Tag Archives: Argument Schemes

Having a face like their ass*

A couple days ago we had a discussion about the non-fallacious sense of ad hominem.  As recent research has shown (decisively, I think), fallacious forms of argument schemes exist along side non-fallacious ones.  Attacking the person isn’t ipso facto impermissible, because sometimes people who argue are bad and that fact bears on their argument.

Here’s another fun example pulled from Twitter.  A Catholic hospital in Denver has been sued for malpractice involving the death of a mother and one of her twin fetuses.  Their defense?  Well:

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

Please consider the usual caveats about legal cases and legal reporting and let’s say for the sake of argument that this is the Catholic hospital’s view (but don’t let this stop you from commenting on them should you want to).  It seems like we’d have reasonable grounds for saying: how inconsistent this argument is with your long-standing views!  In fact (from the same source):

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

So here we have probably (again for the sake of argument) perfectly reasonable interpretation of the Wrongful Death Act.  But it is exactly the opposite of the views of the institution which is making the argument.  This inconsistency has (justifiably) occasioned the non-fallacious tu quoque charge.  Imagine had the plaintiff making the argument been represented by Planned Parenthoood.  Nonetheless, I think this illustrates a critical issue about ad hominems, namely: it is impossible to entertain this argument in isolation from the other commitments–even those not currently up for discussion–of the arguer.

*having “your face like your ass” (la faccia come il culo): (roughly) not ashamed of anything.


Even the daft find him stupid

A particularly frequent subvariety of argument from authority is the, for lack of a better description, "even sophists find his arguments fallacious" scheme.  The thought is that even people likely to make bad arguments have special authority when they point out a bad argument.

I ran across an instance of this scheme on Balloon Juice.  Here's the whole post:

The National Catholic Reporter calls Obama the more pro-life candidate (via):

There is no doubt Obama is pro-choice. He has said so many times. There is also no doubt Romney is running on what he calls a pro-life platform. But any honest analysis of the facts shows the situation is much more complicated than that.
For example, Obama’s Affordable Care Act does not pay for abortions. In Massachusetts, Romney’s health care law does. Obama favors, and included in the Affordable Care Act, $250 million of support for vulnerable pregnant women and alternatives to abortion. This support will make abortions much less likely, since most abortions are economic. Romney, on the other hand, has endorsed Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s budget, which will cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of the federal plans that support poor women. The undoubted effect: The number of abortions in the United States will increase. On these facts, Obama is much more pro-life than Romney.

That’s some good reasoning, but it’s preceded by a defense of Cardinal Dolan that includes Canon Law justification of Dolan paying pedophile priests. In a way, that makes it even more remarkable, since even someone who can defend Dolan for that kind of stuff sees through the Romney/Ryan bullshit.

The last part is the key.  There is indeed something strangely compelling about that kind of reasoning.  But I think on logical grounds this fails miserably.  First, I'm not sure I see bad arguments increasing a person's authority.  Second, it's oddly selective; i.e., usually such a person has no authority, but here that they have come to the conclusion I find palatable I find them convincing.  But perhaps on this occasion their reasoning is also flawed.  My sense then is that this sort of scheme undermines rather than strengthens someone's authority. 

In fairness to mistermix, the author of the post, his primary point is that the reasoning in the cited passage was indeed good.  To that extent my comment here is tangential.  It's just that this reasoning was seen to be given more probabitive force by instances of reasoning poorly (earlier in the article).

Interested in comments on this one.

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.

OSSA Day 3: Scheming

"Argument Schemes: An Epistemological Approach," Christoph Lumer, Universita' di Siena.

I like this topic very much, as I find the notion of Argument schemes to historically interesting (descending from the medieval variations on the Aristotelian topoi), theoretically enlightenging (as a classificatory system of argument types), and pedagogically useful (as a way of teaching argument construction and evaluation).  Lumer likes the idea of schemes as well, but finds the articulation of them wanting.  His paper articulated a different, and more limited set, of schemes (basically deductive, inductive, and practical).  Those aren't so much schemes as they are types of argument.  Nonetheless, the focus of Lumer's work is the epistemic theory of argumentation, which understands arguments as about justifief belief, rather than, say, agreement, conflict resolution, etc.  Fun thing about this paper is the Douglas Walton, the leading exponent of the scheme view under criticism, was in attendence, and challenged Lumer's approach in the Q and A.  He questioned the basis of Lumer's selection of schemes–pointing out that it was overly theoretical, and unrelated to the way people actually argue.  A good time was had by all.