Tactics Read Through: Chapter 5

Chapter 5 COLUMBO STEP 2 Reversing the Burden of Proof

Summary:An argument needs reasons, otherwise it is just an opinion. Giving the other individual the benefit of the doubt, we should ask what reasons they have for making their argument. “How did you come to that conclusion?” Is a way to both understand better someone’s argument, but also to free myself from being burdened to respond to every opinion that someone makes.

“There is a difference between an opinion and an argument. An opinion is just a point of view. An argument, by contrast, is a point of view supported by reasons” (Location: 1,094)

“It’s not your job to refute every story a skeptic can spin or every claim he can manufacture. If he makes the claim, then it’s his responsibility to give reasons why anyone should take his claim seriously. Don’t allow yourself to be thrust into a defensive position if you’re not advancing a view.” (Location: 1,107)

Note:I get caught in this all the time. It isn’t my job, and it isn’t loving either. I need to be willing to listen to their reasoning, or let them see that they have no reasons.

“These stories often have great rhetorical power. They have the ability to psychologically unsettle you and undermine your confidence in your point of view. But every story has to be put to the test. Critics need to have more than a good imagination. They need reasons. That’s the way arguments work.” (Location: 1,136)

“An argument is a specific kind of thing. Think of an argument like a simple house, a roof supported by walls. The roof is the conclusion, and the walls are the supporting ideas. By testing the walls, we can see whether they are strong enough to keep the roof from tumbling down. If the walls are solid, the conclusion (the roof) rests securely on its supporting structure. If the walls collapse, the roof goes flat and the argument is defeated.” (Location: 1,139)

Note:This is an excellent metaphor, and might be helpful even drawing it out in my mind while I am listening or evaluating an argument.

“I frequently get calls on my radio show/podcast from people who think they are giving me an argument, when all they are doing is forcefully stating a view. This move may sound compelling at first, and their story may even seem plausible. But there is a difference between giving an explanation and giving evidence why the explanation is a good one. Your job is to recognize when the roof is lying flat on the ground and simply point it out.” (Location: 1,151)

“How do you reverse the burden of proof when the other person is making the claim? You do it Columbo style—with a question. Here it is: “How did you come to that conclusion?”4 This question effectively shifts the burden of proof onto the challenger, where it belongs.” (Location: 1,156)

Note:Such a simple question, but so helpful!

“The first Columbo question helps you know what a person thinks. The second question helps you know why he thinks the way he does. It charitably assumes he has actually come to a conclusion, that he has reasons for his view and not merely strong feelings about it.” (Location: 1,165)

“There are three questions you should always ask whenever someone offers an alternate explanation: Is it possible? Is it plausible? Is it probable?” (Location: 1,202)

Note:These are good to keep in mind. Just because I disagree with something, does not mean it isn’t possible. I can grant that position without having to change mine.

“Reversing the burden of proof is not a trick to avoid defending our ideas. When we give opinions, we have to answer for them, just like anyone else. We have a responsibility, but so do they.” (Location: 1,224)

Note:This is convicting. If I am not able to demonstrate the reasons for my belief, why would I expect that from others?