Interpretation

O.K., we may overstate the case for the objectivity of logic a little. Let us qualify a little bit our claims to separate truth entirely from validity.

First of all, we are primarily concerned with informal fallacies rather than formal fallacies (see the explanation here). Detecting informal fallacies require, among other things, judging the plausibility of a claim and hence more than mere validity. This is especially so in the case of false generalizations, false analogies etc.. But even beyond that, these fallacies rest on the meaning of the statements in the argument–how else could we judge relevance for example? Finally, we need some sense of the intentions of the author in order to determine whether reasoning, rather than, for example, explanation, is their goal.

Thus, although Logic itself may be objective, the identification of its use and abuse in arguments in our colloquial language is not always so purely objective. There is a necessary interpretive element in virtually all of our analyses. We don’t need to claim that all interpretation is a mis-interpretation, as many would, to recognize that the notion of a single correct interpretation is hard to maintain or to defend conclusively: That is, language always escapes the complete control of an author, not accidentally, but necessarily, and for some authors more than for others. When a reader interprets a text, she must project a conception of the intentions of the author. These intentions are not, however, objectively ascertainable, and even if they were they would not entirely disambiguate the text.

So this is the complicated way of saying that although we can stand by our analyses of logic in our posts, we have to admit that interpretations may (occasionally) be open to criticisms. This is most easily noticed when we raise the question of “charity” in interpretation. Sometimes there may be more charitable interpretations of the author’s intentions or the meaning of her words than we settle upon. We do not think that our interpretations are sacrosanct–that they are the only possible construal. Sometimes, in fact, we find that we must divorce the most charitable reading of the author’s intentions from the determinate rhetorical effects of their words.

One of the recurrent places in which we encounter this divorce most clearly is in the use of humor. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, humor may be the last refuge of “scoundrelous” pundit. Rush Limbaugh was famous for replying to any criticism of the truth of his pronouncements by claiming that he was just an entertainer, implicitly suggesting that standards of truth and accuracy do not govern entertaining. Nonetheless, he continuously suggested that what he was saying was true, and he clearly intended to persuade his audience through his pronouncements. We do not believe that “humor” is necessarily a defense for faulty reasoning, since it is often simply used as a way of concealing that faulty reasoning. Nonetheless, we admit that to construe a piece of a humor as an argument may show a certain insensibility. But, at the same time we have come to believe that since humor has persuasive rhetorical effects it is necessary to pursue the underlying fallacies in many uses of humor as political rhetoric.

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