Tag Archives: Aristotle

Fouling is part of the game

Quote of the day (Aristotle Sophistical Refutations 11 (171b20-35):

So, then, any merely apparent reasoning about these things is a contentious argument, and any reasoning that merely appears to conform to the subject in hand, even though it be genuine reasoning, is a contentious argument: for it is merely apparent in its conformity to the subject-matter, so that it is deceptive and plays foul. For just as a foul in a race is a definite type of fault, and is a kind of foul fighting, so the art of contentious reasoning is foul fighting in disputation: for in the former case those who are resolved to win at all costs snatch at everything, and so in the latter case do contentious reasoners. Those, then, who do this in order to win the mere victory are generally considered to be contentious and quarrelsome persons, while those who do it to win a reputation with a view to making money are sophistical. For the art of sophistry is, as we said,’ a kind of art of money-making from a merely apparent wisdom, and this is why they aim at a merely apparent demonstration: and quarrelsome persons and sophists both employ the same arguments, but not with the same motives: and the same argument will be sophistical and contentious, but not in the same respect; rather, it will be contentious in so far as its aim is an apparent victory, while in so far as its aim is an apparent wisdom, it will be sophistical: for the art of sophistry is a certain appearance of wisdom without the reality. The contentious argument stands in somewhat the same relation to the dialectical as the drawer of false diagrams to the geometrician; for it beguiles by misreasoning from the same principles as dialectic uses, just as the drawer of a false diagram beguiles the geometrician.

This is often the analogy that I use when discussing fallacies. I get little traction, because the students think fouling is part of the game.

Aristotle, On Trolling

This long-overdue translation (by Rachel Barney, Toronto) of Aristotle’s seminal, On Trolling, is worth a careful read. A sample:

Hence the modes of trolling are many: the concern-troll, the one who ‘sees the other side’, the polite inquirer into the obvious. For the perfected troll has no need of rudeness or abuse, or even of fallacy (this belongs rather to sophistic or eristic, and requires making an argument): he only makes a suggestion or indication [semainein ˆ ].

Read it. It’s only two pages.

A couple of items

In case one is interested in how philosophers have reacted to David Brooks' piece (mentioned here yesterday), then they can go over to the Leiter Reports and comment.

In case one is interested in bad arguments in general–as we are–then one can go badarguments.org to practice identifying them.  Have fun.

Finally, if one has been following George F. Will's scientific escapades (discussed by us here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here), one might be interested in the following article published in yesterday's Washington Post.  Here's a critical passage:

The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.

If only the article were distributed as widely as Will's various factually and logically challenged op-eds.  Here's Tom Toles (of the Washington Post!) on George Will:



General philosophical post today.  It doesn't seem David Brooks has read Aristotle.  Had he read Aristotle, he would have not written this:

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.


UPDATE.  Ok, on the strength of a conversation with one of the commentators here, I will add the following two paragraphs (directly from above) to make the Aristotle point clearer.

One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, “Human,” is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.”

Today, many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality. In this view, moral thinking is more like aesthetics. As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous.

Now discuss (again).