Category Archives: Argument Schemes

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.

Invisible man

Over lunch at La Unica, a friend of mine (also philosophy professor) thought he would try his hand at fallacy schematization.  Inspired by the super-hero theme of the "-man" fallacies–the marvel comics collection of straw, weak, hollow, and iron man, he thought that there ought also to be "invisible man"–if only for the sake of symmetry.

And sure enough it didn't take long to come up with it.  Normally the fallacy name is invented after the phenomenon is identified; in this case, the name was identified and we went in search of the phenomenon.

Here it is:  

One alleges, falsely, that one's argument is strengthened by the fact that people ignore it; their not critiquing your argument is evidence of their inability to critique it.

Thus, you have an invisible man.

Classic example, I think, would the be fringe blogger who complains that the no addresses his super salient points because they are afraid, and therefore he is right.  No real life examples at the moment.  I'll look for them.

One will notice close affinities with the argument from ignorance (the argumentum ad ignorantiam) wherein one argues that the absence of evidence for/against p is sufficient to prove p (when it isn't of course).  

My friend came up with another one.  Maybe tomorrow.

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?

Bend my beliefs

An obvious point (forgive me I've been really busy), but how does one properly evaluate views one finds hateful?  Here's Growing Pains' star and banana enthusiast Kirk Cameron:

I should be able to express moral views on social issues, especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years —- without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach 'tolerance' that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I'm in the public square."

In other words, when Kirk Cameron is calling others immoral, and advocating that they pray away the gay, or whatever it is they should do, how dare they ask him to bend his beliefs

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.


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.

It’s not only mistaken, it’s also wrong

John Kass, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, argues in today's column that requiring health-insurance plans to include contraception for women in their health insurance plans is a "clear" violation of the First Amendment.  He offers this puzzling argument:

But then, recently, he decided to challenge the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. And his new policy to force religious hospitals and schools to offer abortion-inducing drugs and birth control in health care plans for employees is a clear violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

It demonstrates to Americans that their government is not only willing but eager to dominate faith, by telling religions how to practice their beliefs. And if they refuse, then the faithful will feel the federal wrath.

So the president's policy is not only mistaken and insensitive and wrong, it is the perfect expression of everything Americans fear about the ever-increasing federal leviathan.

It is not only mistaken–it's also wrong.  Mistaken is the most wrong kind of wrong.  The article (and the comments) are worth reading for the factless cocoon in which some people seem to live.  Nowhere in the piece does Kass bother to (1) cite the facts about the actual policy; (2) consider reasonable objections to such non-restrictions; (3) discuss what the actual position of the Catholic Church is:

The Catholic bishops have called the new health coverage rule "an attack on religious freedom" and argue that all employers who object to contraception–not just faith-based organizations–should be exempt from having to provide it to their employees.

“That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether," said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the USCCB, "not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers."

He added, "If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I'd be covered by the mandate."

That's not a slippery slope, that's their stated objective.  So imagine the following etiam tu quoque (offered, by the way, by a commenter on the Tribune page): the Chicago Tribune has now changed hands, it's owned by Jehovah's Witnesses.  However life saving blood transfusions may be, they are not covered on their plan because Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in them.  Sorry John Kass, no blood transfusions for you so long as you work at the Tribune.  In addition, the JWs think it immoral to refer you to outside plans that would cover blood transfusions.  You must find insurance and pay for that out of pocket on your own.  A discount from you current plan to cover it would violate their beliefs (these are, by the way, objections actually offered to compromise plans by the Catholic Church).    Would you support the law then?

Anyway, the point is that it is not super-obvious to everyone that this is a religious freedom issue.  I would say that it's one worthy of some careful discussion.  Kass isn't offering that.

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.

Arguers arguing

My sense is that critical thinking and informal logic classes stress the evaluation of arguments, not arguers.  This is fine as a starting point, but as a long run strategy, it ignores the fact that we have very often to evaluate arguers.  Someone who makes good ones, like someone who can throw good pitchers, is a good arguer; someone who makes bad ones, is a bad arguer.  It's a kind of skill.  The judgement about the person arguing strikes some, however, as having too much of an ad hominem character.  But ad hominems are not by their very nature fallacious.  They're fallacious only when the ad hominem judgement has no relevance to the truth or falsity or reliability or whatever of what a person is saying. 

In light of this, consider George Will's latest attack on his favorite hollow man, "progressivism."

In 2011, for the first time in 62 years, America was a net exporter of petroleum products. For the indefinite future, a specter is haunting progressivism, the specter of abundance. Because progressivism exists to justify a few people bossing around most people and because progressives believe that only government’s energy should flow unimpeded, they crave energy scarcities as an excuse for rationing — by them — that produces ever-more-minute government supervision of Americans’ behavior.

and then later:

An all-purpose rationale for rationing in its many permutations has been the progressives’ preferred apocalypse, the fear of climate change. But environmentalism as the thin end of an enormous wedge of regulation and redistribution is a spent force. How many Americans noticed that the latest United Nations climate change confabulation occurred in December in Durban, South Africa?

Let's put this another way.  A person who makes up phony opponents (hollow men) merely in order to knock down their imaginary arguments with demonstrable scientific falsehoods is a very sorry arguer.  That's an ad hominem.

via Washington Monthly 

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.


My leadership trackrecord is irrelevant to my leadership

Newt Gingrich replied to Chris Wallace (Fox's only real news reporter), when Wallace asked about Gingrich's staff resigning, alleging that he lacked seriousness or the will to win, (or really the political judgment relevant to governing) as follows:

Well, let me say first of all, Chris, that I took seriously Bret’s injunction to put aside the talking points. And I wish you would put aside the gotcha questions … I’d love to see the rest of tonight’s debate asking us about what we would do to lead an America whose president has failed to lead, instead of playing Mickey Mouse games. (video here)

But why is this a 'gotcha' question?  The campaign staff thought Gingrich wasn't serious about the campaign.  If Newt cared about the ideas (he is an ideas man), then he'd stick it out for their sake, instead of taking the cruise, wouldn't he?  Wouldn't that be leadership?

The informal logic point: aren't some tu quoque arguments appropriate?  That is, don't they show that if some person S is inconsistent in supporting view p, even in cases where it is clearly in S's interest, then isn't S insincere?