Betting in Arguments

May 29, 2007

Hypothetical:

    John and Sarah are having a debate about gas prices. They dispense with     several fairly well substantiated arguments, John arguing that gas prices     will continue to rise unabated whereas Sarah is optimistic that they will         fall as alternative fuels become more popular. Suddenly, John becomes         frustrated and after Sarah claims “Gas prices will fall” John exclaims…

    “Wanna bet?”

Is it reasonable to ask this in a debate?

By asking this John is implicitly also asking “How much do you really believe in your argument?” or “How much faith do you have in the strength of your claims?” If she doesn’t bet, it seems reasonable for John to infer that she doesn’t have much faith in her own argument. And if she doesn’t have faith in her own argument, then her argument is likely weak to begin with.

But this is unreasonable. To me, I think the fact that John even asking the question is a sign of his own forfeit to the debate. Instead of analyzing arguments and evidence and the issue in question (gas prices) he decides to put Sarah’s belief into question. This seems unfair and tantamount to an ad hominem. And I would hope any open-minded critical thinker/skeptic would almost always decide not to bet either because he doesn’t really lose anything by doing so and a skeptic must always leave room for the possibility s/he might be wrong.

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