An Evening with Dr. Martin Godwyn: How to Argue Effectively for Animal Rights

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An Evening with Dr. Martin Godwyn: How to Argue Effectively for Animal Rights

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Back in October, Liberation BC was fortunate enough to have Dr. Martin Godwyn come to our Volunteer Night to share some of his wisdom on how to argue effectively on behalf of animals.  Dr. Godwyn – Martin, was a very popular speaker at the 2012 Animal Advocacy Camp at UBC.  At that time we threw all kinds of dilemmas at him, arguments we are all met with as we fight for animal rights, and he had a good come back for each of them!  So we were thrilled when he offered to come and speak to us.  A link to his notes can be found at the end of this blog.

Martin began his talk with an introduction to arguing in general and some guidelines to follow.  He emphasized that the term ‘argue’ as he would use it did not refer to ‘fighting’ with someone over an issue.  Instead, it means to present   premises and respond to those presented by another person.  He suggested the following guidelines:   Keep emotion out of the argument, remember what the actual issue is, listen carefully to the other person, be clear about your position and why you believe it.  These all seem so obvious but I know myself how easy it is to get sidetracked by emotion or a secondary issue and end up defending something that has nothing really to do with what I am trying to say.  Sometimes I become so busy trying to formulate my own thoughts that I don’t even take in what the other person is saying!

He went on to explain how arguments actually work:  Premises or claims are made that are intended to result in some kind of conclusion.  Two basic questions are required before even entering into the argument: Are the premises acceptable and plausible? Do the premises offer adequate support for the conclusion?  If the answer to either question is “no” according to Dr. Godwyn, it is a bad argument.  If we can recognize when an argument is not good, we can save a great deal of energy by addressing the problem with the argument rather than getting sidetracked and losing sight of our message.   There are three types of premises:  conceptual, empirical, and normative and, depending on the type of claim, you will approach the argument differently.  He offered several examples of how to do this – very helpful!

One of the most fascinating parts of the talk for me was about fallacies in arguments.  Fallacies are moves made in an argument that are not rationally sound but are very persuasive and may derail an argument!   An example of one type of fallacy is Ad Hominem.  Martin gave this example:  Someone says, “Well you would say that, you’re a vegan.”  If your argument is that animals feel pain, the fact that you are vegan has nothing to do with it.  Animals feel pain no matter what you eat.  But I know how easily I can be thrown off guard by a comment like that and lose my cool rather than just state that the point has nothing to do with the argument.   There are many more of these types of ‘traps’ and knowing they exist can help us plan our own arguments better and be prepared to spot the fallacies in others’.

Martin finished up the evening with some real examples of arguments he took from the internet.  We read through them and tried to spot the merits and flaws in each argument.   One thing was certain, they weren’t so easy to spot and we realized that it will take a fair bit of practice to get good at this skill.

Dr. Godwyn makes it look so easy!  I wasn’t kidding when I told him I wished I could keep him on speed dial for those times I find myself feeling lost in an argument and unable to come up with the perfect response!  I do however feel far more equipped now to prepare my own arguments in such a way that they will be as strong as possible and I will be more likely to spot the weaknesses in the arguments of my opponents.  With practice, I hope I will be able to speak more confidently on behalf of animals.  It is a real credit to Martin’s commitment to animals that he  was willing to come out and teach us after teaching all day –  we really appreciated it!  Thank you!  Please check out the link below to get much more detail about how to argue effectively for animals!

Martin’s Notes


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