Not so long ago I had to write an essay in which I was basically arguing in favour of a viewpoint that I actually disagreed with. I had to think for a bit before deciding to do this. It didn’t sit easily with me. Could I really, in all good conscience, argue for something I didn’t agree with?
Some colleges do this as an exercise in understanding opposing viewpoints, without necessarily agreeing with them. You choose a topic you strongly agree with, say for example, capital punishment (that wasn’t what I wrote about but lets use it as an example at it tends to polarise opinions). So you write an argument strongly in favour of capital punishment. Then, for your next essay, you have to write an essay which argues against capital punishment. You begin with “I am against capital punishment because…” even although your conscience strongly favours it.
Is that a sell out, an unacceptable compromise? Or can it be a good exercise in understanding an opposite viewpoint to your own?
It struck me that some politicians do this as a matter of course. They have their own private beliefs but if their party takes one particular line, and that line is the opposite of what you believe, then you are still required to argue in favour of the party line. Usually this only comes out in the wash after the politician has retired and written their memoirs! Of course sometimes the politicians are allowed off the leash and given a free vote, to vote according to conscience, but not always.
It makes a difference as well if you are arguing ‘merely’ as an exercise in attempting to understand another viewpoint, or if you are arguing before an audience who might actually be persuaded by your argument and end up believing a viewpoint that you yourself oppose, even though you’ve just argued in favour of it. Confusing?
It is also possible that you may end up convincing yourself that the opposing view is actually the right one, or you may at least arrive at a balanced opinion somewhere in the middle. Difficult with capital punishment but remember that’s just an example.
There is another perspective when arguing for something you disagree with. You can basically quote lots of other people who believe what you disagree with (more confusion…), so that you are merely writing their words but you yourself have never at any point actually said that you believe what they believe. That would be simply reporting another person’s view, I guess. John Smith said “I believe that the moon landings were faked because…” You can argue a whole case like that, without actually advocating it yourself. Sorry, just to add confusion I changed the example there, you noticed and it confused you more…sorry…
So, to get back to the question.
Can you, in all good conscience, argue in favour of something you actually disagree with?
Over to you (anyone…)
Thanks for reading.