On the Importance of Arguing, Disagreeing, With Friends

Here is a note I just wrote to a friend of mine, and many times co author of mine: It’s good we can be on good terms with each other, no, excellent terms, even though we disagree, sharply, on some (well, one) very important issue. I think that’s a compliment to both of us. I’ve found very few people who can do this, and I pride myself on being one of the ones able to do so.

If ever we are going to get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth with a capital “T,” it will only be through vigorous, unrestricted argument. (John Stuart Mill in his On Liberty, and Hans Hoppe, in his work on argumentation ethics, have made important contributions to my appreciation of this statement). I really can’t see any other way that this has even a ghost of a chance. And, yet, it is so important. A friend of mine once told me that in Heaven, all will be understood, and that our life here on earth, if it is to be heavenly, must therefore be focused on learning. I dedicate my life to this sort of thing. How else can we learn other than through spirited exchange of ideas?

All too often I lose friends who just can’t stand the heat of no-holds-barred (intellectually of course, always politely) arguing. I greatly regret it. I have far fewer friends than I would like to have because, sometimes, no, often, no always, I just can’t keep my big mouth shut. Nor do I intend to change. Old dogs, new tricks…

Nowadays, on college campuses, the heckler’s veto is justified on the ground of stopping hate speech. All readers of this blog will immediately see through that fallacy. But, it has been my unhappy experience that people I like very much become abrupt with me, sometimes drop me as a friend, when I go for the jugular with them. I do so as politely and respectfully as I can, and some of the time, happily, this works; the friendship endures, despite sharp disagreement on one or two issues. I greatly regret when it does not. So, please, if ever you and I get into it hammer and tongs, let us all make a New Year’s Resolution that we will not allow that sort of thing to break up friendships.


1:02 am on January 4, 2018