Tag Archives: Begging the Question

Fake because Fake

The Friday presser (NYT’s transcript here) was too much to let get by with just one post on it.  Trump had been railing that the leaks about Russia ties with General Flynn were “Fake news.”  He was then asked the question:

And on the leaks, is it fake news or are these real leaks?

His reply was interesting.

Well the leaks are real. You’re the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake. So one thing that I felt it was very important to do — and I hope we can correct it. Because there’s nobody I have more respect for — well, maybe a little bit but the reporters, good reporters.

First, it’s not much of a clarification.  But that’s not the  point here.  My point is about Trump’s argument for why the news is fake.  From what we have here, it looks blatantly circular.  Or, perhaps, it’s a weaker induction.  Perhaps it’s something of this form of inductive inference:

So much news is fake

Therefore, it’s reasonable to take this news as fake.

That’s not a form of circular reasoning, but it certainly has a greater burden of proof on it.  Showing that X is fake news requires only refuting X, but showing that there is so much fake news requires a lot more — you need to refute X, Y, Z and so on.  Here’s what was Trump’s case for the premise:

It’s very important. I don’t mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it’s true and, you know, over a course of time, I’ll make mistakes and you’ll write badly and I’m OK with that. But I’m not OK when it is fake. I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.

So in this case, the argument that so much news is fake is dependent on his sample from CNN and how angry they are with him.  That may mean it’s less a news show and more an opinion piece or a panel discussion, but how is that a case that it’s fake news?

A short note on what argumentative burdens one takes on when charging an other with an error.  A point about dialectical points in argument.  We are reasoning about how we are reasoning together, and in these cases, the argumentative burdens, when charging another with an error, is to demonstrate to them in manners they can see what the error is.  Failing to do that fails a dialectical burden in argument.  But here, I think, Trump’s not interested in whether his argument moves media-types or academic professors, he’s interested in taking this message “to the American people”.  The point, then, is that he’s playing to an onlooking audience with these arguments — he doesn’t take it that he really needs to fix the premise that so much of the news is fake… that premise has been established by the right wingers for ages.  Trump’s just reaping what’s been sown by the culture of aggression toward the media.

Chilean women to marry

There’s the possibility that gay marriage might be legal in Illinois.  This means we are subject to arguments such as the ones discussed in this article.  Here’s a snippet of the argument:

Marriage comes to us from nature,” Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said in a recent interview. “That’s based on the complementarity of the two sexes in such a way that the love of a man and a woman joined in a marital union is open to life, and that’s how families are created and society goes along. … It’s not in our doctrine. It’s not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of reason and understanding the way nature operates.”

Actually, it’s not “a matter of reason” but rather an empirical claim, a false one it turns out, about how marriage operates in nature.  Animals, it so turns out, don’t ever get married.  Some are not monogamous in their unions, some even gay.

Here’s a screenshot to the same article which expresses the Cardinal’s attitude toward having a serious discussion:

UntitledAnyway, let’s hope this is over soon.  The Illinois version has not made these natural law arguments any more cogent.

Ward, you were a little hard on the Beaver last night

There is a new academic paper defending the idea that marriage of the "Leave it to Beaver" variety is a metaphysical fact (and no, I'm not kidding):

Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts—acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.

The paper is at the link.  Here is one critique of the academic variety; here another, slightly less academic, but equally poignant.  I'm not going to bother with the arguments, at this point, because I think that matter has been resolved–however much the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy might disagree.  Well, ok, just one.

Our organs—our heart and stomach, for example—are parts of one body because they are coordinated, along with other parts, for a common biological purpose of the whole: our biological life. It follows that for two individuals to unite organically, and thus bodily, their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole.

That sort of union is impossible in relation to functions such as digestion and circulation, for which the human individual is by nature sufficient. But individual adults are naturally incomplete with respect to one biological function: sexual reproduction.

I suspect questions are massively begged on the idea of "biological purposes"–and I think "organic" uniting is probably different from anything you can get at your Whole Foods.  Whatever their meaning may be, the hilarious part/whole purposes analogy cries out for inclusion in one's Introduction to Logic text.  My liver has a function, ergo, ipso facto you must marry me.

Let's go ahead and suppose that lots of arguments can be dreamt up for Leave it to Beaver marriage.  They're all going to suck, because they presume stuff that just can't be presumed, or they try to establish things as facts that can't be established as facts without the presumptions. 

I wouldn't even consider this an academic argument at this point–one whose outcome matters not.  The outcome of this argument matters a lot.  It's just that we've already seen it.  Does this mean, real question here, that we have duty not to entertain this kind of argumentative detritis?

via Leiter.

A circular argument against begging the question

A puzzle for the readers of the NonSequitur

Colin, John and I will be attending the upcoming Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA) conference in the coming weeks.  We're presenting a version of the Subjunctive Tu Quoque argument (Colin blazed the trail here). 

To the point, I'm slated to comment on a paper with the thesis that there are virtuous circular arguments.  I've posed a challenge to the author, with the following argument:

P1: There are no virtuous circular arguments.

C: Therefore, there are no virtuous circular arguments.

The challenge is to explain, if there are virtuous circular arguments, what is wrong with P1 being used to support C. Of course, the author doesn't get to say that P1 begs the question.

Is this out of bounds?  Moreover, if the challenge can't be met, what follows?

Straight face

Maggie Gallagher, president of NOM, writes:

Despite the media hoopla, this is not the first case in which a federal judge has imagined and ruled that our Constitution requires same-sex marriage. A federal judge in Nebraska ruled for gay marriage in 2005 and was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in 2006.

The Proposition 8 case on which the Ninth Circuit's Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Wednesday was pushed by two straight guys with a hunger for media attention, lawyers with huge egos who overrode the considered judgment of major figures in the gay legal establishment, thinkers who feared exactly what we anticipate: the Supreme Court will uphold Prop. 8 and the core civil rights of Californians and all Americans to vote for marriage as one man and one woman.

Judge Walker's ruling proves, however, that the American people were and are right to fear that too many powerful judges do not respect their views, or the proper limits of judicial authority. Did our Founding Fathers really create a right to gay marriage in the U.S. Constitution? It is hard for anyone reading the text or history of the 14th Amendment to make that claim with a straight face, no matter how many highly credentialed and brilliant so-called legal experts say otherwise.

Nevermind the ad homs (ego-driven straight guys!) and the beggings of the question (proper limits of judicial authority!), I don't understand the last sentence.  Allow me to reconstruct:

  1. Many highly credentialed experts, with the proper knowledge and experience, assert x.
  2. no one can seriously claim x.

Pardon my confusion, but it seems like just the right kind of people–qualified straight people with straight faces–have made the assertion, I think that means it has some initial plausibility. 

Now of course, the controversy might be how one interprets "x" in my reconstruction.  And this is where Ms. Gallagher hollow mans–I don't think anyone has made the claim she alleges ("created an [enumerated] right….").  So no one, with a straight face or otherwise, is arguing that the COTUS (anyone ever say that?  They should) utters the phrase "gay marriage."  Of course, as far as I know, it doesn't say "marriage" either. 

via Pandagon via Atrios.

That’s icky, your argument is invalid

Deep Christian thinker Mike Huckabee on teh gay (from a New Yorker Interview via Crooks and Liars):

One afternoon in Jerusalem, while Huckabee was eating a chocolate croissant in the lounge of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, I asked him to explain his rationale for opposing gay rights. “I do believe that God created male and female and intended for marriage to be the relationship of the two opposite sexes,” he said. “Male and female are biologically compatible to have a relationship. We can get into the ick factor, but the fact is two men in a relationship, two women in a relationship, biologically, that doesn’t work the same.”

I asked him if he had any arguments that didn’t have to do with God or ickiness. “There are some pretty startling studies that show if you want to end poverty it’s not education and race, it’s monogamous marriage,” he said. “Many studies show that children who grow up in a healthy environment where they have both a mother and a father figure have both a healthier outlook and a different perspective from kids who don’t have the presence of both.”

In fact, a twenty-five-year study recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that children brought up by lesbians were better adjusted than their peers. And, of course, nobody has been able to study how kids fare with married gay parents. “You know why?” Huckabee said. “Because no culture in the history of mankind has ever tried to redefine marriage.”

But in the Old Testament polygamy was commonplace. The early Christians considered marriage an arrangement for those without the self-discipline to live in chastity, as Christ did. Marriage was not deemed a sacrament by the Church until the twelfth century. And, before 1967, marriage was defined in much of the United States as a relationship between a man and a woman of the same race.

Regardless of the past, wouldn’t Huckabee be curious to know whether allowing gay people to marry had a positive or negative effect on children and society?

“No, not really. Why would I be?” he said, and laughed.

Because saying that something ought to be a certain way simply because that’s the way it supposedly has always been is an awful lot like saying “because we said so.” And Huckabee is supposed to be the guy who questions everything.

I think it's reasonably fair to say that Huckabee is full of crap.  The "ick facktor" is not an argument–unless you're talking about putting parmesan cheese on seafood, in which case it is, and your argument is invalid. 

But really seriously. 

Here is an allegedly intelligent guy who claims evidence for his view that isn't evidence for his view.  The idea that monogamy decreases poverty doesn't exclude gay monogamy.  But worse than that, everyone ought to know from anthro 101 that marriage has been "defined" (I really wish we could stop using this sneaky Platonism) in myriad ways in different cultures (and even in the very Bible Huckabee allegedly believes in).  Finally, Huckabee ought at least to be open to the idea that the evidence does not support his prejudices–but no.  That would be asking too much. 

Now in case you think Huckabee has been misquoted or treated unfairly here by the New Yorker (a claim I expect to be forthcoming), consider the following:

As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee successfully championed laws that prevented gay people from becoming foster parents and banned gay adoptions. “Children are not puppies—this is not a time to see if we can experiment and find out how does this work,” Huckabee told a student journalist at the College of New Jersey in April. “You don’t go ahead and accommodate every behavioral pattern that is against the ideal. That would be like saying, ‘Well, there are a lot of people who like to use drugs, so let’s go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs. There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them.’ ” These comments proved unpopular. On his Web site, Huckabee accused his interviewer of trying to “grossly distort” and “sensationalize my well known and hardly unusual views” about homosexuality. The student publication then posted the audiotape of the interview online. Huckabee had not been misquoted.

Now one thing I'm certain the Bible says is "thou shall not bear false witness."

Impartiality

When you don't have an argument, you can always just beg the question:

As a young senator involved in judicial nomination debates, Obama showed no deference to presidential choices. Instead, he developed a theory that Supreme Court justices should favor socially unfavored groups. He opposed John Roberts for using his skills "on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak." He criticized Samuel Alito for siding with "the powerful against the powerless." Obama made these distinguished judges sound monstrous because they stood for the impartial application of the law.

That's Michael Gerson.  The jeune Obama has obviously alleged that the judges were "partial" to the interests of the powerful.  Obama is not, in fact, referring to Roberts's behavior as a judge.  But that's another point.  If one reads the whole passage (and not just the heavily elided selection featured on right-wing blogs), Obama addresses Gerson's "impartial application of the law" objection:

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind Judge Roberts is qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. Moreover, he seems to have the comportment and the temperament that makes for a good judge. He is humble, he is personally decent, and he appears to be respectful of different points of view. It is absolutely clear to me that Judge Roberts truly loves the law. He couldn't have achieved his excellent record as an advocate before the Supreme Court without that passion for the law, and it became apparent to me in our conversation that he does, in fact, deeply respect the basic precepts that go into deciding 95 percent of the cases that come before the Federal court — adherence to precedence, a certain modesty in reading statutes and constitutional text, a respect for procedural regularity, and an impartiality in presiding over the adversarial system. All of these characteristics make me want to vote for Judge Roberts. 

The problem I face — a problem that has been voiced by some of my other colleagues, both those who are voting for Mr. Roberts and those who are voting against Mr. Roberts — is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases — what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.

In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision. In those circumstances, your decisions about whether affirmative action is an appropriate response to the history of discrimination in this country or whether a general right of privacy encompasses a more specific right of women to control their reproductive decisions or whether the commerce clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce, whether a person who is disabled has the right to be accommodated so they can work alongside those who are nondisabled — in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart.

I talked to Judge Roberts about this. Judge Roberts confessed that, unlike maybe professional politicians, it is not easy for him to talk about his values and his deeper feelings. That is not how he is trained. He did say he doesn't like bullies and has always viewed the law as a way of evening out the playing field between the strong and the weak.

I was impressed with that statement because I view the law in much the same way. The problem I had is that when I examined Judge Roberts' record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak. In his work in the White House and the Solicitor General's Office, he seemed to have consistently sided with those who were dismissive of efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination in our political process. In these same positions, he seemed dismissive of the concerns that it is harder to make it in this world and in this economy when you are a woman rather than a man.

As I tell my Critical Thinking class, it's just not that hard.  I just don't understand why Gerson can't do what every phil 101 student must do in order to earn a C.