The Argument

The Argument is number 8 in List Universe’s 25 Greatest Monty Python stetches of all time.

The idea behind the sketch is that there is a service available that will expose customers to unpleasant experiences for a fee. For example, a customer can pay to be verbally abused or hit on the head with a mallet.
In the sketch Michael Palin pays to have an argument with John Cleese. At fitst Cleese simply gainsays everything that Palin says. This frustrates Palin, who asserts that “an argument’s not the same as contradiction”-(“Simply saying ‘No it isn’t’ isn’t an argument.” “Yes it is!” “No it isn’t!”)-until he realises that Cleese is engaging him in a sort of meta-argument about what constitutes an argument.

After you watch the video have a think about what an argument is.

What is an argument?

There are two types of argument. One is an emotional exchange, where winning is the most important thing. The other type of argument is an attempt to clarify thought. This type can take place between several people with opposing views – where opponents force each other to justify their statements, provide clear examples and other ideas revised on the basis of understanding opposing attitudes-or it can take place as part of the presentations of a single person, who questions and hence clarifies his or her own statements. Therefore at least two views are always present in an argument.

  1. What type of argument is being presented in the sketch?
  2. Under the conditions set up by the sketch, do you think a‘thinking’ – argument is possible?
  3. To what extent is it true to say that, for a thinking argument to take place, the people arguing must not be doing it ‘just for argument’?

Remember for a ‘thinking’ argument to take place you need :

  • proof
  • persuasion

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