard evidence?

Someone says that in a matter of 10 years the world will run out of oil. Ask: Do you have any hard evidence? In other words, there is a difference between opinion and fact. Hard evidence backs up facts only. This question -- Do you have any hard evidence? -- immediately establishes whether the person is stating an opinion or a fact.

Someone says that we should provide more schools, more books, more of everything. Ask: At what cost? We only want to do those things for which the benefits are greater than the costs. Should we build a park? There are certainly benefits to a park. But might the costs be higher? If so, we are better without the park. Anything is worth doing at zero cost, but zero cost doesn't usually exist. The question is whether what we want to do is worth the cost (greater than the cost). Keep in mind that there are benefits and costs for almost everything in life. Benefits and costs to going to school, to buying a computer, to getting a haircut, to sleeping, etc. Some people stress the benefits and forget the costs; other people stress the costs and forget the benefits. We want to consider both the benefits and the costs.

Someone says it is bad to get old. Ask: Compared to what? In other words, what is the alternative? We sometimes think X is bad, or wrong, or should be changed until we consider the alternatives to X. Suppose someone says that he doesn't like his job and that he wants to quit. Ask: What is the alternative? Is the alternative better than working? Is it better to not work and not have any money than to working and having money.

What is the response to each of the following statements?

1. We ought to have free health care in the United States?
2. I hate my life.
3. The world will freeze over by 2020.

1. What is the cost? Who will pay for this "free health care"?
2. What is the alternative to your life?
3. Do you have any hard evidence that what you say will happen will actually happen? Is this your opinion or an established fact.


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