Picture framing

ad deformem

For the informal logic connoisseurs, the modus tonens (identified by our very own Scott Aikin and co author Robert Talisse) consists in repeating back an interlocutor’s argument in a derisive tone (see also here).  There is a visual version of that which has long bothered me.  It involves posting a jerky looking photo of the person whose view you derisively or incredulously report (not refute, by the way, and I think this is important).  This happens in reporting, as the refutation is the picture.  Let’s provisionally call it the “ad deformem” (against ugly).

Take the above example from Talking Points Memo.  No doubt there exist lots of pictures of Erickson.  This one makes him look like a bloviating jerk.  What did he say?

In many, many animal species, the male and female of the species play complementary roles, with the male dominant in strength and protection and the female dominant in nurture. It’s the female who tames the male beast. One notable exception is the lion, where the male lion looks flashy but behaves mostly like a lazy beta-male MSNBC producer.

Yes, he certainly deserves to be laughed at for that.  But I don’t see the relevance of an uncharitable picture.  I don’t see the relevance of any picture at all, actually, save to identify the mug for the onlooking audience–to distinguish Erickson from George Will for instance.

The argument seems bad enough on its own.  And I think the uncharitable picture undermines, rather than advances, the report.  An accurate report ought to be enough to call attention to the appalling view; the picture turns our attention away from that and onto the person with the view.

Naturally these two persons need not always conflict (the ad hominem after all is not always fallacious), but one ought to be judicious in using them.

Be prepared … for that slippery slope

Mark Tooley objects to the Boy Scouts no longer discriminating against gay scouts.  He sees it as a trend of the emasculation of male culture, a kind of conformity to the kind of society “determined to echo the preening voice of the sort of nagging school guidance counselor whom every adolescent boy dreads and seeks to avoid”.  Yes, Tooley is analogizing contemporary politics to high school boys and their attitudes.  The point for the NS readers is that he’s not just got a concern about the reasons, but also a concern about the consequences.  He sees larger trouble brewing, and more than just the fact that BSA scoutmasters will likely be gay, too:

[It is not yet clear]what this policy means for transsexuals. Cross-dressing Scouts? Only one of countless issues that inevitably now will arise under the rubric of protected “orientation or preference.” For a more likely scenario, how about teenage Scouts wanting openly to celebrate their pornographic interests?

Yes, so Tooley’s mind has run from the question of whether there should be no prohibition on gay scouts to whether if they let them in, whether they’ll have to let them wear, you know, Priscilla Queen of the Desert wear for the backpacking trip.  Or whether their interest in pornography will be allowable and protected.

It’s really two slopes, and separate ones.  The ‘transsexuals’ line is an error for the simple reason that if there’s a uniform, there’s a uniform.  So the same reason why Johnny can’t wear his All-State football jersey on the backpacking trip is the same reason why Sam can’t wear his sundress.  Done.

The pornography issue is, again, simple.  Exposing the boys to sexually explicit material, even if they do it themselves, isn’t lawful. What does Tooley think? That once you let the gays in, you might as well fire up the film projector for the stag films?  (I suspect that it’s a background equivocation of protecting the boys’ interests — what if they’re interested in porn?, he asks.)  He even thinks it’s “more likely”!  More likely than what?

OSSA Day 3: Patterson on Arguments

Steven Patterson, “Are Arguments Abstract Objects?”

A standard story:  (p, q) is an argument iff (i) S intends for q to be inferred from p, and (ii) q and p are related by an inference rule.

Some counter-examples: #1: late for the movie: S has p (S is sick, and if sick will miss the movie), S doesn’t intend to infer that q (late).  #2: Pancake: S intends to infer q from p (pancakes today from helium is light), but it doesn’t follow.
#3. Snowy day: S intends to infer q from p, but there aren’t rules of inference in the midst of the two?

The analogical argument: Arguments are like musical compositions

-both are human productions

– there are individual works, but with identity-conditions

-but, these identity conditions are hard…

-understanding/appreciating requires training

-multiple conditions, can bilocate

– occur w/in contexts & have histories for development

Open concepts- don’t have necessary and sufficient conditions, but do have boundaries.  E.g.,  continuum from the Socrates syllogism, to the ontological argument, to the ‘you’ve got to be kidding me response to arguments, to imagistic & physical arguments.


OSSA Day 3: Aikin and Casey on Straw and Iron Men

the iron men
The Iron Men

OK, so we just finished our presentation at the OSSA, and things went very well.  James Freeman had some very good criticisms about our examples, and we got some very good feedback and new ideas.  Very thankful to David Hitchcock for running the session so efficiently.

We had two theses. Both familiar to NS readers.  #1: The straw man comes in a variety of forms and each can be fallacious and non-fallacious.  #2: there’s a parallel fallacy with the iron man, which is making others’ views better than they actually are.  We’ll post a link to the main paper in a while (HERE).

Comment (James Freeman):  Pretty much in agreement with the overall thesis, but the examples stink.  For example, our music teacher case not only doesn’t have an argument being straw manned, but there’s not even a claim being misrepresented.  How’s that a straw man? (Oooof!  We’ll fix that one!)

The main objections:

Finocchiaro: Calling (even some) acceptable arguments ‘straw man’ is a real terminological confusion.  You guys need a new term, because that’s a term for a fallacy.

Campolo: Your problems with iron man are too thin.  There are lots and lots of worse consequences.  Iron manned others don’t know that they don’t know. (An excellent iron man of our view, thanks!)

Bondy: There are even worse consequences Campolo had imagined — some folks you might iron man can get elected!  (Thanks for iron manning us!)

Lewinski: Can’t Iron-Manning be a useful rhetorical tool, like prolepsis, where one improves one’s opponents… and then defeats the better versions?

Hoppmann: Aren’t there excellent epistemic reasons to Iron Man?  You should, ideally, want to exchange with the very best opponents.  Shouldn’t your defaults be set on interpreting the arguments as best as they can be?

Zarefsky: Are all pedagogical purposes legitimate for straw and iron man?

Botting: Isn’t there a further requirement of the dialectical tier?  The reply to the others in disagreement?

OSSA Day 1: A. Francisca Snoeck Henkemans on Hyperbole

Snoeck Henkemans, of the University of Amsterdam, argued that hyperbole can have a function in an arguer’s strategic maneuverings during the argumentation stage of a discussion.  This is a topic close to our heart here at the NS, as our paper at OSSA (see later post on that) dealt with the closely related topic of the straw and iron man.

In any case, SH argued that hyperbole, especially aggrandizing hyperbole, can play a legitimate, i.e., ,non fallacious, role in sharpening the focus on elements of someone’s argumentation.  Naturally, this comes from the perspective of pragma-dialectics, which enlarges the forum of argumentation beyond individual propositional moves, giving play to rhetorical elements, like hyperbole.

Problematically, or so people noted, there wasn’t a systematic principled distinction between legitimate and illegitimate hyperboles, as well as a general account of other related distortive speech acts.

OSSA Day 2: Goddu on ‘Real’ Arguments

Geoff Goddu, “Why I Still Do Not Know What A ‘Real’ Argument Is”

Consider the old saw for syllogisms:

Socrates is a man, and All men are mortal; therefore, Socrates is mortal.

It’s regularly claimed that this is not a real argument, and so is pointless to use as teaching tools.  So what’s a real argument?

C.Hamby’s criteria for real arguments amounts to: matter of judgment, is substantial, is relevant, is controversial, matters, is non-trivial, is prospectively used, is practical.  So the realness of arguments depend on subject-interests.

Goddu’s counter-examples.  With the Socrates syllogism above, imagine someone giving this as a reply to Socrates’ case for the immortality of the soul.  That’s a real argument.

Other cases:  (A1):  some arguments are composed solely of existential generalizations, so some arguments are composed solely of existential generalizations;   (A2) Petunias prance proudly past the pool, so some ‘unreal’ arguments have absurd premises.   (A3) Lemons are red, so the moon is made of blue cheese.  These are all cases where we could, like with the Socrates case, tell a story of how someone could be interested in the arguments.  So they can be ‘real’ arguments.

The class of non-real arguments, then, is, at least by its nature, empty.  Our lack of interest puts things in there – but that’s not about the arguments, but about us.

Moreover, there’s a self-refutation argument.  Here’s how it goes: If you claim that X is not a real argument, that’s a matter of interest to us, so now we have it being a real argument.

Hamby’s reply (which is awesome that the target for criticism was at the session!):  why does the fact that ‘real’ is a matter of indexing to subject interest make the notion of ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ not a useful part of your ontology of arguments?  Surely that’s an important element of pedagogy– we want to teach arguments that make a difference in their lives and our lives.

Q: Doesn’t the self-refuation argument confuse use and mention for argument X?  For the argument to go through, we must use X, but in the form presented, it’s mention-only.

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?

OSSA Day 2: Siegel on Disagreement

Harvey Siegel, “Argumentation and the epistemology of disagreement”

Q1: When epistemic peers disagree, what should the virtuous believer do?

Four possible responses: (i) give up the original belief and take on the other’s view, (ii) split the difference, meet in the middle, (iii) suspend judgment altogether, (iv) stck to our guns.

Q2: Does the depth of the disagreement matter?  E.g., Fogelin’s challenge on deep disagreement.

Siegel’s three theses: #1: The cases for disagreement are varied; #2: Peerhood is misunderstood, and #3: Fogelin’s deep disagreement view is inconsistent with the peer disagreeent view.

RE: peerhood.  Do peers have: same, equal, or equal access to evidence; same or equal intellectual virtues; same, roughly equal epistemic abilities; same, equal, or roughy equal training; same or roughly identical assumptions? Peerhood, if too strict, makes it so that there aren’t enough peers, but if too broad, makes near everyone a peer.

Fogelin’s deep disagreement: all the starting points are different, training different, and so on.  So there’s no room for real argument.  Argument requires that we have enough overlap to argue, but in deep cases, not enough overlap for argument.

The wittgensteinian turn – you don’t have to argue for or be justified in your ‘hinge propositons’.  Because hinge propositions are not intelligibly challengeable.

The evidentialist’s reply: (i) if there’s no argument or evidence for the view, you still must suspend, and (ii) what do you mean that hinge propositions aren’t intelligibly challengeable?  (That’s what a deep disagreement is, dude.)  The wittgensteinian line above is a form of infallibilism.  Yikes!

Siegel’s line: if Fogelin’s right about deep disagreement, then it’s not possible for there to be deep disagreements between peers.  If they are peers, the disagreement can’t be deep; if the disagreement is deep, they aren’t peers.  (This argument is awesome!)

Comment (R. Pinto):  Fallibilism can help with disagreement cases — you can maintain the belief, but look to discussion over time.

Q: Hinge propositions are beyond critical scrutiny, at least practically!

Q: Must deep disagreement have *no* common ground?  If there’s no common ground, it’s hard to see it as a disagreement at all – to recognize a disagreement, you need to have at least some common concepts and commitments.

OSSA Day 2: Botting on Interpretive Dilemmas

David Botting, “Interpretive Dilemmas”

In what sense is argument independent of context?  Independent: logical form.  Dependent: identifying the form is a matter of interpretation, which depends on context.  So whether a fallacy has occurred depends on what is attributed to the arguer: (a) the argument form the speaker intends, and (b) the commitment of the speaker to the quality of argumQ: Ient.

This yields interpretive dilemmas.  Interpreters must decide between (i) attributing fallacious argument forms, and (ii) holding that the speaker isn’t arguing or has a contextually appropriate version.  E.g.s:  Tu quoque taken as theoretical (fallacious) or replying to a demand from an inappropriate source, namely, a hypocrite (appropriate).  Argument from pity as theoretical (fallacious) or as practical (appropriate).  Argument from ignorance as demonstrative (fallacious) or as practical attitudes of defaults (relevant)

Comment (The NS’s own John Casey): Here we have a case where we might be looking for good reasoning when there’s not any.  Can’t charity run amok?

Q: Is there instead a trilemma, between fallacy, contextual non-fallacy, and non-argument?


OSSA Day 1: Norlock and Receptivity

Kathryn J. Norlock, “Receptivity as Argumentative Virtue”

Norman Schwarz in “Philosophy as Blood Sport” tells the story of professor X who attends a session at the APA, acts like a jerk at the session, and leaves announcing, “I do not care how you will reply”.  This is a failure of receptivity.

Receptivity as a virtue of argument matters.  It is a precondition for caring.  Receptivity is a background for intelligent extension of charity rather than indiscriminiate charity.  We care for others’ reasons as others, individuals.  Relationships are central to moral life – are ethics provide an account of where our priorities should lie

Some folks are not deserving of our receptivity.  But most are, and even in adversarial contexts (or in adversarial communities), it’s appropriate to still consider one’s adversary.  Context matters.

We care about ideas, but we care for persons.  Sometimes what we care for takes on a varity.

P.Rooney Comment: Care is triadic in argument exchange.  A-to-B, B-to-A, and both to the value of the epistemic outcome of the exchange.

Q: How is receptivity different from open-mindedness?

Q: How is receptivity different from recognition?

Q: If S is receptive to view A, but A is inconsistent with B, is S not receptive to B?

Q: Can’t receptivity & Charity yield iron men?