This topic has come up a couple of times in classes, so I thought I’d post it and see what responses we get. The question is about philosophical arguments, of course, not yelling matches followed by fisticuffs. (If you’re not sure about the difference, see the Monty Python clip over in the VodPod, on the right.) Here are some initial attitudes, for priming the pump:
A “YES” answer: yes, arguments can change minds. Once in a while, someone presents a sets of reasons we accept, and logic requires us to adopt the conclusion. It may not be immediate — the conversation may take weeks, but eventually the force of the reason gets us to change our minds.
A “NO” answer: no, arguments don’t work. Beliefs are based on many factors, including how one was raised, what one’s friends believe, emotional stuff, etc. When someone presents an argument to you, and you change your mind, it’s not the argument that does it. Rather, you were already disposed toward changing your mind, and the argument just gives you the “excuse” for doing so. Arguments merely justify beliefs you already have; they don’t give you those beliefs.
What do you all think?