5 mins read

The Dishonest Argument

Echo chambers and truth seeking

Are you a truth seeker

This blog is written off the back of a recent workshop for England Boxing, during their virtual Coach Development Programme (thanks for the invite people – your engagement was appreciated).

I’ve been fascinated for a while now by the concept of the ‘dishonest argument’ and what it takes to be a ‘truth seeker’. Years ago (perhaps as many as 10) a good friend and philosopher Tom Whittaker (Paralympic Performance Director for British Weightlifting) introduced me to this first phrase.

One day over a coffee Tom challenged me over my belief system. Well more specifically the manner in which I perhaps stood my ground on a decision or evidenced my way/reasons for doing X when others may prefer Y. He simply posed:

“Do you offer others the evidence and objectivity in your reasoning to the same measure you expect/demand it of others. Do you hold yourself to account to the same measure as you expect of them”

(it was years ago so I’m paraphrasing)

My immediate answer was YES, however my honest answer was NO. Whilst I like to believe myself to be driven by a deep sense of integrity, like most people I have in the past knowingly defended a position that was based on rocky foundations. The evidence may not have been as true/robust as I liked, and I may have over emphasised its validity.

I may have been driven by an emotional energy that had crept into the conversation, which took my attention away from being as critical of my own evidence as I was of others. Now potentially fuelled more by a need to ‘BE RIGHT’ regardless of how right or worse how wrong I may have been, I perhaps stopped seeing what was there and focused only on what I wanted to say (emphasise my rocky evidence).

Tom directed me toward an article by Cowen & Hanson titled “Are disagreements honest” from the Journal of Economic Methodology. So I thought I’d share the Abstract which whilst uses some big words of intellect pretty much makes the point we are by nature potentially dishonest in our arguments (deliberate or otherwise).


We review literatures on agreeing to disagree and on the rationality of differing priors, in order to evaluate the honesty of typical disagreements. A robust result is that honest truth-seeking agents with common priors should not knowingly disagree. Typical disagreement seems explainable by a combination of random belief influences and by priors that tell each person that he reasons better than others. When criticizing others, however, people seem to uphold rationality standards that disapprove of such self- favouring priors. This suggests that typical disagreements are dishonest.

In short – if we have similar perspectives and agreed evidence we should not knowingly disagree. However if we are to disagree we may uphold our views as right through a combination of self-favouring approaches yet in contrast criticise others by higher standards.

Becoming a truth seeker

With this in mind I wondered what it would take to be more balanced in my view. To become more of a ‘truth seeker’ in all situations, not just arguments. To see the world through multiple lenses in order to identify the fullness of options available to us.

If we are honest with ourselves we have all been there, defending something which we initially believe to be true however through the course of a debate realise this may not be the case – yet still we hold on to our position.

The trick is to notice, to pause, to think and to find the humility with ourselves to admit we may be wrong (or at the very least we may need to re-look at our evidence). To even entertain the fact that we may be wrong can be beneficial. To understand the ‘position’ of others and how they arrived there can be extremely powerful. Either to further validate our position in relation to there’s or where required changing our position based on new insight.

Taking this approach could uncover new ways of dealing with challenges which we may never have been able to arrive at had we solely focused on attempting to be right.

Spotlight as a tool for truth seeking

One approach you could consider would be to first understand your natural manner for thinking about and behaving within the world. There are many tools out there that you can use, my preference is the Spotlight Profile (by mindflick). At its heart its a strengths based tool and offers a measure of preference (it doesn’t label or box you). The profile has 2 dimensions, that of Mind Set and that of Behavioural Style.

As words are short, for the purpose of this blog we’ll just use the dimension of Behavioural Style. Lets say you completed the profile and it indicated you had a stronger preference for one of the 4 Behavioural Styles:

  • Forceful – Externally focused, task orientated, direct in nature, fast paced
  • Logical – Internally focused, task orientated, analytical in nature, precise
  • Empathic – Internally focused, people orientated, reflective, values driven
  • eXpresive – Externally focused, people orientated, persuasive, outgoing

Note, we are a blend of all of these and each one is equally valuable, we simply tend to have a lead preference.

Example Problem

Now I’d like you to solve this problem from a boxing context (as this is what fuelled the blog), using your lead preference:

A boxer seems proactive in training and works hard each session; however this doesn’t follow through into performance in the ring.

They seem to lose focus in the latter rounds even though they have great stamina and are often technically better than their opponents.

In using your lead preference, any solution you arrived at is likely to have been based on a set of assumptions. You may well have arrived at a credible solution (with good rationale), such as – perhaps the challenge our boxer was facing may have been one related to a psychological element e.g. loss of confidence, choking, drifting etc.

Changing Positions

Now look at the problem again. However before stepping into finding the solution, take more time to consider the problem. What assumptions did you previously make? You may need to rethink these. To help you do this, I’d encourage you to step into your least preferred approach or better still consider each in turn:

If you’d like to be more Forceful start with: what’s most useful/valuable here? What are we aiming for?

If you’d like to be more Logical start with: what details don’t we know? What process could we improve?

If you’d like to be more Empathic start with: what’s most important to the boxer? What’s my initial feelings?

If you’d like to be more eXpresive start with: who do we need to involve? What else might we try?

You may well still arrive at the same outcome, but using this approach you perhaps can trust your solution with greater magnitude as you have questioned and tested your assumptions. You may have come up with a wider variety of ways to achieve success or uncover more of the back story to better create a solution. You may have been able to think more laterally and consider things that previously did not appear to you – such as nutrition.

Yes in this example nutrition was the issue. Our boxer had everything right, except their dietary intake on match day…. And thus they became fatigued during the later stages of the fight, their decision making quality dropped and became more laboured as they didn’t have the energy to be at their best.

In Closing

The moral is, stand in different positions to identify the alternative views and with it the alternative solutions. Don’t be an echo chamber of your own biases, be a ‘truth seeker’ by looking beyond what you normally would see.

Advocate your position, offer your evidence, but be open to influence… you may learn you were wrong which can be the best lesson!

If you’d like to know more about this or the spotlight tool and how it can help you become a better truth seeker click here or e mail me direct kurt@bemorelnd.co.uk