The Clinical Attitude Toward Arguments by Peter Suber (an Incredible Truth Tool!)

Home » The Clinical Attitude Toward Arguments by Peter Suber (an Incredible Truth Tool!)

I first ran across this article in 2008 and was struck by it’s simple yet deeply accurate assessment of critical thinking.  With many things in life, as I grow older the discoveries I made years ago that struck me at the time as extremely important are many times now less inspiring.  However, THIS article is not one of them.


Peter Suber’s 1,065 words reflect the best representation of intellectual integrity as anything I’ve read to date.  Confirmation Bias, Cognitive Dissonance and Rationalizations can’t control the unique and powerful individual who has the “skill and courage” to implement Mr. Suber’s sage advise.

An overall outline of his article:

We need a name for the skill and courage to make accurate diagnoses of the strengths and weaknesses of reasoning even when this might mean recognizing that our own arguments are weak and opposing arguments are strong. Let me call it the clinical attitude, by analogy with medicine.  Skill is not enough.

Here are the primary elements in the clinical attitude toward arguments:

1. Be willing to recognize strength in arguments whose conclusions you reject and weakness in arguments whose conclusions you accept.

2. Be willing to change your mind in the face of good reasons.

3. Focus on validity and soundness, not on your agreement or disagreement.

It seems almost too simple yet it conveys profound concepts to adopt and perfect if we want to think properly and uncover the absolute truths about anything.

Some particularly significant quotes:

“Inquiry is not about vindicating our pre-judgments or prejudices. It is about following the force of evidence and reasoning. If you hear a good argument, or if one of your objections is well-answered, then open your mind to the possibility that the conclusion is a truth you didn’t know before. This too is about willingness, not intelligence or skill.”

The argument is about the truth of the conclusion, not about you. You may be deeply invested in the truth of the conclusion, but the clinical attitude is about discovering whether this argument is strong or weak, not whether your views are threatened or supported.”

A sound argument is sound even if you reject its conclusion. An unsound argument is unsound even if you accept its conclusion.”

Don’t take disagreement personally —or agreement either. An argument for or against one of your cherished beliefs is about the truth or falsity of that belief or the strength of its supporting argument.”

“To examine the validity or soundness of an argument is an attempt to discover the truth, not an attempt to vindicate yourself or your beliefs, to defeat an opponent, or to “win”.”

“People who practice argument as if it were intellectual combat misunderstand the nature of argument.”

“Presumably you’re willing to admit that you might be wrong, that you don’t know everything, and that you still have something to learn. If your first reaction to disagreement is defensive, then you’re forgetting this basic admission. Take a breath and remember it.”

“When do we need it [putting on the clinical attitude]? Whenever we are confronted by an argument —an attempt to persuade us to spend our money, cast our vote, join, believe, or act.”

READ THE ARTICLE!  Absorb it . . . .understand it . . . always keep its premise in mind . . . practice it.  Your humble acceptance to understand there’s much to learn and discover is the “skill and courage” he speaks of.  Discover – Don’t be a Disciple of Dogma.

Do you want to be a lazy thinker with crappy intellectual integrity?  Realize that most of what you “know” is most likely wrong, or at best, lacking in its true accuracy. Question everything.

(Featured image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)