Tag Archives: Informal Fallacies

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.

OSSA Day 1: Andrew Aberdein Fallacy and Argumentational Vice

Andrew Aberdein, of the Florida Institute of Technology, argued that if good arguments are virtuous, then bad arguments are vicious.  The problem is that arguments are tokens, not dispositions.  Side note: we here at the NS stress this fact in our general disclaimer on bias.  We diagnose individual argument tokens, not ideologies.

Back to Aberdein.  After dispensing with the idea that the ad hominem is always fallacious that the concept of virtue in argument was a self refuting ad hominem, Aberdein built what I thought was a good case for taking fallacies as argumentative vices–these include dogmatism, reliabilist problems, and failures of diligence in investigating evidence.  All good so far, I think.

Dan Cohen (see Scott’s post on his awesome keynote) raised a key question.  Argumentative vices seem to provide good reason for discounting arguers, but do argument virtues do the same for individual arguments?

Pile on

The other day I talked about this weak and hollow man rich column by Charles Krauthammer.  But there was way more about that column that an attentive undergraduate could have criticized.  Here's another tidbit.  He wrote:

And now the mosque near Ground Zero. The intelligentsia is near unanimous that the only possible grounds for opposition is bigotry toward Muslims. This smug attribution of bigotry to two-thirds of the population hinges on the insistence on a complete lack of connection between Islam and radical Islam, a proposition that dovetails perfectly with the Obama administration's pretense that we are at war with nothing more than "violent extremists" of inscrutable motive and indiscernible belief. Those who reject this as both ridiculous and politically correct (an admitted redundancy) are declared Islamophobes, the ad hominem du jour.

So fine two thirds of the population are against the Ground Zero community center.  What else have two thirds of the people been against?  I wonder.  Let's go back in time:

The reponse?

The "smug attribution of bigotry" to 82 percent of the people.

Torture apologia chart

Say you need to justify torture, but with so many good arguments for it, you don't know which one to pick.  Well, now there's help.  Courtesy of Batochhio:

Torture Apologia Chart 

Click here for a larger size.  I'm sure this idea could be adapted to many other arguments–I think this has given me an idea.

Viginti quattuor

Michael Gerson confuses sophistical pseudo-skeptical hand wringing with actual moral deliberation.    

The Justice Department memos raise a question: Can coercive interrogation ever be justified? Few Americans would object to the slapping of a terrorist during questioning, for example, if this yielded important intelligence. The coercion would be minimal; the goal of saving lives, overriding. Few Americans, on the other hand, would support pressuring a terrorist by torturing his child. Such a heinous act could not be justified in pursuit of an inherently uncertain outcome — securing information that may or may not prevent greater loss of life.

So the use of coercion in interrogations lies on a continuum of ethics and risk. Lines must somehow be drawn on the slippery slope — the difficult task that Justice Department lawyers were given. On which side of the line should waterboarding lie? It is the hardest case. The practice remains deeply troubling to me, and it was discontinued by the CIA in 2003 after being used on three terrorists. But some members of Congress, it is now apparent, knew of the technique and funded it. The decision was not easy or obvious for them. It was just as difficult for intelligence and Justice Department officials in the months of uncertainty following Sept. 11.

And, skipping a paragraph:

Some have dismissed this argument as "moral relativism" or the assertion that the ends justify the means. But this betrays a misunderstanding of ethics itself. The most difficult moral decisions in government are required when two moral goods come into conflict. Most of us believe in the dignity of the human person, a principle that covers even those who commit grave evils. Most of us believe in the responsibility of government to protect the innocent from death and harm. Government officials pursue both moral goods in a complicated world. In retrospect, they may sometimes get the balance wrong. But national security decisions are not made in retrospect.

I suspect that most Americans, in considering these matters, would come to certain conclusions: There should be a broad presumption against harsh interrogations by our government. An atmosphere of permission can result in discrediting crimes such as Abu Ghraib. But perhaps in the most extreme cases — when the threat of a terrorist attack is clear and serious — American officials may need to employ harsh questioning, while protecting terrorists from permanent injury. In broad outlines, this approach is consistent with the Justice Department memos.

Moral deliberation would seem at least to involve knowing what is minimally acceptable conduct.  Luckily, sometimes what is acceptable is just obvious, there is, for instance, no right time and right place and right woman and right way to commit adultery, so says the Stagirite at least (Nicomachean Ethics II.6, 1107a8-12).  On that analogy, water boarding, and various other techniques considered torture by the US military and the FBI (to name a few relevant organizations) is torture.  Redefining the words (now it's "harsh interrogation") and feigning skepticism (on which side should water torture, ahem, waterboarding lie?) about their meaning and application because of worries about a TV show scenario shocks the conscience.