Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Joy of Logic

Found this trying to teach a rhetoric class how to write an argument while avoiding fallacious reasoning. One student has already identified "ad hominem tu quoque" as "being a hypocrite."

He has a fine career ahead of him as a blogger/commenter on blogs.

Some of these I knew; some of them were new to me. Any of these sound familiar?

Genetic Fallacy

A Genetic Fallacy is a line of "reasoning" in which a perceived defect in the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence that discredits the claim or thing itself. It is also a line of reasoning in which the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence for the claim or thing. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

1. The origin of a claim or thing is presented.
2. The claim is true(or false) or the thing is supported (or discredited).
This one, of course, is a favorite across the intertubes, and beloced of "gotcha!" journalists everywhere:

Ad Hominem Tu Quoque

This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that a person's claim is false because 1) it is inconsistent with something else a person has said or 2) what a person says is inconsistent with her actions. This type of "argument" has the following form:

1. Person A makes claim X.
2. Person B asserts that A's actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
3. Therefore X is false.

The fact that a person makes inconsistent claims does not make any particular claim he makes false (although of any pair of inconsistent claims only one can be true - but both can be false). Also, the fact that a person's claims are not consistent with his actions might indicate that the person is a hypocrite but this does not prove his claims are false.
There is even a fallcy for "High Broderism." Indeed there is nothing new under the sun:

The Middle Ground Fallacy:

This fallacy is committed when it is assumed that the middle position between two extremes must be correct simply because it is the middle position. this sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

1. Position A and B are two extreme positions.
2. C is a position that rests in the middle between A and B.
3. Therefore C is the correct position.

This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because it does not follow that a position is correct just because it lies in the middle of two extremes

Then, of course, there is the much abused "Begging the Question:

Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. This sort of "reasoning" typically has the following form.

1. Premises in which the truth of the conclusion is claimed or the truth of the conclusion is assumed (either directly or indirectly).
2. Claim C (the conclusion) is true.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion. Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim. This is especially clear in particularly blatant cases: "X is true. The evidence for this claim is that X is true."

Some cases of question begging are fairly blatant, while others can be extremely subtle.
The Gambler's Fallacy was new to me, but somehow it sounds strangely familiar, especially in political circles:

The Gambler's Fallacy is committed when a person assumes that a departure from what occurs on average or in the long term will be corrected in the short term. The form of the fallacy is as follows:

1. X has happened.
2. X departs from what is expected to occur on average or over the long term.
3. Therefore, X will come to an end soon.

There are two common ways this fallacy is committed. In both cases a person is assuming that some result must be "due" simply because what has previously happened departs from what would be expected on average or over the long term.
Of course, the favorite of this Administration is the false dilemma:

A False Dilemma is a fallacy in which a person uses the following pattern of "reasoning":

1. Either claim X is true or claim Y is true (when X and Y could both be false).
2. Claim Y is false.
3. Therefore claim X is true.

This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because if both claims could be false, then it cannot be inferred that one is true because the other is false.
False dilemma is meant to lead you to only one conclusion, because the alternative is so clearly unacceptable. So we must fight them over there, or we will fight the "terrorists" over here.

And so on.

Phila is right (no surprise)! This is a popular one:

A Circumstantial ad Hominem is a fallacy in which one attempts to attack a claim by asserting that the person making the claim is making it simply out of self interest. In some cases, this fallacy involves substituting an attack on a person's circumstances (such as the person's religion, political affiliation, ethnic background, etc.). The fallacy has the following forms:

1. Person A makes claim X.
2. Person B asserts that A makes claim X because it is in A's interest to claim X.
3. Therefore claim X is false.

1. Person A makes claim X.
2. Person B makes an attack on A's circumstances.
3. Therefore X is false.

A Circumstantial ad Hominem is a fallacy because a person's interests and circumstances have no bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made. While a person's interests will provide them with motives to support certain claims, the claims stand or fall on their own. It is also the case that a person's circumstances (religion, political affiliation, etc.) do not affect the truth or falsity of the claim. This is made quite clear by the following example: "Bill claims that 1+1=2. But he is a Republican, so his claim is false."
Well, obviously, the only conclusion can be that Bill is wrong....

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