For Every Reason

By Reema Gehi | Pune Mirror Updated: Oct 7, 2014, 02.30 AM IST

You can’t win a debate without learning the trick of understanding argument. Dr Janki Santoke on how to trump a discussion.

Everything we do depends on how we think. If our thoughts are not streamlined, we meet all sorts of disappointments. We reach for solutions, without tapping into what the problem is. “It’s like taking a pain killer, which will suppress the symptom, but not solve the root cause of the problem,” says Vedanta scholar, Dr Janki Santoke.

Last Sunday, Santoke conducted a daylong workshop at a suburban five star, where she trained the participants to do precisely this. She laid the foundations for clear thinking.

How and what you think forms your opinions. However, to think effectively is a skill — one that requires sufficient training and practice. “It’s all pervasive. The better you think, the better the quality of your actions, and therefore, better the results,” says Santoke. “When you convert that thinking into realisation of the Self, then you are using the thinking for spiritual matters.”

Begin with seeing the point and stop when you are carried away with mere mental wandering. “The way to achieve this is by thinking in terms of a question,” suggests Santoke. “Then, there are methods to spot common errors in thinking, by using some of these checks and safeguards.”


♦ Language can be used in various ways. The fallacy of equivocation, for instance, is using the same word in different senses in the same argument.

♦ Watch out for coloured terminology or spin doctoring.Coloured terminology gives not only the particular quality, but also the speaker’s attitude towards the quality. “‘I am between jobs’ is different from saying ‘I am unemployed’,” says Santoke. “Both mean the same thing, ‘I don’t have a job’. But one denotes the positive connotation, and the other, negative.”

♦ Another kind of error is the use of unfinished terms such as progressive, beautiful or desirable. When someone says, ‘this is good’ or ‘this is desirable’; ask, for what, and to whom.


♦ More often than not, when stuck in an argument, people attack the messenger instead of the message. This is known as ad hominem fallacy. Father says don’t smoke. The son retorts, ‘but you smoke’. And the point that smoking is bad is completely lost.

♦ So also, when you see facts stated, question the relevance of the authority that’s quoting them. For instance, a doctor saying you suffer from pneumonia is believable. But your friend thinks so based on symptoms of the disease, is questionable.

♦ Are you accepting something because everybody says so? Or because it appeals to your sentiment? Or does it appeal to reason? It’s like saying this man can’t go to jail for committing a crime because his innocent children will suffer. There is no reasoning to the statement, but it appeals to sentiment of pity.


♦ The most common error of processing/ thinking is to argue in a circle — to fail to see that the argument and the conclusion mean the same. Intoxicating drinks must be banned because they make people drunk is a case in point of a pointless rigmarole.

♦ Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy suggests that just because Y succeeds X, X is the cause of Y. A cat crossing your path, and because of it you meeting with an accident, is a logical fallacy.

♦ Many people feel things will eventually even out. This is known as gambler’s fallacy. However, they fail to realise that it is a law of large numbers, not for few tries. A businessman, for instance, will believe that though five ventures have failed, the sixth will succeed — this, without questioning whether he is built for business at all.

♦ Often times, one falls into the trap of heuristics, which essentially allow people to solve problems and make judgments quickly with insufficient data. Thus, they are also prone to errors. A common example, ‘since she is a woman, she must be talkative’.

♦ Be mindful of ‘self-sealers’. This means a person positions himself/herself in such a way that nothing can contradict him/her. A clairvoyant tells you that certain bad vibes didn’t allow the predictions to come true. This argument is a self-sealer because in no condition can it be proved wrong.

♦ Watch out for fallacies of vagueness — when someone is moving into a term defined as ‘slippery slope’. These kind of arguments — for example, if you have one drink, you’ll soon be an alcoholic — claim that there is no significant difference between one end of the spectrum and the other.

♦ Attacking a Straw Man is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent’s argument – attacking claims that your opponent never made. The husband says, ‘this ring is too expensive’ and the wife views it as, ‘you don’t love me’, is a standard fallacy of refutation.

►► More often than not, when stuck in an argument, people attack the messenger instead of the message