March 2nd, 2018

For Purposes of Argument

There are times when people may think that I've staked out a position in an argument when I haven't actually planted my flag on that hill. This is because I have staked out a different position that's related to the original position in an attempt to clarify what the original position requires.

A marginally more concrete example may help.

Say that Fred says that "We need to do X". (Whatever X may be. It doesn't matter for the purpose of the demonstration.)

I may now stake out a position related to X: "If we do X, that will require us to do Y." This will be based on my best judgment of what will be required to execute X; in this case, that it will be impossible to do X without also doing Y.

Note that I have not stated a position on X itself, pro or con. I have simply stated that the package of things that we are discussing should bind X and Y together, because buying X requires buying Y. Someone may or may not disagree with my judgment that Y is required for X, in which case we can discuss that and try to figure out whether Y actually is part of the package that includes X.

The objective here is to facilitate the discussion of whether X is a good idea or not by trying to capture all of the components that are required to execute X. Does X still sound like a good idea if you're required to take Y along with it? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe buying Y is going to require us to buy some Z to go along with it, so we need to consider that too.

But if we can't capture all of the things that result from choosing X, then we can't make an educated decision about whether or not it's a good idea. Worse yet, if we try to choose X without bundling Y with it, we may find out that we can't get X, but we'll waste a lot of time trying to get X because we forgot that we needed Y too.

So if you hear me saying in the middle of a discussion, "If we do this, that means we also have to do that," it doesn't mean that I necessarily approve of "this".

It just means that I want to make sure that we realize that "that" is part of the bundle you need in order to get "this".

Clear as mud, right? :)