Tag Archives: ad baculum

Hamilton

Image result for hamilton duel

I posted a while back about the ad baculum argument. Roughly, “you hold p, but p, is false, and if you don’t agree I will punch you in the nose.” The typical account is that the nose-punching is irrelevant to the truth of p, so the ad baculum in this version is a fallacy.  Put another way: the punching, shooting, or threatening are not epistemic reasons for p, though they may be pragmatic ones. Whether pragmatic reasons can bring about belief is another question.

A standard objection to the existence of the ad baculum is that this just never really happens this way, and there are all sorts of more subtle things at work–such as consequences of one’s commitments, tests of hypocrisy, and so on. I think there’s a lot of truth to this (though I think there’s much to be said for the ad baculum). One bit of evidence in favor of the deflationary view is that it’s just hard to come up with plausible sounding examples. They all sound so contrived.

Until now. Here is Blake Farenthold, Republican Congressman from Texas (via TPM)

“The fact that the Senate does not have the courage to do some things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do is just absolutely repugnant to me. … Some of the people that are opposed to this, they’re some female senators from the Northeast,” he said, likely referring to Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, who has been vocal about her opposition to each of the Senate’s health plans from the start. She said over the weekend that she’s opposed to the delayed repeal bill.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Shelly Moore-Capito (R-WV) have also been clear about their opposition to various versions of the Republican health care plan.

Farenthold suggested if it were a man from his state blocking the repeal bill, he might ask him to “step outside and settle this Aaron Burr style,” he said, referencing the famed gun duel between the former vice president and Alexander Hamilton, a former secretary of the Treasury who had longstanding political differences. The gun fight ended in Hamilton’s death.

Man or woman, that wouldn’t settle it really–well, other than to subtract one vote either way (ok, two votes, because duels are illegal).

Ad baculum cum balaklavam

The ad baculum fallacy is a fallacy of relevance.  It is of the form:

If you don’t assent to p, you’ll get a whuppin’.

You don’t want a whuppin’.

Therefore, you should assent to p.

The relevance failure is that there’s no obvious connection between the impending threatened whuppin’ and the truth of what’s assented to.

A regular error folks make about the ad baculum is that with law enforcement, the enforcement techniques are purely pragmatic reasons offered for a truth that was settled elsewhere.  So that you shouldn’t drive over 55 mph in a certain zone isn’t established by the fact that you could get a ticket for doing so; rather, that’s determined by safety considerations and what activity is in the zone.  But the ticketing is there to help motivate you when you aren’t moved by (or aware of) those justifying reasons.  So the police cruiser conspicuously sitting there with the radar gun isn’t a scare tactic in the vicious argumentative sense. It’s just a reminder.

Now, that seems right, but then there are cases where this two-lines bit of motivation seems to give too much leeway to the threat (and use) of force to enforcers.  Enter the Lake County Sheriff’s department and their new video about heroin use.  The image is one thing: black-ops cops.  But the message takes the whole thing further:

To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you: We’re coming for you…. Our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you, we are simply awaiting the arrest warrants to be finalized …. Enjoy looking over your shoulder constantly wondering if today’s the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight, wondering if tonight’s the night our SWAT team blows your front door off the hinges.

There’s been plenty of complaint about the militarization of police forces, seeing those whom they protect and serve as a potential population with whom they must do deadly battle.

But here is where a diachronic way of looking at argumentative tropes is useful.  Ad baculum arguments aren’t fallacious just because they are irrelevant, but they are bad for us because they break down the dialectical goodwill necessary for argumentative culture.  Consider:  if you had an argument with your neighbor over a tree limb and she threatened you with a knife over it, would you go back to have a calm discussion later with her over a barking dog?  No.  Why?  Because it seems she likes knives a little too much.

Same with these characters in the Lake County Sheriff’s office.  They like playing scary intimidaters so much, it’s hard to imagine a good discussion of laws or police techniques with them.  So the way they do enforcement of decisions, even if the enforcement is independent of the argumentatively good means for it, undermines further critical exchange.  Ad baculum is bad for argumentative culture.

Then there is the worry of what that kind of power does to a person.  For a moment, recall what it does to my favorite cartoon id:

 

Guns & Ammo

Dick Metcalf, an editor at Guns & Ammo of all places, argued in an editorial for the fairly obvious (well, at least to most people) claim that even constitutionally guaranteed rights–such the rights to freedom of religion and to a well-regulated militia–ought to be, er, regulated some (but not very much). Not every instance of speech is allowed; to use the author’s example, you cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater.

Metcalf’s argument didn’t sit well with the Guns&Ammo crowd.  You can view selected responses here.  It would be charitable to nut pick them.  Why bother anyway, in response to their many reasonable interventions, Guns & Ammo fired Dick Metcalf.

Not surprising that a bunch of gun fanatics would turn to the ad baculum.

Cheating, at logic

Ouch

I like cycling and it’s Tour de France season, so here’s a cycling related post.  Ted King, a rider for the Cannondale squad, found himself eliminated from the entire race by seven seconds yesterday.  The rule goes like this: all riders must complete the race within 25 percent of the winning time.  King’s time fell outside of that, so he was disqualified.

This certainly sucks for him.  Now perhaps relevant to this story is the fact that King was the victim of a serious crash and was riding on a separated shoulder.  I say “perhaps” because here we have a genuine puzzle of the non fallacious ad misericordiam argument.  It goes like this: surely King, who was riding on an injured shoulder, deserves some leniency.

Questions such as these are very difficult.  The time cut off exists for a reason (though I don’t know what it is).  Regardless, appealing to extenuating circumstances in this case seems reasonable.

What is not reasonable, however, is the following tweet by Garmin Team Director Jonathan Vaughters:

My reasoning was that if we wish to encourage clean cycling, we can’t impose very high minimum speeds. But “c’est le ciclisme!” wins over logic

Sadly, this reminds me of the student who says high standards made him cheat.  Should cheating occur, it’s not the result of the rules.  It’s a result of people failing to deal with the rules fairly.  Raising the prospect of cheating as a consequence of rules you don’t agree with is cheating.  Only it’s cheating at logic.  Besides, the Tour directors, as far as I know, didn’t set the minimum speed, but rather the percentage of the cut off.  The riders set the speed.

Because why not

I wrote yesterday about the Wisconsin GOP's response to UW Madison Professor William Cronon's criticism of them: they requested his emails in an open records request.  One naturally wonders why anyone would be interested in his emails when he has been very upfront about his criticism.  Thankfully, the Wisconsin GOP has provided a reason:

"Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.

"I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government.

"Further, it is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open records request. Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. The Left is far more aggressive in this state than the Right in its use of open records requests, yet these rights do extend beyond the liberal left and members of the media.

"Finally, I find it appalling that Professor Cronin seems to have plenty of time to round up reporters from around the nation to push the Republican Party of Wisconsin into explaining its motives behind a lawful open records request, but has apparently not found time to provide any of the requested information.

"We look forward to the University's prompt response to our request and hope those who seek to intimidate us from making such requests will reconsider their actions."

The only explanation I can think of for requesting Professor Cronon's (yes, they misspelled his name) emails is to make him and others think twice before criticizing the GOP in Wisconsin.  Intimidation, in other words.  I think this first because Cronon is not exactly a "public official" in any ordinary sense.  He's a public employee doing his job as a historian.  Second, even though the GOP isn't (so far as I know) legally required to offer a justification, given Cronon's status as a critic of GOP ideas, one naturally thinks that the GOP has a moral obligation to offer a justification for changing the subject from ideas to persons.  Finally, the GOP spokesperson here, in responding to obvious and justified queries about their behavior, goes for the full red herring in wondering why we aren't talking about the very intimidating and non-compliant Cronon.  That's the tell.