Stirring the pot

I don't get this:

In his March 18 remarks in Philadelphia, Mr. Obama eloquently called for a national discussion on race. But in a speech lauded for its honesty, this plea was unconvincing. Having benefited from the nation’s quieter tone, Mr. Obama must avoid stirring the racial pot, unnerving white voters for whom his race requires a leap of faith.

Why wasn't the speech "convincing"?  What is "stirring the racial pot"?  If somehow our public discourse has moved beyond Obama's race, I haven't seen it.

12 thoughts on “Stirring the pot”

  1. This looks like an example of a Red Herring &/or a Specious Analogy, either or both of which might be used to disguise or distract from the intrinsic racial issues that (arguably, at least) still confront us.

    One might try to read this charitably as someone concerned that Obama will alienate too many voters if he pushes this issue too hard. On the other hand, one might read this uncharitably as indicative of how far we have not come. The prior hypothetical reminds me nothing so much as those people who were urging Martin Luther King to “slow down;” and 45 years later, here we are …

    (By the bye, is there any hope of changing the name from “weak” analogy — which really is rather weak — to “specious”? I admit, this is a flagrantly rhetorical wish, but rhetoric also counts.)

  2. Gary–

    I think the reason we use “weak” is due to the fact that the inductive link between the premise and the conclusion drawn from the analogy is well, weak. It’s a fallacy of weak induction.  On the other hand, all fallacies, in a certain sense, are “specious.”

  3. Well, in that same sense, all analogies are “weak” — they are at best partial relations of “A is to B as X is to Y.” A “weak analogy” is rather like a “crimson red;” of course it is. (That, of course, is an analogy.)

    I know I have no hope of winning this one; the terminology is too deeply embedded in the (logical) culture. But — and after this I’ll drop it for at least a day or two — but that does not make it right. If what we mean to highlight with a fallacious analogy is its fallaciousness, then the problem is not that it is “weak” but that it is specious: it is not that it fails to present a strong relation, but that it fails to present a genuinely meaningful one in the context. If we mean to emphasize the nature of the fallacy, then we need to emphasize the failure as an analogy, not merely the commonly shared fact of its limitations, a fact that is intrinsic to all analogies.

    Sorry, I’ll go sulk quietly now …

  4. Hi Gary.  No need for sulking and thanks for commenting. 

    You make some interesting points about fallacies.  But I’d tend to agree with Phil on this one.  Weak analogy belongs to the group of fallacies of of weak, insufficient, or inadequate evidence.  The evidence is of the right “logical” (broadly speaking) type–comparisons are helpful, after all–but it is not “strong” enough to support the purported conclusion.  Or so goes one story about the nature of this particular fallacy.  So in this case, as in many similar cases, one reasons “well” in the sense that one makes the right type of argument, with the right type of evidence, but one fails to find evidence that’s sufficiently strong to support the conclusion.  In the case of the fallacy, one’s evidence is hugely insufficient.  But still, of course of the right type.  So I’d disagree that specious analogy is appropriate.  I think one could, for instance, compare the war in Iraq with WWII in virtue of length, but that comparison, however, wouldn’t do much to establish a point about their mutual justifications.

    I think of this on analogy (oops) with “hasty generalization” (another fallacy of weak induction, as it were).  One’s generalization is not the problem–it’s the right kind of logical move–it’s just lacks sufficient evidence for the general claim alleged.  The same might be said of the ad verecundiam fallacy–the unqualified authority.   One cites the right kind of evidence, one just picks the wrong authority (for whatever reason).  Anyhoo.  Perhaps you find this helpful.  Perhaps you’d still like to contest.  Feel free. 

    Thanks again for the comment.

  5. Actually, I’d like to side with Gary on this one for a moment. I’ve always been a bit confused about the metric for a “strong” or “weak” inductive link between premises and conclusions. On a purely semantic level, “strong” and “weak” can only be compared in relation to other arguments where the strength or weakness of the argument is already agreed upon in order to have any meaning. However, these judgments seem to rely on a mysterious faculty that somehow measures the connection between premises and conclusions. I think what Gary is getting at is something obvious: either an analogy is appropriate, or it is not. The whole “middle ground” thing makes inductive logic muddy. On the other hand, if we were able to offer a determinate probability percentage with respect to any inductive argument, then we would be alright, but I highly doubt the viability of that requirement. But if inductive arguments cannot be made quantitative, then what justification do we have to judge whether one argument is strong, and another is weak? Common sense seems to give us some foothold here, but on what grounds? I’m confused…please clarify this issue for me, logic teacher.

  6. Furthermore, what does “sufficiently strong” mean? Is it “sufficient for warranting belief”? I can’t imagine what else it could mean without simply being circular. But if that’s the case, then we have to talk about rational belief acceptance versus irrational belief acceptance, and have to delve into the whole “requirements of rationality” debate (a la Broome and Kolodny), that, frankly, doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

  7. Jem.  With regard to the first point I’d say a perfect analogy–a very strong one–is between a person and himself.   Then it gets “weaker” outside of that.  It is, I think at least, a question of “degrees.”  (my colleague here wrote about that a few years ago come to think of it).   What  is the metric for those degrees?  The same for any other informal piece of reasoning.   What makes one generalization good and one bad?  One authority good and one bad?  What about the ones in the middle?  And so forth.

    The questions you raise address the issue of whether we’re ever justified in making inductive arguments.  So those stand whether we call something “strong” or “weak” or “valid” (which means strong) or “invalid” (which means weak).  In the end, inductive arguments are not deductive ones.  They’re also not purely quantitative (at least in my view).  The lack of that requirement, I hope, doesn’t doom them “logically.”  Quantitative probability is a crappy metric I think for them anyway–too much of a nod to deduction as the foundation of any and all reasoning.   So maybe we can call them “plausible” or “reasonable.”

    But you’re right.  If we look for a foundation for them in the Cartesian way, we will come up empty handed.  We might also come up making no distinction between Anne Coulter and Paul Krugman.

  8. I don’t think it dooms them. However, I’m not sure that my criticism here leads to us being able to make no distinction between Coulter and Krugman. Coulter doesn’t even play by the rules in the first place, so she is disqualified from consideration. If and/or when Coulter makes an argument, it can be assessed by the rules of informal logic in the same way arguments made by Krugman are, so there is no need to distinguish the individuals making the arguments from one another. But my concern is with the rules themselves. What is it that justifies the rules in the first place? Please correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to be a sort of intuitionist with regard to this question; we either get it, or we don’t. But that position seems to me to be reasoning with a stick. Probability models, or models based on intersubjective validity seem, at least, to have some sort of ability to resolve inferential disputes in virtue of an objective inferential ground. But simply pointing to “reasonableness” or “plausibility” does nothing but adjectivally modify the inference without answering the question “plausible based on what?”.

  9. You’re right Jem that I don’t have a theory of inductive “strength” for my purposes here at the Non Sequitur.   Nor do I really have a theory of fallacy I’m happy with at the moment.  I don’ t, however, consider them “rules” which can be broken or not.  Or if I did call them “rules,” I would mean rules “by analogy”–heuristic guidelines perhaps, that generally accord with our intuitions.  I don’t think also that I need a theory of fallacy  or a theory of induction or plausibility or whatever here to do what modest work I do here.   If that fails, which it will, my fall back position remains that induction is not deduction–and it can’t be expected to satisfy the rules of deduction. 

    One final thing.  Coulter makes arguments.  She just makes very bad ones–fallacious ones, as it were.

  10. I’m not raising these issues to criticize anything done here at the non sequitur. Mostly, what I’m interested in is how to engage people who seem to not care about logic at all (in any form). I recently had a “discussion” with a young woman who was trying to convince me that women shouldn’t have the right to vote…against all my logical acumen she stood firm in her unjustified position. Needless to say, it was frustrating and disheartening. I was hoping that there would be at least one thing that we could agree upon that could give me a premise from which to undermine her deplorable belief. I came to realize during that discussion that the one thing I needed was for her to “buy in” to rational thought. But I couldn’t find a way to do that. Thus, here, I’m hoping to get at something basic, something that, if grasped by anyone, will lead to something resembling careful thought. Pointing to the “implausibility” of someone’s position doesn’t seem to work in this respect. However, as I found out, pointing to facts, or calling into question someone else’s factual claims, doesn’t help either if my interlocutor refuses to see that facts link up in certain ways (what ways?) to support conclusions. Without an already healthy respect for “getting it right”, these sorts of attempts seem doomed to fail.

  11. Someone who doesn’t care about logic in any form won’t likely be impressed by meta-logical investigations into the nature of induction.  Some people simply refuse rational, reasonable, or even fallacious justification.  Some people cannot accept facts either.  The worst offenders, I think, are the ones who really ought to know better–the sophists among us, who build for themselves very coherent sounding, but ultimately fallacious, arguments.

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