Friday 25 August 2023

Logic: Argument 101

Don't we all love having vicious arguments on social media? Look out for the following logical fallacies and make sure you don't use them yourself. (This is just a primer – it's a huge subject.)

Petitio principii or Begging the Question
It means assuming that what you're trying to prove has already been proved.

Some words assume a phenomenon is bad. We can’t possibly give up cattle farming. Why? Because if we did the land would be covered in SCRUB (pictured). If you call it “native woodland” the argument isn’t nearly so compelling. Why must we pull down these Victorian terraces? Because they are SLUMS, not because they’re standing in the way of a lucrative development.

Likewise people gorge junk food and guzzle gas, and consume mediocre mass culture. These words are the opposite of neutral – they are all loaded.

Or you call their argument a "bizarre fixation". "Obsession" is also a giveaway. 

You dub your opponents "zealots".

Foreign doctors are "lured" here with "cash" rather than invited and paid a salary.

And if you use the word "disgusting", you've lost my sympathy – and possibly the argument.

No True Scotsman

"No Scotsman will be seen in public without a kilt!"
"I've often seen Scottish men wearing trousers."
"No TRUE Scotsman will be seen in public without a kilt!'

No true artist would ask for payment. The satisfaction of creating the art itself is payment enough.

Real journalists are agents of people, not power. (John Pilger, paraphrase)

"Real women are incapable of violence" is 100% patriarchy y'all. (@AmyDentata)

Real men lead women to Christ not their bedrooms.

Straw Man
Your opponent accuses you of putting forward a ridiculous argument which is a parody of your position – a straw man, easily pulled apart.

I've lost count how many times it's been suggested that we'd like to see an aisle full of boring beige boxes. (Let Toys Be Toys, campaigners against pink/blue segregation of toy shops)

It's utter nonsense to suggest that synthetic phonics taught children to 'read without enjoyment'. (@SusanGodsland) The words "barking at print" are also used.

If you can create a set of logical steps from what someone actually said to an even worse thing, then you are justified in treating that worse thing as the person's true view. It's a form of violence for that person to even require you to reveal the steps by which you got to their "true" view. (@adamkotsko)

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Mary Whitehouse
In the 80s, if you objected to pornography, you'd be told "We can't disapprove of pornography because that would mean standing shoulder to shoulder with Mary Whitehouse". Mrs W was a campaigner against "filth" in the media and maybe she had a point. These days the bugbear is more likely to be "Jordan Peterson".

And we couldn't believe in evolution because it led to Social Darwinism.

"We can't think X because it's believed by enemy Y" is not very convincing logic.

Ad hominem
You've run out of arguments, so you call your opponent a brainwashed right-winger, a social justice warrior, a degenerate harpy, a do-gooder – whatever comes to mind. Insults are not arguments.

One form of ad hominem is to accuse your opponent of being insincere – but if your opponents are just luvvies, virtue signallers, champagne socialists, why are you so threatened by them?

The dystopian world of the preening vaccine-mongers. ( There's something pejorative about "monger". We give warnings, they are doom-mongers etc.)

"We don't believe anything they say!", or disbelieving in anything published by the Mail or Spectator, may be a form of ad hominem.

"Twitter is just lies peddled by loons!" claimed a person with a Twitter account. ("Peddled" is also a giveaway.)

Projection, Tu quoque, Deflecting, Mirroring, the same to you with knobs on
You've been brainwashed! No, you've been brainwashed.
You're a cult. No, you're a cult!
Your argument is self-contradictory. In your post No. XYZ from 2014 you contradicted yourself!

Accuse materialists of magical thinking.

Bait and Switch
100CE: The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! (Kingdom of Heaven fails to appear.)
200CE: The Kingdom of Heaven is within you!

You only find true freedom in the Catholic church because true freedom is freedom from doubt. (The Jesuits)

A says “avocados cure cancer – but big pharma won’t let it be published!”. B patiently explains scientific method and points out that the promising (no more) avocado results have been published. C ripostes: "But if I or a loved one was dying I’d try 'unicorn’s milk or dragon’s brains'."

Consolation prize? It’s a Wonderful Life – American dream goes bust – Jimmy Stewart works hard all his life and doesn't make it – oh but look how he’s improved other’s lives – just a bit. Pundits say: "That's what we meant all along!"

“Jesus wasn’t single, the church is his bride” is one of the most contrived takes I’ve heard in a while. I shouldn’t be surprised, but here we are. (@thomaslhorrocks)

Be yourself – I mean "Discard early indoctrination, unhelpful behaviour patterns you've been taught. They aren't YOU."

You've never had a partner, so you get sent to a psychotherapist. After a few years, the therapist lets fall that the process is intended to produce "an integrated personality", and presumably they'd apply the same method whatever the "presenting problem", which is never the real problem, of course. Isn't this rather dishonest?

Argumentum ad Populum
"I'm just saying what everybody's thinking."

Christian apologists used to say that their faith must be true because so many people let themselves be torn apart by wild beasts in the Colosseum rather than renounce it.

This is bad, but so is That, therefore we should leave This alone.

Never mind injustice X, why aren't you fighting injustice Y?

A male friend who has daughters, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter, dismisses my concerns about gender and children because it's "not as serious as climate change". (@Flashmaggie)

Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today
In the 80s, left-wing men would promise us that women would have equal rights come the revolution.

A: We should be kind to children.
B: You mean we should mollycoddle them and pander to their every whim?
A: I was just thinking about not being cruel to them, actually.

Perhaps this is distortion, or even Straw Man again.

A flatmate of mine used to say: "When you said X, naturally I assumed you meant Y, because everybody does..." 

There's a term, so there must be a reality behind it. Now let's all come up with our own analyses of what the term means, and discuss them until the cows come home. And when we've done that, we can start on counting the sands of the seashore...

cancel culture
human nature

But kleptomania and pyromania have been downgraded - we don't mention their names and they are no longer things.

Define your terms
If you don't define your terms, you can use the word "peace" to mean something different from what your audience or opponent understands. Terms should be agreed on.

There's glory for you!'

'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
(Lewis Carroll, Alice through the Looking-Glass)

Move the goalposts
Redefine your terms. Suddenly. In the middle of the argument. Without telling anybody.

Trust the science! Oh, I meant social science.

Or you can dodge between the literal and metaphorical meaning of a word.

Order your opponent to make ropes of sand
In the fairytale, the sorcerer summoned some demons who asked "What can we do for you, O master?" Whatever he gave them to do, they finished the job in a few minutes and were back again. Finally he told them to go to the seashore and make ropes of sand. They never bothered him again.

"Well, have you asked everybody from this demographic in the whole world?"

Or you get them to memorise all 32 g*nders and their corresponding bar-code flags. Tomorrow the list will be different.

More Loopy Logic here, and links to the rest.

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