Readers of the NonSequitur are familiar with the Straw Man Fallacy varieties and especially the Iron Man. John was down at Vanderbilt for a Friday Colloquium talk, and we had a chance to record an episode of Philosophy15 on Straw Men and Iron Men. And the connection to longer-term argumentative pathologies, swamping in particular, was part of the agenda.
We’ve got a new video up over at Philosophy15 on what Talisse and I have been calling ‘The Simple Truth Thesis.’ The thesis is that most problems that look complex are actually very simple and that all the wrangling over the issues is because the opposition is either benighted, stupid, or evil. So there are simple truths about which only those of objectionable character would dispute, and so engaging in the disputes gives the bad character of the opposition too much credit and also threatens to obscure what was so easily seen before. And so a corollary of the view is that there is no reasonable opposition.
Given that Talisse and I endorse Mill’s Maxim, the view that in order to properly understand and have justifying reasons for holding one’s own views, one must know the views of one’s opposition, we think the no reasonable opposition view is incorrect. The Simple Truth Thesis is, in fact, an illusion created by not knowing about one’s opposition.
There is a puzzle to the Mill’s Maxim line here, since we’d endorsed limits to the Maxim, which it seems makes the Mill view consistent with a modified No Reasonable Opposition view. The modified view now is a picture of unreasonable opposition. But now the requirement for such an assessment requires reasons independent of the disagreement.
On Philosophy 15 (briefly discussed here yesterday), Rob and Scott discussed the dialectical move from object language to meta-language (and then from meta-language to meta-meta-language, and so forth). They call this “weaponized metalanguage.” It’s a nice metaphor, despite its violence, because it captures the idea that the metalanguage of argument gets turned into a tool of argument itself. On a somewhat strained analogy, it’s a bit like using the rules of a game as part of the game (using the referee as a blocker in football, maybe).
Scott and Rob are correct in their observation that a sizable part of political debate nowadays is almost entirely second-order–the subject is not the best policy option but rather what constitutes reasonable talk about what the best policy option is. For some people, the election of Donald Trump is a fundamentally second order affair–“I voted for Trump because I’m tired of hearing people tell me what to think….”)
The trouble with this strategy, however, is that there always seems to be a flanking maneuver available; there’s always one-level up. What constitutes reasonable basis for rules about talk about what the best policy option is.
When that fails–as in the example above (here’s an article on point)–there’s always the tu quoque. My informal guess is that the “leveling up” is done mainly to allege the other person has violated some sort of norm. Naturally, accusers can’t be abusers, so the tu quoque is always an exit strategy.