A Missing the Point and Red Herring Sandwich

Cleaning out my drafts folder I came across this from a few months ago. I've always been baffled by those who argue against someone's concern for animal {suffering, lives, rights, etc.} by asking why they aren't concerned with some other form of injustice or suffering. Most of the time it isn't so wonderfully clear a case of missing the point.

Came across a nice case of "missing the point." In the aftermath of the release of an undercover video revealing animal abuse at an Ohio farm, Farm and Dairy editor Susan Crowall wrote a column in favor of the truth about the animal abuse, much of which raises skeptical questions about whether abuse was perhaps sponsored by the undercover agent, etc.. But, at the end of her column she shares the reflections of her husband on this incident.

There is no way to talk about the alleged incidents of animal abuse at the Ohio dairy farm without becoming emotional. When I went home from work last week and shared the emerging story to my husband, however, he found a way to put it in perspective in a new way.

Where are the undercover videos, where are all these well-funded activists, he asked, when it comes to children instead of animals?

. . ..

I’m not trying to downplay the incident. I watched the video once and I will not watch it again. Wanton animal abuse or neglect is inexcusable.

But I also agree with Keith. There are no multimillion dollar-backed undercover investigators, no news conferences, no outraged blog posts or online comments, no protests around homes, in 99% of the child abuse cases. There are just underpaid, overstressed social workers, and a society that cares too little, too late.

As nice a case of missing the point on Keith's part as you can find in a textbook. It may well be true that we should have more undercover investigators exposing child abuse, but, Keith is really just missing the point, and Crowall seems willing to use his non sequitur as part of her red herring strategy to change the subject in whatever way possible.

But, that's not all we find of logical interest in her column. Earlier, we find a nice attempt to impugn the motives of the organization that released the video:

“Animal agriculture is incapable of self-regulation,” condemns Mercy For Animals on its blog. MFA was the group behind the undercover footage and its packaging and release on the Web.

But readers need to be aware of the group’s ulterior motive, and that is promoting a vegan diet (vegans try to eliminate the use of animals for food, clothing or any other purposes). Nothing excuses the actions of the dairy farm employee, but you need to know where this group is coming from.

Not exactly an ad hominem, but certainly seems ad hominish.

And then we get a nice red herring rhetorical move in the form of a series of questions all of which are meant to suggest that there are big unanswered questions that might shed light on the incident.

Who was the undercover “investigator” from Mercy For Animals? When was he hired, if he was posing as an employee? Did he know Gregg before he arrived on the farm? When was Gregg hired? What is the farm’s process for checking references? Who were these guys’ references?

After these sorts of videos come out, it is now standard practice for the industry to attack the undercover investigator (or is that "investigator"?) for complicity in the animal abuse, and now, the industry and its lobbyists are attempting to make such investigations illegal, though several state legislatures have not passed the proposed legislature (Minnesota and Florida).

Funny fallacy fallacy

From Slate:

This is not even a straw man; it's some loose straw the writer is throwing in the air while yelling "Look at that man!"

Funny line, but it may be that it's not a straw man, because it's just not a straw man. Benjamin explained in the NYT that he is boycotting hetero-sexual weddings on the grounds that it is unreasonable for him to "financially and emotionally invest in a ritual that excludes [him] in all but five states."

The response to this, he says, is that his friends take him to task for foisting his political agenda on others. he seems to see their argument as:

P1. Your refusal to come to my wedding is foisting your political agenda on us.

P2. You should not foist your political agenda on us.

C. Therefore, you should not refuse to come to my wedding.

His response is that P1 is false. It is not just a political agenda, since his desire to be able to marry is a personal issue not a political one. He then accuses heterosexual supporters of gay-marriage of having a double-standard.

They’re proof of a double standard: Even well-meaning heterosexuals often describe their own nuptials in deeply personal terms, above and beyond politics, but tend to dismiss same-sex marriage as a political cause, and gay people’s desire to marry as political maneuvering.

Scocca asks "Who are these many straight people Benjamin claims to be describing?" The answer isn't hard to find in Benjamin's column:

Though Zach falls into that slim majority, he scolds me for being “peevish.” He says he resents me for blowing off his special day, for putting political beliefs ahead of our friendship and for punishing him for others’ deeds.

Their joy in their marriage is personal, and they take personal affront at Benjamin's refusal to take joy in their marriage. But, they think the objection to taking joy in an institution that forbids recognition of his own relationships is merely a political issue, and he replies that it is just as much a personal issue to be invited to celebrate an institution that he is excluded from.

Is this a straw man? Doesn't seem like it to me. But, neither is it a handful of straw thrown in the air. If someone accuses you of politicizing their wedding, it seems reasonable to deny that the issue is political rather than personal.

Is it a good argument? I'm not sure about that. I don't see that one guy is "proof of double standard." And, that might be where Scocca feels uneasy: Benjamin seems to draw some broader claims from his disagreement with his friend, and it's not clear that the broader claims are connected in the same way that the claims are connected in the disagreement. And second, in order to be a double-standard the judgment has to be about the same sort of case, and it isn't obvious what the more general case is.

You ought to tu quoque in pictures

A question that recurs in critical thinking textbooks and in discussions of informal logic is whether there can be a visual argument — that is, whether one can give an argument only with images. Here's one way to think about visual arguments: they work like enthymemes, so the visual image has a preferred propositional interpretation and there is a suppressed second premise and conclusion.  So the pictures of hands getting crushed between gears on the side of the machine making donuts at Krispy Kreme works like a first premise, and the second premise (that you don't want that to happen to your hands) and conclusion (you shouldn't put your hands in the machine) are suppressed, but nevertheless communicated.  There are other ways to interpret warning signs that are silly, such as:







There's a preferred way to interpet that image and the reasons it gives you and then there's a silly way.   But that's a contentious way of interpreting it. 

Regardless, while at the OSSA conference, John and I were enjoying a hotdog, and we noticed something.  I took a picture.  It's below.  A question to the NS readership: is this picture a tu quoque argument?  Is it fallacious?

Not All Rhetorical Questions Deserve Equal Consideration

As we learn from the media, we must try always to criticize both sides of an issue equally. Now, this will not be the full parity treatment–I'd have to find a billboard from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, or New England Anti-Vivisection Society or another Anti-Vivisection organization. And I'm sure there are many fallacies to be identified in all sorts of protest signage as well as other nonsense. But, as always this isn't about scoring points, but understanding how poor reasoning infects our public discourse. So, in that spirit, let's examine a billboard from Vegan advocacy organization Mercy For Animals.


[Source is MFA's blog]

Now, they're a bit more explicit in drawing the practical conclusion compared to the FBR bill-board, which I previously commented on.

C You should choose vegetarianism.

The premise is only a question, but the question presumably is meant to prompt us to conclude that there is no good reason to kill one animal for food while lavishing the other with love. Stated as the premise that they hope you will grant

P1: There is no good reason to eat some animals but treat others like members of the family based simply on species membership.

P2: In the absence of a good reason to eat some animals, we ought not to eat them.

I doubt that we would call this a great argument, but it isn't an awful one (and I'm not certain I have the best reformulation of it here). Presumably carnists will argue that the premises are false, either by arguing that there is a good reason to differentiate between dogs and pigs and thereby justify eating one of them, or deny that a good reason is needed because they're just animals.

But, the important point here is that the billboard itself is of an entirely different logical character than the Foundation for Biomedical Research that we looked at previously. Not all rhetorical questions are logically equivalent.

Here's another MFA bill-board that, it seems to me, is also logically respectable. I'll leave the reconstruction up to you.

Note: I was expecting to find some easy pickings over at PeTA's website, given their reputation for hyperbole and attention-seeking. (http://www.peta.org/mediacenter/ads/outdoor-ads.aspx). Yet, all of the four "Outdoor PSA's" that focus on animals in research labs seem to avoid egregious fallacies like in the FBR billboard. I'll have to dig a little deeper.

Your wife or a snake?

Critics of anti-speciesist arguments, like presumably the Foundation for Biomedical Research in my previous post, often fall back onto simplified hypothetical moral situations in order, typically, to elicit an inconsistency in the opponent's belief sets or between their beliefs and actions. These arguments typically take the form of asking "your dog or your child?" On the basis of the inconsistency, there are a number of possible consequences that they might wish to suggest or draw, including:

a) Opponent's anti-speciesist view is false.

b) Opponent's anti-speciesist view is weakened.

c) Opponent is an unreliable judge of the moral issue due to the incoherence of their belief set.

d) Opponent is an unreliable judge of the moral issue due to hypocrisy.

As we've commented before, these Subjunctive Tu Quoque arguments are often fallacious, though sometimes they have some probative significance (e.g., by dialectically shifting the burden of argument). But, there is another case of argument that looks like the Subjunctive Tu Quoque, but operates differently.

P1: Opponent S asserts p, either generally or in situation A, on moral ground U.

P2: But, opponent S would assert ~p, in situation B.

C3: Opponent S should not hold p on moral ground U either generally or in situation A.

Here's an example from philosopher Carl Cohen.

"Tom Regan enjoys outdoor activities, and we can well imagine that on some cross-country hike a child of his may be bitten by one of the Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes abundant in those North Carolina woods, or a cottonmouth, or copperhead perhaps, or during a winter holiday in Martinique his wife may be struck by the fer-de-lance, a snake whose bite is often fatal if not swiftly treated with an antivenin. Happily, there is treatment readily available for such excruciatingly painful bites, an antivenin that is waiting for the Regan family or any family in need of it, at any good hospital in North Carolina or the Caribbean. But would Tom Regan's child be allowed to receive it? Here is the problem. The needed treatment for the bites of the family of pit vipers is Antivenin (crotalidae) Polyvalent-serum globulin obtained from the blood of healthy horses that have been injected with snake venoms to cause of the development, in their blood, of the needed antibodies. Those horses have been used without their consent, with some pain to them. But, if the antivenin is not administered quickly, children bitten by rattlesnakes (or other pit vipers) will suffer terribly, may lose an arm or leg, or even die." (Carl Cohen and Tom Regan, The Animal Rights Debate, Rowman and Littlefield, 2001. p 242.)

Here Carl Cohen is following out what he takes to be the consequence of Tom Regan's animal right's position. I don't think that he is actually arguing against Regan's view here, instead he is setting out the practical stakes of Regan's position before examining "with a very skeptical eye the philosophical arguments by which it is claimed that 'animal rights' are established" (p.243).

But, one might formulate an argument as follows:

P1: Tom Regan asserts that animals have rights not to be used for human purposes generally.

P2: But Tom Regan would/should assert that humans have the right to use animals (horses) in situation B.

C1: Tom Regan should not hold that animals have rights not to be used for human purposes generally.

or, C2: Tom Regan's judgment in P1 is unreliable.

This argument might have a similar structure as the standard reconstruction of the Socratic Elenkhos articulated by Gregory Vlastos, an instance of the Argument from Inconsistency. Though in the Elenkhos, we would add some additional premises to which the interlocutor agrees that entail C1, or for Socrates (on Vlastos' interpretation) the stronger claim that the original belief (animals have rights not to be used for human purposes generally) is false (Vlastos, Gregory "The Socratic Elenchos" Journal of Philosophy 79 (11), 1982, 711-714).

But, there is an important difference between arguments of this sort and the reconstructed implicit argument of FBR's billboard. In the case of Cohen's hypothetical, the hypothetical is an instance of the principle in question. In the case of FBR's billboard, the hypothetical is not. To put it simply:

Cohen: Using horses to produce anti-venom is a counter-example to the principle that animals have rights not to be used.

FBR: Saving a little girl rather than a rat is not an instance of the general category of using animals in research.

So, FBR cannot, I think, defend the implicit argument by modelling it on an implicit Elenctic argument. Conclusions about the use of animals in research is a non-sequitur from the assumed answer to the billboard's question.

Fallacies for Biomedical Research

The Foundation for Biomedical Research, an advocacy and lobbying organization for biomedical industries has been dumbing down the public discourse around the use of animals in medical research with bill-boards in several cities. ABCNews has the story http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Drugs/animal-research-billboards-pit-cute-girl-lab-rat/story?id=13371007


Now, one might say that this does not make an argument and so cannot argue fallaciously. As their spokesperson (roughly) says in the article, they are just getting people to "ask the question" and "think about why doing animal research is important." And that might be fair enough, even if it seems, perhaps, a bit disingenuous. But, it seems to me, even if we grant this, doing so should lead us to see that they expect us to infer something from our answer to this question. 

Perhaps it's just:

C: Killing the rat to save the little girl would be a good thing.

But, it seems unlikely that they are merely interested in agreement to such a limited conclusion. Presumably the girl and the rat represent a general claim about the value of the lives of cute little girls and rats. And, as an advocacy group, which lobbies against further restrictions on the use of animals in biomedical research (such as considering rats "animals" under the Animal Welfare Act, I believe) and defends research that kills and causes animals to suffer for possible medical benefits, it seems likely that they want us to infer something further from this premise. Perhaps,

P1: It would be better to save the girl than the rat.

C: The use of animals in research generally is good.

But, if someone were to infer that broader claim, as I suspect, the FBR would like, they would seem to be reasoning fallaciously.

The argument might also be taken as an argument from inconsistency:

P1: You hold that the use of animals for research is morally problematic. (70% of Americans do according to FBR).

P2: You would save a girl's life rather than a rat's life.

C1: Your belief in P1 is false

or, C2: You do not have good reason to hold your belief in P1

or, C3: You are an unreliable judge of the moral issue.

This is a better argument, and takes the form of a subjunctive tu quoque, of the fallacious variety–which conclusion should be drawn is unclear, but all of them seem non sequiturs.

On our analysis of subjunctive tu quoque's, the question is whether

P3: Your judgment in P2 is more relevant for judging the moral issue than whatever grounds you have in P1.

If this premise is supplied the argument looks less logically awful (for C2 at least), but P3 is unlikely to be true, making the argument at best unsound. Further as I noted above, it seems likely that the FBR would like the viewer to draw C1, which does not follow from the premises even with P3 supplied.

There are other things to say about the logic of the implicit arguments here, and my charity is running out. One might think, at the least, that it is curious that some would want to defend scientific research with bad arguments, but perhaps that's just my out-dated enlightenment views of science surfacing.

OSSA Day 3: Foundations for Nothing

Frank Zenker, Lund University

M. Rescorla defends dialectical egalitarianism – reasoned discourse lacks a foundational structure – but he saves the foundationalist notion that some beliefs are basic.  How can that happen?

On this view, one may select the reasons forwarded in support of a claim according to their being accepted by particular communities.

Trouble is: epistemic risks of doing so.  You can have an argument that gets agreement,  but has no connection to truth.  Moreover, how do you know when you're in the right context?  And why are these commitments justified in this context, and not those? (They'd have to smuggle some epistemic justification in the back door!)

Q1: Isn't there a rhetorical strategy open here?  "P… and who would be the kind of bore to question this?"

Q2: Aren't the two objections inconsistent?  If the epistemic smuggling argument is right, then there's no risk of falsity.

Q3: Don't dialectical models also avail themselves of epistemic backing — e.g., Brandom's using reliablist accounts for many regress-enders?

Q4: Much of the discourse in MLK and Lincoln's arguments are not composed of premises that are mutually acceptable.  They were just out to get things right.  And when they do use mutually acceptable arguments, they are clearly being strategic.

Q5: Procedural rules for argument are for reasonable agreement.  Pragma-dialectics foregoes truth as an objective.  They won't recognize your objections as relevant.

OSSA Day 3: On begging the question

Patrick Bondy (McMaster University) "Epistemic Circularity"

Bondy looks at track record arguments (arguments wherein one cites one's successful beliefs to support further beliefs–I have a good track record, so I'm right).  Seems right to think such arguments are circular, and hence bad.  But not everyone agrees.  Some (Alston, Bergmann) think you can have virtuous circular arguments (we've discussed this before).  But, Bondy argues, their accounts collapse under their own weight.   

OSSA Day 3: Arguments as Abstract Objects

Lots of folks have held that 'argument' is ambiguous between process and product.  Process=Speech Act.  Product=abstract object.

Surely the term 'argument' can be used to refer to speech acts. E.g., "The argument was inerrupted by the fire alarm." And it can be an abstract object. E.g., "They keep giving the same argument"

Cases of ambiguity, but not troublesome:

Test 1.  Equivocation

Arthur washed the car.  John lubricated the car.

Here the first is about the outside, the second is about the engine.

John went to the bank. 

To the bank with money or the bank on the side of a river?

Test 2:  Amphiboly. Can be truly denied and truly affirmed about a fact.

S hit a man with a stick.

A&B had an interesting argument.

Test 3: zeugma test – semantic oddness

The newspaper fell off the desk and fired the editor.  (Newspaper the paper object and the organization) — odd!  So ambiguous

Lunch was delicious but took forever (the eating and the food) — but not odd.  Not ambiguous.

His argument was valid but so loud it hurt my ears.  (Abstract object and speech act)  not odd, so not ambiguous.

Test 4: No clear literal meaning

The argument was difficult.  (the speech act … to read it, understand it? or the abstract object … to follow it?)

SO: 'argument' is not ambiguous.  It refers to an abstract objects.

What kind of abstract object?

Answer 1: Platonism about abstract objects, like numbers, the Pythagorean theorem, etc.  It exists independently of human minds, non-spatiotemporal objects.

2 problems. Prob 1: If arguments are independent of human minds, we don't construct them, but discover them.  That's weird.  Prob 2: How do we access them?  They can't cause us to believe things about them….

Answer 2: Minimal Platonism.  Realism about abstract objects.  Do abstract objects have to be atemporal?  Chess and English have histories, and they seem abstract objects.  Arguments are like that.  They have histories, developments, etc.

E.g., Anselm's Ontological argument.  It has a history, a beginning, but can be given again and again.  Identity conditions for arguments, though, need some refinements.

A and B are the same argument when:

1. A and B have same propositions

2. The liative relations in A are the same as those in B,

and 3. the ilative relations in A are on the same propositions as are in B.

Arguments become temporal objects when one's intention are to infer the conc from the premises.

Q1: What do you mean 'argument' is not ambiguous?  It certainly admits of activity-object ambiguity.  E.g., "He was right to resort to argument rather than intimidation."  OR "The argument was difficult to understand" (because his accent was so thick, or because the argument was esoteric?)

Q2: The case against ambiguity depends on failing these four tests.  But passing the test is sufficient for ambiguity, but failing it isn't sufficient for univocality.  Moreover, it seems the "His argument was valid but loud" counts in favor more of the activity,not product, interpretation.

Q3: This is a very demanding notion of ambiguity — polysemy.  Ambiguity is a wider notion, b/c some word tokenings are unclear about what types they are.  That's the issue with the process/product ambiguity.

Q4: What's a temporal abstract object?  They have ilative intentions?  Why not propositions and their support?  (Answer: arguments are products of intentions; tautologies are valid conclusions)

Q5: What's the trouble with thinking that we discover arguments?  We discover mathematical principles!  (Anselm himself thought his OA was a discovery)

Q6: Arguments are like objects in Popper's third world.  That's a model for the story of abstract objects.

Q7: This isn't even weak platonism.  You need an independent arrangement of those objects for platonism — participation is the role, and as a consequence arguments are really just temporal events now!

Q8: Hey, what's an abstract object?





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.