Is there anything more captivating than a well-crafted logical argument that unveils novel insights from established facts and principles? Undoubtedly, it possesses a remarkable elegance and practicality. However, we must remain cautious, as logic can transform into a destructive weapon when wielded to manipulate facts in order to support predetermined outcomes.
As CEOs, we must acknowledge and guard against our natural inclination toward rationalization. Biases are inherent in every human being, and from the moment we begin evaluating data and constructing arguments, our preconceived notions tend to steer us towards the destination our unconscious minds have already chosen. It becomes inconsequential how much we may distort the evidence to align with our impulses and inclinations.
In its extreme form, logical absurdity disguises itself as reason, giving rise to a term that has gained recognition in the ethical realm: casuistry. Casuistry refers to the application of clever yet unsound reasoning to resolve moral dilemmas by employing theoretical rules in new situations. Derived from the Latin term “casus,” meaning “case,” it originally referred to a “case of conscience.” Throughout history, it has been employed to expose deceptive moralizing that aims to exploit rational arguments, defend indefensible conclusions, and validate intellectual biases.
The prevalence of casuistry is ubiquitous in our surroundings—on social media, within business strategies, and even in what passes for political debates. Once we convince ourselves that we already possess the answers to our questions, we delve into the realm of decision-based facts, often neglecting the fundamental truth that successful outcomes are built on decisions grounded in factual foundations.
This is precisely why we need trusted advisors who are willing to convey the uncomfortable truths we may be unwilling to hear. Sometimes, a single look of incredulity from a wise friend is sufficient to expose the fallacy in our flawed reasoning. A simple reality check can inspire us to engage in clear thinking, enabling us to avoid the farcical and tragic errors that can be described as intellectual kazoo-istry.
A Valuable Exercise for Objective Thinking
To cultivate syllogistic objectivity, let’s embark on a straightforward exercise. Select a current topic from the headlines, something that ignites your passions. Now, challenge yourself to write a paragraph or two defending the position opposite to your own. If you find it challenging, seek out a thoughtful acquaintance who holds that opposing opinion and request their exposition. Then, make an effort to articulate their defense back to them accurately, ensuring that they are satisfied with your representation.
Embracing this discipline yields benefits not only in business but also within our families and society. When adversaries realize that we genuinely comprehend their viewpoints, they become more inclined to make an effort to understand ours. This mutual understanding endeavor rescues us from the perils of self-validated arguments and the ensuing chaos they entail.
This approach is vastly different from simply agreeing to disagree, which is merely a polite way of stating, “I’ve made up my mind that you’re wrong, but I’m tired of arguing.” Often, we grow weary of arguing because deep down, we suspect that our arguments lack persuasiveness. It seems safer to call a truce than to risk exposing our positions as indefensible.
Approach with Diplomacy
But is that truly what we desire? Wouldn’t we prefer to discover our errors and strive to be right? I am reminded of the words of my college professor, Max Byrd, who once remarked, “I don’t understand people who complain about being disillusioned. I would be grateful for the chance to be relieved of my illusions.”
However, exposing casuistry is not without its risks. No one relishes the embarrassment of having their arguments revealed as foolish or absurd. Therefore, when addressing convoluted reasoning