Turning on the television to any one of the major cable news networks is a hazardous business. It could bring a smile to your face or put a hole in your wall, depending on whom you happen to agree with.
Pundits argue with their guests, who fight with the other guests, all of who attack some government official or other. In general, there is a lot of argument going on. Or is there?
The origins of the “argument” are of the most ancient variety: it traces back to the Latin root arguo- which means something like “to make clear.”
It doesn’t stop there though. You can trace it even further back to the obscured language which was about as old to the Romans as Latin is to us: the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language, which almost all European languages ultimately call their ancestor.
There, the root ARG meant something like “shiny, bright, silvery, clear, white” depending on context.
The whole history of “argument” suggests making something once hidden or shadowy visible for the first time, like turning a light on, or the daylight breaking.
Now, has it ever been the case that anything has ever been made more clear by a personal quarrel or a fight in which a loud and angry pundit demands your microphone be shut off? Precisely the opposite seems to be true, that in fact “arguments,” in the more common sense of people yelling at one another, can only confuse, hurt, and render dark anything that could be of value to the settling of the fight or in making a coherent point.
Rest assured, there is a less violent way of thinking about the concept than desk pounding and it involves recognizing that the older Latin sense of the word has never completely left us. Academics and intellectuals have preserved it down through history.
An argument is a way of making some kind of idea clear through the use of good reasoning. It is a way in which you can prove some kind of point by asserting that point and supporting it with a number of strong premises or pieces of information that relate directly to it and (hopefully) show it to be true.
That doesn’t mean that every argument will be a good one, that is, actually be convincing. But given the history of the word, it might be that an argument is good when you get that “aha” feeling, that moment when bright and shining sense pierces your brain and makes something extremely clear; the light bulb moment, so to speak.
In this way, an argument in the common sense of “quarrel” only ends when the quarrelers really start arguing in the sense laid out here – by making rational points and accounting for them with supporting reasons. You can’t stop fighting until you start arguing.
So, Glenn, Jon, Sean, Bill, Steve, and all the rest of the cable news gang: Starting an (actual) argument or two would be much appreciated.