Wrangling: Explanation and Optional Instructions

For grading purposes, wranging is its own thing. You do not earn "participation" credit for wrangling. Instead, it's worth ponts all on it's own as a separate requirement.

You earn the wrangling points by doing your best to follow the precise instructions I give you through the exercise.

How To Complete The Survey Form

For each issue, circle the number/letter combo (1P, 1C, 2P) of the statement you most agree with. (only circle one per issue) This is so I don't put you on a team where you have to argue against your own opinion. If you're okay playing Devil's Advocate on some issue, you can skip this step for that issue. (Or express a preference, and add "will take either side".)

If you have no opinion, leave both statements alone. Doing this says it's okay to put you on either side of this issue, if it's one of the ones I pick for us to debate.

If you feel so strongly about an issue that you dont want to discuss it, cross out both statements. If you cross out an issue, I won't put you on any team that discusses that issue.

If youd like to debate some issue, state a preference if you can, and put a star "*" in the square "[]" to the right of that issue, like so  "[*]". This is how I try to pick which issues to do in class. If an issue is liked by a lot of people, that makes me likely to pick it for our exercises. Sometimes, however, a lot of people want to debate an issue, but there's nobody on one of the sides, so I don't feel comfortable putting up a team of motivated individuals against a team of "no preference". Thus if a lot of people want to debate cat juggling, but nobody has marked that they're for it, it won't be a chosen topic.

Any questions on this, please email me.

How to Wrangle

No-one really understands wrangling until they've done it. And then they realize it's pretty easy. It involves some work, and you have to think on your feet, but most people enjoy the exercise. Besides, I'll be up there to help things along. Trust me, I won't hang you out to dry. Just do your best to do what I ask you to do at the time.

While the format of a wrangle is something like an academic debate, the similarity pretty much ends there. Nobody wins or loses a wrangle, and points can only be lost by failure to follow directions. A wrangle is something like a live demonstration of some martial art, in that the whole class is supposed to learn things about reasoning from watching the teams wrangle. I will be up front to not only control the action but also to discuss issues of logic as they arise, and to explain to everyone just what the state of the wrangle at that moment means for the overall issue. Nothing is ever really settled in a wrangle. The point is to help you learn how to reason clearly.

Make Just One Point

When you make your initial statement, and when you respond to someone else's point, make just one point in support of your side of the issue. Don't make a long list of points. Don't make two or three points. Don't make just two points. Make one point, and one point only.

Be Responsive

When you respond to another person's point, don't change the subject. Say something that has something to do with the point they just made. It's a common rhetorical tactic to change the subject after an opponant makes a good point. This is something done by fools and liars. It's not done by critical thinkers, and I expect you not to do it.

Answer My Questions

If I ask you a question, answer that question. This is especially important if we are wrangling in the FaceBook group. When I ask questions, I am pointing out logical flaws in people's reasoning. When I Iask you a question, it's usually because there's something you really need to think about here. Sometimes, it's because you've made a serious logical error, and this class is all about identifying and fixing logical errors. so answer my questions.

Seek The Truth

Don't seek to protect your existing opinions. Seek to find which of your existing opinions are false, and seek change your mind about those issues. Many people go through life under the impression that they can't be wrong about anything. Many people "argue" with the sole object of protecting the things they "know" to be true. (These people are usually wrong about everything, by the way.) If someone is a critical thinker, her aim in every conversation is to seek the truth, and so she will be ready to acknowledge good points, and even to change her mind once in a while. Nonthinkers always try to make it look like their existing opinions are true, no matter how much the existing evidence says they're not. When you are wrangling in FaceBook, your aim should be to find out whether your existing opinion is true or not, not to make it seem true against all possible evidence.


The basic trick to making progress in a wrangle is to be ready for what the other side is going to say. A good way to prepare for this is to write down all the things that they might say, and then come up with an answer for each thing. So if you can put yourself in the position of the other side, and argue against your own position, you'll be off to a good start. (Almost no-one prepares properly, so if you're not prepared, don't worry about it.) I suggest you use 3 by 5 cards or scratch paper, and put every point on a separate piece of paper to start with. Then take each piece of paper one at a time and come up with an answer for what's on that paper. This will require you to switch back and forth between the sides, so it is essential to be able to imagine what the other side is going to say.

Here are some questions you can ask about the other side's points.

Does that point contradict anything in the chain of reasoning that led up to it? (If it does, point out the contradiction.)
Does it assume something it shouldn't? (If it does, try denying that thing that it assumes.)
Is the other side relying on a rule of morality or logic that might not be a real rule? (If they are, try coming up with an exception to that rule.)

In the actual wrangle I will limit you to very short statements, so don't practice any long speeches. Basically, your turn will consist of writing a single claim on the blackboard. This claim will either support your point by providing what you think is a fact about the issue, or it will try to undermine the other side's point.

It's important to be short. We have very little time for each wrangle. I will ask you to pick out the basic factual claim you want to make, and state it in as few words as possible. Thus, if you want to write something like:

"Cat juggling must be immoral, because all that tumbling around in midair upsets the feline balance system in the cat's inner ear, which can't be good for the cat's equilibrium, which you can tell from the way they walk around in circles and fall over after being juggled. This is a horrible thing to do to a cat, no matter how amusing it is to watch them flying through the air. Therefore, we can all agree that cat juggling is very immoral indeed!"

You should actually write something like:

"Makes cats dizzy."

If you can't figure a short way to write it, tell me what you want to say, and I'll tell you a short way to say it.

The most important thing is that your team will need to respond to whatever it is the other team just wrote. (Not to their thesis, not to something they said a few minutes ago, just to what they most recently put on the board.)

There are five basic kinds of responses. (None of them work all the time.)

NOT! If you take this route you are saying that whatever the other team just said is not true. (It would help if you can come up with a fact of your own that contradicts their fact.)
SO WHAT? Here you are saying that even if whatever they just said is true it doesn't logically support their previous point. (It helps if you can say why it doesn't support that point.)
PROVE IT! You can try to shift the burden of proof to the other team. (But you might want to be ready for them to say "oh yeah, you prove it!")
I MEANT: Maybe your case will be helped by a little clarification. This can work like a "so what" in that it can show that the other team was off the mark.
OOPS! Sometimes, you will want to just drop a particular line of reasoning and try again with an new basic argument.

Usually, only one or two of these will be live options for you.  

Copyright 2007 by Martin C. Young

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