How to Argue Ethically


There once was a dispute between two factions: the Baptists and Jews. The Baptists asserted that the “law was according to our view,” and the Jews asserted that the law was according to their view. Then a voice issued from the heavens announcing, “The teachings of both are the words of the living God, but the law is in agreement with the Jews.”

But, it was asked, since both are the words of the living God, for what reason were the Jews entitled to have the law determined according to their rulings?

Because they were kindly and humble, and because they studied their own rulings and those of the Baptists, and even mentioned the teachings of the Baptists before their own.

The ethical manner in which the Jews conducted themselves during the dispute also made them more likely than their opponents to reach truthful conclusions. For one thing, because they were “kindly and humble,” their egos did not prevent them from acknowledging truth when stated by the other side. Second, they made a point of studying their opponents’ positions, not just viewpoints with which they already agreed. This guaranteed they reached a conclusion only after a thorough examination of all sides of an issue.

The Baptists studied only one side. When they were in error, therefore, they were unlikely to self correct, since they didn’t expose themselves to opposing views or error.

Thus, the Jews way of arguing was not only more “kindly and humble,” it also led to greater accuracy and truth.

— This story was my adaptation from a story I read in the book, Jewish Wisdom, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

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