Category Archives: Argument from Inconsistency

Vatican standoff

A Vatican Standoff

At a recent conference on Tolerance, Vatican representative Bishop Mario Toso makes the following obviously problematic assertion:

Intolerance in the name of “tolerance” must be named for what it is and publically condemned. To deny religiously informed moral argument a place in the public square is intolerant and anti-democratic. Or to put it another way, where there might be a clash of rights, religious freedom must never be regarded as inferior. On the other hand, the issue of religious freedom cannot and should not be incorporated into that of tolerance. If, in fact, this was the supreme human and civilian value, then any authentically truthful conviction, that excludes the other, would be tantamount to intolerance. Moreover, if every conviction was as good as another, you could end up being accommodating even towards aberrations.

Seems like the last sentence contradicts the first bolded one.  If every religion is as good as another, you could end up being accommodating even towards aberrations.

But I think it is obvious what we’re talking about here.  Where a Christian’s right to hate upon a homosexual conflicts with that homosexual’s right not to lose job, house, etc., the Christian’s right absolutely prevails, or is at least equal.  It’s not obvious that this ought to be the case.  It’s also not obvious why the Bishop thinks this ought to be the case, other than to invoke the tolerance regress argument:  If you criticize my intolerance, you’re intolerant.

Via Reddit.

TU to-the-evah-lovin’ QUOQUE!

We’ve had a number of discussions here at the NS about how ad hominem tu quoque can sometimes actually be a relevant form of argument. (See one of mine HERE, Colin on it HERE, John on it HERE, and my publication on it at IL HERE) In short: the argument form, when properly presented, can show in speaker inconsistency: incompetence, insincerity, or  evidence that a proposed practice is impractical.  I have one that seems a glaring case of insincerity.  Thomas Sowell’s syndicated piece (here at the American Spectator) is that because liberals control (most of) education, there’s no actual fact-checking from critics of conservatives. Instead, all liberals do, from his experience, is give counter-assertions, and that’s what’s supported by the educational institutions producing them.  Well, at least that’s what happened when Sowell read an email from a liberal critic.

It is good to check out the facts — especially if you check out the facts on both sides of an issue…. By contrast, another man simply denounced me because of what was said in that column. He did not ask for my sources but simply made contrary assertions, as if his assertions must be correct and therefore mine must be wrong.

He identified himself as a physician, and the claims that he made about guns were claims that had been made years ago in a medical journal — and thoroughly discredited since then. He might have learned that, if we had engaged in a back and forth discussion, but it was clear from his letter that his goal was not debate but denunciation. That is often the case these days.

OK.  So Sowell got an email from someone with outdated information.  From a medical journal, but outdated information.  Well, that’s not so bad, is it?  Apparently so, because Sowell takes this email to be representative of how liberals think:

If our educational institutions — from the schools to the universities— were as interested in a diversity of ideas as they are obsessed with racial diversity, students would at least gain experience in seeing the assumptions behind different visions and the role of logic and evidence in debating those differences.

Instead, a student can go all the way from elementary school to a Ph.D. without encountering any fundamentally different vision of the world from that of the prevailing political correctness.

Well, first, I smell weak manning here — thanks, Tomas Sowell, for picking a bad arguer for a liberal talking point and generalizing to all liberals.  Perhaps we could do the same for you and use Michele Bachman as the representative voice for conservatism?

At this point, Sowell then turns to the institutions that produce what he takes to be shoddy arguments, that is, universities.  And he’s got one case in point:

The student at Florida Atlantic University who recently declined to stomp on a paper with the word “Jesus” on it, as ordered by the professor, was scheduled for punishment by the university until the story became public and provoked an outcry from outside academia.

Ah, but then there’s the old fact-checking, getting the other side’s version of the story.  You know, like what a well-educated person would do.  The exercise did take place, but the student who refused wasn’t up for punishment for not stepping on ‘Jesus’, but for threatening the professor with violence.  And that’s where we know that Sowell’s not playing fair – when his side gets criticized, he wants his critics to be entirely up to date on all the details of the matter.  And when they aren’t, well, that’s evidence of how stupid, horribly educated, and disinterested in actual debate they are.  But when it’s his side, well, it’s just a matter of saying what his favored audience wants.

A final question, but now about the FAU case:  why would Christians care about stepping on the word ‘Jesus’? The name’s not holy. The letters aren’t either.  This strikes me as another case of hypocrisy — they’ve got their own graven images.  The name of god in their own language.  Christians who threaten Professor Poole with death over this don’t understand their own religion.

Reduce, reuse, recyle

Fig.1: Conservativism

Here is a post for those who think that pointing out the inconsistency between a party’s name and its alleged position on an issue constitutes a decisive refutation of their view.  That “conservatives” fail to “conserve” or “preserve” or anything else along those lines does not mean they embody some kind of contradiction.  George Will has used this line on “progressives,” or his army of hollow men in years pastHere he is the other day:

Progressives are remarkably uninterested in progress. Social Security is 78 years old, and myriad social improvements have added 17 years to life expectancy since 1935, yet progressives insist the program remain frozen, like a fly in amber. Medicare is 48 years old, and the competence and role of medicine have been transformed since 1965, yet progressives cling to Medicare “as we know it.” And they say that the Voting Rights Act, another 48-year-old, must remain unchanged, despite dramatic improvements in race relations.

What kind of move is this?  I think it’s an equivocation–a rather textbook variety.  Clearly “progressive” means something different to “Progressives” (the name a half-hearted attempt at rebranding “liberal,” by the way).  Will’s thought goes something like this:

your name implies you like progress, but here is progress which you don’t like, so you’re not “progressive.”  Your self-understanding therefore is laughably contradictory.

The problem with this is that “progress” (1)–things getting better, more just, etc–and “progress” (2)–things changing–mean different things to alleged “progressives”.  Besides, what is at issue with voting rights is an empirical question: has progress been made on voting rights?  Progressives say, pointing to the recent election, no; (some) conservatives say yes.

*minor edit for clarity.

If the other guy were president

We’ve had a few discussions of subjunctive tu quoque here at the NS. (See Colin’s original post HERE). Well, here’s another version of it. Sean Paige at the National Review Online is concerned about a recent suggestion from two law professors that President Obama pursue environmental regulatory reform without including Congress. (NB, the title of his essay is “Under the Green Hammer,” a classic!) Here’s Paige’s reply:

But one can’t help wondering what they would say about the propriety and constitutionality of what they are urging if a conservative Republican were president. I’m guessing, at the risk of putting words into their mouths, that a Republican president who embarked on a concerted effort to ram an agenda through without even consulting Congress would stand accused by the two professors of having undemocratic, perhaps even dictatorial, tendencies.

Fair enough, but it’s worth wondering what Sean Paige would say, too.  I’m guessing that he’d be very proud of the Conservative President’s leadership in ignoring a Congress full of liberals. Hey, when we play the subjunctive tu quoque game, we get to stipulate counterfactuals so we all go down.

Makers and takers

Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney's Vice Presidential choice.  As a consequence, there's been a good bit of attention paid to Ryan's much-touted appreciation of Ayn Rand.  One edge is to criticize Randian economic policy.  Another edge is to ask whether Ryan himself lives by the Randian rules.  Here's Joan Walsh taking the second option, over at Slate,  with her article, "Paul Ryan: Randian Poseur":

When his lawyer father died young, sadly, the high-school aged Ryan received Social Security survivor benefits. But they didn’t go directly to supporting his family; by his own account, he banked them for college. . . . After his government-subsidized out-of-state education, the pride of Janesville left college and went to work for government. . . .Let’s say it together: You didn’t build that career by yourself, Congressman Ryan.

It's been a regular question here at the NS whether some kinds of tu quoque arguments can be relevant.  Again, the best example is what we've been calling smoking dad, which has the father, in the midst of taking a drag from a cigarette, telling the son that he shouldn't smoke because smoking's addictive and bad for your health.  Of course, the father's a hypocrite, but he's right, and his hypocrisy actually is relevant, because it's evidence that the father, who thinks smoking's bad, can't stop.  So it is addictive.  OK, so what about Walsh's argument here?  It seems to be that: Paul Ryan is committed to Randian principles, but doesn't live by them.  So… what follows, and why?

Here's the argument with the strongest conclusion:  Ryan's failure to live by his principles shows that they aren't right, that they aren't practicable.  Randianism is all about individuals, doing things by themselves, and ensuring that others don't interfere.  But that's not how societies work. Instead, individual success arises out of large-scale cooperation, opportunities afforded, and others giving back. 

Now, I do think that the hypocrisy of those avowing ideology X can regularly be relevant to our estimation of X.  But not all hypocrisies are created equal.  Couldn't a defender of Ryan and Randianism say something like: sure, but all this is evidence of how things work now, not how they should.  Paul Ryan benefitted from this system, and it was in his interest to do so, but that doesn't mean that the system is just or appropriate.  It just means it benefits some people.  They should be free to criticize it, still.

I think that reply is just about right, but it does miss one thing, which I  think Walsh's column could make clearer: it's easy to forget, even when you're Paul Ryan, that individual successes are nevertheless social products.  And that social programs do help people, even Randians, pursue their self interest.

Not really hypocrisy of the day

Think Progress is accusing Ron Paul of hypocrisy for criticizing social security but taking it (they also suggest that he compared social security to slavery, which he did and didn't:  He did in the "immoral" sense, but not in the "social security is a type of slavery sense):

Paul is, of course, not the only conservative to benefit from government programs that he or she opposes. But his crankish view of the Constitution has brought him to the conclusion that Social Security is altogether unconstitutional, which also hasn’t stopped him from collecting benefits.

Any critic A's criticism of policy x naturally leads critic B of critic A to see whether A is consistent with regard to x.  Since x is government policy, or law, it's very easy to spot alleged inconsistencies.  I'm against, at least I think I am, various tax breaks for people who make over a certain amount of money.  These tax breaks might benefit me.  I'm not a hypocrite for not writing a check to the federal reserve.  I'm a hypocrite if the policy I advocate goes into effect, and I do not abide by it.

People might remember that this is, in essence, the Buffett criticism (we talked about it here and here and here and here): if you like taxes so much, pay voluntarily.  Such criticism was bad then, and it's bad now.

It's bad in part because it would make it practically very difficult to criticize laws and policies without engaging in civil disobedience of one form or another.

Odd inferences

I don't see the relation between "unarmed black teenager is shot under puzzling and racially charged circumstances" and "black people shoot each other all of the time," but apparently it's become quite a thing.  George Will has even jumped on the bandwagon (via Crooks and Liars):

WILL: Well, precisely. I mean, this is why we have what's called due process. We have institutions that are juries and grand juries and prosecutors who are supposed to look at the evidence and come up with the answer.

The root fact is, though, Mr. Jones, that about 150 black men are killed every week in this country. And 94 percent of them by other black men.

And this is — this episode has been forced into a particular narrative to make it a white-on-black when "The New York Times" rather infamously now decided that Mr. Zimmerman was a white Hispanic, a locution (ph) that was not — was rare until then, and I think they abandoned by Friday.

The funny thing is that Will's researchers must have looked up that little factoid.  It certainly does not clarify the puzzling circumstances around this case: namely, the fact that someone stalked a skittle-bearing teenager on his way home , described him as suspicious, shot him, and walked away claiming, among other things, that he stood his ever moving and stalking ground.  I don't know what happened, it seems odd.

But I suppose the implication is that one is inconsistent if one isn't shrieking with rage over the other murders.  Which people are, anyway. 

Here's a question.  If one hasn't remarked on the 150 or so black men who die every week violently, is one enjoined from being outraged by the Trayvon Martin slaying?

Sic semper stultis

The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have both passed a law requiring women to undergo ultrasounds before getting an abortion.  Such procedures are unnecessary, critics argue, because they (1) serve no medical purpose; and (2) people getting an abortion already know what they're doing.  This criticism prompted someone–a professor of economics according to Wikipedia–to tweet the following:

I suppose the thought go something like this.  People who favor regulation must always favor regulation under any circumstances.  If they don't, their beliefs are inconsistent. 

But that's really a load of puerile garbage not worthy even of drunken refutation.

via Balloon Juice via Atrios.

UPDATE.

Here is CNN's Dana Loesch on consent:

LOESCH: That’s the big thing that progressives are trying to say, that it’s rape and so on and so forth. [...] There were individuals saying, “Oh what about the Virginia rape? The rapes that, the forced rapes of women who are pregnant?” What? Wait a minute, they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.

Comment unnecessary.

The scheme meme

I get a kick out of image macros and the memes generated therefrom.  To me, some of theme are like instances of argument schemes for the generation of kids who don't want to read Boethius's De topicis differentiisKnow your meme even expresses them as abstract functions.

Here's a good instance of a "inconsistency" argument scheme meme:

This one doesn't work, because there is no double standard (interpretations of amendments may differ, etc.).

Nonetheless.  The scheme meme is fun.  Lots of others to talk about.

The symbols of my religion are religiously neutral

Joseph Ianfranco and Byron Babione's recent post at the American Spectator, "Atheists Attack 9/11 Cross," deserves some comment, as it instantiates a troubling bit of doublethink when it comes to defending state-sponsored religious symbolism.  On the one hand, there is the line that these symbols are representative of the religion of the society, and so what's wrong with a democracy that reflects the religious views of the majority?  On the other hand, there is the line that recognizes the necessity of restraint, but also holds that using the specific symbols in question doesn't amount to government endorsement of any particular religion.  The trouble is that you can't have both. 

They run their first line of argument by quoting the majority (with Kennedy as the lead writer) in the SCOTUS Salazar v Bruno case regarding a giant cross erected in the Mojave desert:

The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society.

That's fine, but the key is that using that symbolism for lots of people's acts displays those people's acts in the light of those religious stories.  There's having holidays on days that people of the dominant religion will likely take off, then there's using their symbols to invoke public virtues.  This puts too much stress on the establishment issue, so defenders of religious symbolism then demur that the symbolism is all that religious to begin with.

Who drives by such a cross and immediately sees an "establishment of Christianity" instead of a memorial? Not most Americans, 72 percent of whom favor inclusion of the 9/11 cross at the New York memorial and see no constitutional violation.

Huh. That's funny, as invoking the opinions of the majority of people won't save the case that is the tyranny of the majority.  As if the issue was settled as follows:  You say this is the majority overreaching its bounds?  Well, 75% of the people we polled say this is just fine with them!

But the deeper issue is the strange cultural blindness that Christian monoculture imbues people with.  The state erecting a giant cross doesn't look in the least like an endorsement of Christianity, because crosses just mean piety and holiness and such.  That's just what crosses mean, right?   It seems reminiscent of the Wittgenstein joke about the Frenchman who said that French is the best language, because the words come out in the order that you think them.