An appeal to the force

Whilst discussing the concept of the argumentum ad baculum the other day in Critical Thinking class, it occured to me that this scene from Star Wars might be an interesting example, in its fallacious and non fallacious varieties:

TARKIN: The regional governors now have direct control over
territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this
battle station.

TAGGE: And what of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a
complete technical readout of this station, it is possible, however
unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it.

VADER: The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.

MOTTI: Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a
useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This
station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use

VADER: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've
constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to
the power of the Force.

MOTTI: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader.
Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure
up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the
Rebel's hidden fort…

Suddenly Motti chokes and starts to turn blue under Vader's

VADER: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

TARKIN: Enough of this! Vader, release him!

VADER: As you wish.

Script here.  Video here.

There seem to be a number of arguments on the table here. 

Tarkin (the guy who looks like Vincent Price) first suggests the Empire ought to rule by fear and force, using the Death Star.  This is not a fallacious appeal to force, as he simply advocates violent coercion. 

Tagge worries that such force will be inadequate, since it is force, it can be defeated on its own terms, or that machines have inherent limitations which can be exploited by force (a well placed shot, for instance, at a weak point).  He doesn't seem to advocate diplomacy and rational persuasion, however, though perhaps one might infer something like this from what he said. 

Motti (the guy who gets choked) agrees with Vincent Price and advocates the use of force with the qualification that it is totally awesome and ought to be used now. 

But Vader says force is nothing compared to THE Force. 

Here is where it gets odd.  Motti gets into a scrum with Vader over which force to use–force or The Force.  What is hilarious is that neither thinks he shouldn't be using force broadly construed.  Funnier still is that the argument over which sense of force to be used is resolved by force (broadly costrued again).  Here it is:

Motti criticizes Vader for his "sorcerer's ways" and for his religious devotion to the Force–arguing:

1.  The Death Star is the ultimate power in the universe and ought to be used against the rebels;

2.  Not even a complete technical readout of the Death Star can defeat it;

But Vader rebuts him, arguing:

3.  ad 1 and 2.  The planet pulverizing power of the Death Star does not compare to The Force.

Motti replies:

4.  A truly useful "force" would also be able to (1) locate the rebels; and (2) recover the stolen tapes.

5.  Point 3 is therefore false.

Vader replies:

6.  Choking Motti, saying "your lack of faith is disturbing." 

Here's the question.  Has Vader countered Motti by choking him?  Or is his use of the force a fallacious appeal to force?  It seems on one reading that Vader doesn't rebut Motti's points by choking him (that could be a sorcerer's trick, after all), so it is an irrelevant and therefore fallacious appeal to force. 

On the other hand, perhaps Vader is demonstrating the reality of the force in its use–as if to say, "if the force weren't real, I couldn't choke you from a distance."  But if that were true, then why would Vader say this:

"I find your lack of faith disturbing." 

At that point, the choking I mean, it's not a question of faith anymore.  Unless by "faith" Vader means a trust in his (Vader's) skills at locating lost plans, etc.  If that's the case, however, I'm not sure how distance-choking makes Vader's point. 

I'm inclined at this point to think that Vader has made a fallacious appeal to force–but I might change my mind if some one of you readers can distance-choke me.

20 thoughts on “An appeal to the force”

  1. Well, this might be the nerdiest post on the Non Sequitur ever.
    FYI, "Vincent Price" is actually Peter Cushing. With respect to Vader being disturbed by Motti's lack of faith, I think it's clear that Vader is referring to Motti's lack of faith prior to the show of The Force, so his direct appeal to the The Force is not fallacious as it is used to make known what Motti had doubted through a demonstration of its existence. 

  2. Yes, I know that it isn't Vincent Price.  Double nerd points to you for pointing that out.

    It's also clear (I hope) from what I wrote that he's referring to the previous thing.  The question is whether choking Motti demonstrates that point or merely forces him to STFU.

  3. So I wonder if clarifying what the issue is would help matters.  It seems likely that the question is: what's better for keeping rebels in line, (a) technological force or (b) THE FORCE? 
    Motti opts for (a), and further dismisses (b) as ancient hocus pocus.  Vader's response, perhaps, is less a demonstration of (b)'s singular superiority, but more a response to Motti's dismissive bit about Jedi-worship — he lacks faith.  So the distance-choke doesn't resolve the issue between (a) and (b), but with the little demonstration, Vader gives anyone who thinks it's an easy choice for (a) over (b) something else to think about.
    Now, it seems that Vader is pursuing both paths. It's not like Vader is saying "forget the death star… I'll distance choke all 'them rebels!" Rather, Vader is pursuing an 'all hands on deck' approach to the problem of the rebels, and he holds that going only with (a) is short-sighted and likely ineffective.  Look at Motti… he's got all those blasters and such, and he's blue in the face!  (And Motti's point that Vader's forcey-powers alone haven't fixed the problem either should be well-taken by Vader… he just doesn't like it being put that way.)

  4. I think Vader is making a joke with the "lack of faith" line. I think that the force-choking is Vader's response to Motti's assertion that the Force cannot be real because it hasn't helped Vader locate the plans or the Rebels. The "lack of faith" comment is in reply to Motti characterizing the Force as "an ancient religion." Since it is neither, and it's common knowledge that it is neither (Motti would have been alive during the Old Republic to witness the Jedi firsthand or at least hear about them), I think that the essential disagreement between Vader and Motti is over what kind of thing the Force is.
    With both the choking and the joke, Vader is rebutting both of Motti's claims (that the Force doesn't exist, and that it is an "ancient religion.")
    The other thing is that Vader is also trying to demonstrate that the Empire should not feel too secure in the Death Star; his larger argument is that the Force is more powerful than technology, implying that, should the Rebels gain mastery of the Force, the Death Star might not be able to stop them OR that the Force, of its own accord, might keep the Death Star from being effective.

  5. First, thanks for not distance-choking me.  Second, I'd agree with your reading insofar as that woudl be Vader's best strategy.  However, it seems to me that he is insisting on a comparative judgement vis a vis the DS and the Force–and his argument is the distance choke.  He doesn't invoke any other reasons to show the superiority of the force.  Again, willing to be distance choked out of my view.

  6. JPD–

    My comment below yours was directed at Scott. 

    I think in qualified disagreement with you, that we might have a different sense of faith at issue here.  This is to say that it's Motti's lack of faith in Vader which is at issue.  I think one can allow distance choking and other force-related activities, and still maintain that it's hocus pocus, and unnecessary compared to the DS.  But Vader is ultimately right, in a sense, but choking Motti really isn't evidence of that–thus the irrelevance charge. 

  7. John (with two fingers grasping the air to punctuate),
    Vader is making a display of force with the distance choke.  As if to say: this is what I can do with two fingers, while you're sitting there smugly. 
    This display establishes two things.  #1. Even if the religion is old, the FORCE is real.  So it works like a little miracle to shut up the doubting Thomas in the room.  JPD is right that it's a joke, but the joke is one at Motti's expense. As one of my students said yesterday after a refutation "You just got argument-owned!"  You,said that it is possible to be distance-choked and still maintain that THE FORCE is hocus pocus… I would have loved to see Motti do that.  It goes something like this:  "Yeah, the force is still hocus pocus… I've seen Chriss Angel do better stuff… (choking)… (gagging)….(eyes rolling back in the head)."
    #2. Given that the ultimate issue is the comparative judgment, I don't think that Vader has given the full case for the force there. Just because he can distance-choke, that doesn't mean that THE FORCE is better than the DS.  But Vader's got two claims on the table: the comparative judgment (not supported), and the commitment that the plans will be back in their hands because he will use both the DS and THE FORCE.  The latter now seems better off.  
    OK. That's enough of me being Vader's advocate.

  8. OK. One more time, but this time with a much weaker conclusion.
    Vader's dialectical goal with the distance-choke was not to establish the ultimate conclusion comparing the force with technology, but to demonstrate an intermediate conclusion: Motti has underestimated the force. 

  9. Don't tell me the Jedi mind trick worked!

    But I can appreciate what you're saying.  I think Vader is demonstrating the reality of the force by that gesture, but I don't think Motti has questioned that.  I would include that in the "sorcerer's ways" comment.  As if to say: "sure, Vader, you can distance choke and use the light saber, etc., but we're talking global strategy here, and so far you haven't been effective."  What can Motti say once choked?  Nothing really, as Vader has effectively ended the discussion with him.    

  10. Something I brought up in class with John Casey, and I will repeat here for the benefit of those not in attendance…
    The Death Star represents a force that can destroy planets.  Yes, it is a force, but one to destroy, not control.  One who destroys all in the attempt to control will have nothing to control in the end.
    "The Force" that Vader speaks of is a force of control, demonstrated on Motti quite effectively, showing that the force is much more powerful than the death star since it can control directly, and not through the threat of destruction.
    The Force is something that is in all living things, as we learned from Yoda.  It has the ability to travel vast distances, even across the galaxy, to directly manipulate and control people.  The Death Star cannot, since it must travel to the location directly, and its control is limited to the threat of destruction, and ultimately destruction, but no direct control.
    I agree with John Paul Davis in all but the joke part.  Vader making a joke?  No way!  The force is all to serious for him.
    An excellent example of the power of The Force is in the final moments of Episode Three (The last movie released), in where Anikin makes his final steps into becoming Darth Vader.  Everything around him is tormented by his own loss of self control, and the picture expands to show exactly how far his Force power reached.
    Thanks for reading my 2.5 cents! 

  11. Thanks Brian for the important context.  I'm trying to think of non-violent or non-coercive interactions between Vader and his objects, subjects, or opponents.  I can only really think of one.  Luke, I am your father. . . And even that was a kind of emotional appeal . . .

  12. Dr. Casey,
    How is Vader's choking of Motti not violent?
    And as for non-violent or non-coercive ways, the Force is always in some way violent and coercive, since it manipulates whomever it touches without reguard to how that person might feel about its influence.
    Another way to look at it is…
    What if I grab someone?  If I do it physicaly, or indirectly through the Force, it is still a violation, since I did it without consent.  Those who wield the Force, for good or bad, manipulate without consent to further their causes.  "Those are not the droids you are looking for!" is an example of a good use of the force.  It is still manipulation, and therefore not non-violent or non-coercive.  I can think of no way the Force can be used one someone and still be non-violent or non-coercive.
    However, an example of non-violent or non-coercive use of the force would be when Yoda lifted the X-Wing out of the swamp.  There he used the force on an object, and did not intend to harm anyone in the process (unlike when Vader throws things at Luke in their battle before Vader reveals to Luke that he is Luke's father).
    I hope this sorts things out!

  13. Hi Brian.  I thought it was violent.  My question was whether the dark side of the force (to be more precise now) allowed for non-coercive argumentation, rather than distance-choking, etc.

  14. Dr. Casey,
    Since argumentation can only be done with people (Can you have argumentation of objects?), my answer to your question is no.
    But for further clarification, what is your definition of non-coercive argumentation?

  15. II do not think so.
    The Dark side of the Force doesn't use reason, but manipulated use of the Force to control the other party.  This is the reason why Vader says "You do not know the power of the dark side!"  in response to Luke saying "Let go of your hate.  I can still feel the good in you!"  The Dark side represents direct manipulation of their environment to obtain their desired outcome.
    The light side uses gentle suggestion to obtain the same.  "Do you want to buy some death sticks?"  Obi-Wan responds with, "You do not want to sell me death sticks.  You want to go home and re-evaluate your life."

  16. Professor, I read it and now my brain hurts me!!!  I could say that I'm very qualified to comment on this subject matter due to the fact that I've never watched more than 3 and a half minutes of any Star Wars movie, so my mind hasn't melted from George Lucas' genius.  On to your writing.  The big black thing reinforces his argument by choking the very annoying nasally voiced white dude.  (side note) I haven't seen a white guy dominated like that by a black dude since Ehlo tried guarding Jordan.  Back to star wars, white dude claims black dude doesn't have power, black thing shows he still has it by choking white dude, black thing wins.  And that's what an explanation sounds like in stupid people speak!  When you start throwing in big words like fallacious and things of that nature with the other words it tends to confuse the audience.  All kidding aside it was very well written!!!!!

  17. I have to throw myself into the ad baculum court in this matter. I do not think that Motti is denying the force has any power. I think he believes that the force posses some power, just not enough to destroy  an entire planet or solve the large complex problems the empire faces. Vader's choking him only proves Votti's point more. All Vader could do was choke him. The thing I don't get is why Vader did not use the Jedi Mind trick on him? I know he is on the Dark Side, so do you loose that power and what sort of fallacy is the Jedi Mind Trick? I mean it is a very convincing argument, right? "These aren't the droids you are looking for" Obviously not.

  18. This is going right into my future lecture notes. Thank you. (I'm going with Vader is taking advantage of both usages)

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