It’s common to hear people say “I do not expect to change your mind” in the course of debate these days. Just recently I was debating someone on an exegetical issue involving 1Thessalonians 4:14 who said these very words to me after only one round of correspondence.

While there are instances in which this assessment is justified–such as when your opponent declares, “Nothing you say is going to change my mind,” or when, after a sufficient amount of dialogue it becomes clear that your opponent suffers from intellectual stubbornness–it is often used prematurely and inappropriately. I would advise dispensing with such talk for two reasons.

First, I think it communicates a defeatist message, and that prematurely. It may be that neither individual will change his position as a result of the debate (although they often cede various points), but one should let the debate run its course before concluding that their arguments failed to persuade their opponent.

Secondly, and m
ore importantly, the comment is demeaning to either oneself, or one’s opponent. It can be self-demeaning in that it cedes the lack of cogency in one’s argument a priori. How can we be so sure our arguments will not persuade our opponent? If we do not think they are persuasive, why even offer them?

More often, however, such a comment is meant to demean your opponent. It communicates the idea that you don’t think he possesses enough intellectual honesty to change his position in light of the evidence you are presenting. That is very demeaning.

Whether we mean to demean the quality of our arguments, or the intellectual honesty of our opponents, such a statement is demeaning and should be used wisely and infrequently.

And for the record, I do expect my arguments for a limited use of this comment to change your mind! And so should I. If our arguments are good ones, none of us should expect any less.