Do you feel lucky?

Courtesy of Scott Horton, we have the following gem from our Dear Leader:

>I’ve met too many wives and husbands who’ve lost their partner in life, too many children who’ll never see their mom or dad again. I owe it to them and to the families who still have loved ones in harm’s way, to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain

See the video here. Scott calls this the “Sunk Costs Fallacy” and he refers to the Skeptics Dictionary’s explanation:

>When one makes a hopeless investment, one sometimes reasons: I can’t stop now, otherwise what I’ve invested so far will be lost. This is true, of course, but irrelevant to whether one should continue to invest in the project. Everything one has invested is lost regardless. If there is no hope for success in the future from the investment, then the fact that one has already lost a bundle should lead one to the conclusion that the rational thing to do is to withdraw from the project.

>To continue to invest in a hopeless project is irrational. Such behavior may be a pathetic attempt to delay having to face the consequences of one’s poor judgment. The irrationality is a way to save face, to appear to be knowledgeable, when in fact one is acting like an idiot.”

This is really an interesting variety of non-sequitur in that it seems very much like the gambler’s fallacy–If I only keep rolling I’ll come out even! But, unlike the gambler’s fallacy, it doesn’t allege a specious causal connection between past and future gambling events. As a result, we will add this oft-heard non-sequitur to our categories list. The only question is where to put it.

4 thoughts on “Do you feel lucky?”

  1. if we parse out bush’s claim in syllogistic form, like so:

    if we stop now, the cost is too great.
    we will not stop now.
    therefore, the cost is not too great.

    then it seems that he has “allege[d] a specious causal connection between past and future…events,” doesnt it? or am i equivocating a bit on what you meant by past and future events.

  2. Odd, I somehow surfed on to Scott Horton’s post myself, yesterday. (Also, did you know the fallacy files dude is doing a blog-ish logical analysis of current events thing on his page now too?)

    As to the Bush quote, Monsieur Mayo, I think your syllogism’s conclusion stretches even further than his fallacious insinuation.

    I propose the following interpretation:

    If we stop now, the cost is great. [stated]
    If we don’t stop now, the cost will likely lessen. [implied]
    Therefore, we should not stop now.

    (Would you call that a normative conclusion?)

    I would argue that this form in itself is quite strong (or whatever judgment you would apply to a “should” conclusion). The problem in applying this argument to Iraq, of course, in premise number two. How likely is it, or is it in fact not likely at all?

    I’m treating “cost” as you might in a gambler’s fallacy: a sort of return on investment, here, a “lives / freedom” sort of thing. Little freedom achieved, high final cost. Likewise, future freedom achieved lessens the cost of lives already lost. This is, I suspect, consistent with Bush’s position (and not necessarily mine).

    I believe this differs from the Gambler’s fallacy because the second premise is always false at the roulette table (*random*, unfavorable events), while there may be legitimate arguments on both sides in war.

  3. i don’t know that the your second premise is really implied by the sunk cost fallacy; rather, bush seems to imply that if we stay, the results will be worthy of the high cost paid. he’s not implying that prolonged engagement in iraq will “lessen” the cost, only that it will make the costs worth the result of our “staying course.” thaqt stated, let’s try a third formulation of our syllogism:

    if we stop now, the cost is too great.
    if we don’t stop, the cost will be in line with the result.
    therefore, we cannot stop.


  4. After further contemplation (viz., a shower and a shave), I retract the sentence…

    *Likewise, future freedom achieved lessens the cost of lives already lost.*

    …in the above comment. Even accepting the proposed “freedom calculus” in my comment, previous expenditures are logically irrelevant to future cost/benefit analyses. The equation would only apply going forward, of course.

    Rest assured, my head is hung in shame for that one.

Comments are closed.