We’ve all been in these types of “arguments.” The ones over which TV show is the best, which movie was the worst, which restaurant serves the best food. Random proofs get pulled up as evidence such as “Well that movie topped the box office so it’s obviously better” or “that watch is overpriced.” Who is right in these instances is not as easy as others. These other arguments are those like which flag belongs to a certain country, whether the girl across the room is really a shallow stuck-up, or if that suspect is guilty.
All of these are claims that can be argued. The difference is that not all claims are spoken alike. There are different types of claims that need to be treated uniquely. The factors that play into certain types of claims are what make it hard for us to agree. Not only on small scale issues like food and entertainment, but on larger issues like what is ethical and unethical.
There are three types of claims. The first one is a truth claim. Whether or not something is a truth claim can be determined by following a two-part process. First, it has to be something that is either true or false. It cannot be both. For instance whether your neighbor’s new car is a stolen vehicle or not. It either is or it isn’t. It cannot be both a stolen vehicle and not a stolen vehicle. Second, we have to be able to think of proof that would answer this question. Obviously this proof has to be rational, but it doesn’t have to be common or even extremely likely. If a statement meets these two criteria, then it is a truth claim. This means that if two people make opposing statements, one is right and the other is wrong.
Once it is established that the claim is a truth claim, we can judge it accordingly. This will determine who is right. There is only two options. True or false. It is true if it agrees with reality. The proof that has been brought forward is our ability to understand and consume reality. Perhaps one of the proofs is that there was a police report on the news describing the car the day before, or maybe there is a witness who saw him steal the car. Either way, the evidence must match solidly what the facts say.
There are three tell-tale signs that the claim is false. First, there is a lack of proof. Maybe you suspect that your neighbor stole his car, but you can’t prove it. Then you cannot rightly accuse him of doing so. Second, if you just believe your neighbor’s car is stolen but have little to no solid evidence, then your claim must be understood as false. This is the “true to me” way of thinking. The third is that it is the opinion of the masses. This does not prove anything. Just because your entire block thinks your neighbor stole his car does not mean that he did. These might strengthen the claim, but they do not provide proof. The only way to prove a claim true is to have evidence. You need facts.
The second type of claims are taste claims. These claims are drastically different from truth claims. They are more similar to the third type of claim, value claims, which I’ll discuss later on. Two people can disagree on taste claims and both be right. It is purely their opinion of the thing. For instance, say two people go to lunch. One person loves peas and the other thinks they are disgusting. Who is right here? There can also be a person who comes in and says neither is correct. Peas are just average, or they are only good in some instances. To judge who is right and who is wrong is not straightforward. Technically both, neither, or all three. It is only correct or incorrect in the mindset of the person who speaks it. I suppose this is type of claim, a “true to me” mindset is acceptable. For these, the answer exists on a spectrum. They cannot be put into a right or wrong box.
The last type of claims are value claims. Most claims fall into this category. These are the majority of the claims that are heard on the news. They are often ones that are considered controversial or debatable. These often can have complex arguments on both ends of the spectrum. Depending on the authors, there can be a wide range of value claims made on a certain topic. Something is a value claim if it hinges on a judgement of quality. These qualities are things like goodness, morality, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. It is also a value claim if it exists on a spectrum. This simply means that there are not clear true or false boxes that you can put the claim in.
An example of this would be whether the United States spends too much on their military or not. How to judge this type of claim is to see if it is rational or consistent with the person’s other values and with the facts. It is important to include both these because values can be rooted in fact, but they themselves are not. This means that properly understanding the truth claims behind the values will help determine which claims are better than others. It needs to be judged on a spectrum. The answer is not often yes or no, but frequently must include how much, how little, or under what circumstances.
Judging claims is justifiable because you are not making superficial judgements on the author. Rather it is a sound judgement on their claim. For all three claims, it is important to judge them based off of there specific criteria and on their initial plausibility. This is how believable the claim is based off of the knowledge the listener has on the particular subject. Granted this knowledge might be flawed, but it is an important indicator. For instance, if someone tells you that there is a chest of gold buried under your house, you will probably hesitate to believe them even though you have never seen an image of the land under your house. It is not enough to decide whether they are right or wrong, but simply a starting point. From here the identifying and specific judging can begin. A lot of times this is done in your head automatically. The first reaction to the above statement would probably be “How do you know? Prove it.” This is because you have determined that it is a truth claim and you need evidence showing that it agrees with reality. When judging the claim itself, which is always the first step, it is important to separate the claim from the maker. This prevents personal bias, emotions, or impressions of the author from getting in the way of the claim.
This is not to say that you do not judge the author, because you should. Judging the author is really just checking their credibility. To do this properly, it is important to first validate their expertise. Gathering information about their background, education, employment, experience, or access to relevant information. For instance you would probably believe a fact about the reproductions habits of an insect in the amazon from your biology teacher more easily than you would your mechanic. This is because you know your teacher’s expertise in this topic is most likely greater than your mechanic’s.
The next step is to scrutinize their sincerity. The first layer of doing this is to look at how the claim was presented. This does not mean that you judge what PowerPoint format they used or how expensive their suit is. What it means is that you check for red flags that indicate they are lying. The next thing is to check their character. Do they have a reputation of integrity? or lying? or dependability? The last check is for coercion. If the person who makes the claim has a lot to lose or gain from lying or telling the truth. This is what needs to be looked for when judging a person. It is not fallacies, but morality that we should use to judge others.
Although it takes a little more effort at first to process the information we receive in this way, it allows us to have a better understanding and be overall smarter. This makes fallacies apparent, lies obvious, and provides a pathway for understanding of facts and values. It is important to take a stand when it comes to values and be consistent. Not just in our beliefs, but in our words and actions.