OSSA Day 1: Lewinski on Polylogical Fallacies

Marcin Lewinski, “Polylogical fallacies: Are there any?”

1. Fallacy in argument is either an inferential infelicity or a disruption of intelligent interaction for dispute resolution.  Intelligent interaction is dialogue with pro-con rules.  Fallacies of dialogue are cases of breaking those rules.  Polylogical contexts have more than two speakers, so have different rules.  If different rules, then different kinds of ways to break them.  So polylogical contexts can have different fallacies.

2. Polylogical context is verbal interaction in interaction of multiple parties with distinct positions.  So instead of A-B dialogue, it’s A, B, C,D… polylogue.  Dialogue rules are like rules of court- turn taking.  Polylog rules are more like rules of order for a potentially raucous group.

3. Application: false dilemmas are regularly cases of looking at specific dialogical exchanges, but not acknowledging the variety of the positions on the issue.  Polylogical false dilemma.

Collateral straw man.  A, in responding to C, attributes B’s view to C.  An ‘argument triangle’.

Comment (C.Woods)  Lewinski’s cases may be polylogical cases of fallacies, but the polylogical background may occasion the fallacy, but that’s not the fallacy of the cases.

Q: Must polylogical cases be transitive?  If A beats B, and B beats C, does A beat C?  Answer: NO.

Q: Must there be global or local common ground for polylogical discussion?

OSSA Day 1: Cohen and Limits of Virtue

Dan Cohen, “Virtue and its Discontents”

Virtue-argumentation theory is out to try to answer three evaluative questions about argument by way of focusing on one.  The three questions are:

What makes an arguer praiseworthy?

What makes an argument praiseworthy?

What makes argumentation praiseworthy?

The virtue theory takes the answer to the first question to be the means to answer the other two. There are two methodological programs for answering any of these questions:

Top down: argue for an ideal, then apply to cases.

Bottom up: gather empirical data about specific cases, gain theoretical insights.

Cohen’s method is a “weird” or “mixed” methodology.  Theorize from “strange cases”: arguing with god, filibusters, academic arguments, impossible arguments, choosing to argue when you shouldn’t, missing arguments, misplaced arguments.   The strategy is to say: here are cases where there are arguments that don’t yield good things, so what is it for arguments to yield something positive?  What is a satisfying argument?  Roughly, the thick concept of a satisfying argument should be in the right place, the right time, to the right people, and on the right topics (and for the right reasons).  That’s a matter of context.  Notice that validity is neither considered either a necessary nor sufficient condition for being a good argument.  Not sufficient: e.g., “a and b  are both P, so a is P” isvalid but not satisfying, and not sufficient: e.g., some arguments are interesting and worthwhile, even if wrongly formed.

So, Cohen poses a sorite: for good arguments, the arguers must argue well.  To argue well, they must be good arguers.  And to be good arguers, they must have stable habits of mind — good arguments do not happen by accident.

OSSA Day 1: MacPherson on Argumentative Virtue

Brian MacPherson, “The Incompleteness Problem for the Virtue-Based Theory of Argumentation”

Thesis & Argument:  James Rachels’ ‘incompleteness problem’ for virtue ethics can be inherited by theories of argumentative virtues.  The problem can be solved by a pragmatic utilitarian theory of argument.

The incompleteness problem comes in two forms.  First, there’s no mechanism for conflicts between virtues (e.g.,  open-mindedness vs tenacity).  Second, there’s the question of why be virtuous.  In order to solve either, the V-theorist must go beyond the theory.

If we go beyond the theory, the best option is to go to pragmatic utilitarian theory of argument.  We do better if we know, and virtuous arguers fare better in life both individually and collectively.

Sheldon Wein’s comment: Challenge #1: Does incompleteness of ethical virtues mean in completeness of argumentative virtues?  Challenge #2: The supplement that (a) arguers do better individually and (b) they do better as groups.  The problem is that (a) and (b) also conflict.

Q1: Pragmatic utility can sometimes be in terms of scientific progress, but isn’t this a case for an epistemic theory of argument?  Why not ground them in the sphere of experience of humans knowing?  Why not arbitrate in terms of achieving knowledge.

Q2: If conflicts of virtue are resolved by other means, then what if those other means themselves conflict?

Live Blogging OSSA 2013

Hey NS readers, John and I will be at this year’s Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA) meeting.  We are planning on blogging the papers we attend, with thesis and argument summary and highlights from the Q&A.  We did a run at this last year, and some of the discussions were very interesting.  Here’s the conference website program with a good list of the paper abstracts.  The papers start up in full force Thursday. Additionally, we’ll post our paper for our joint presentation for the NS readership to give some feedback, and we’ll make sure to post the most serious objections.

OK quoque

Just in: James Inhofe  (R- OK) is now plugging for federal disaster aid for the tornado damage in Oklahoma.  That’s fine.  Ah, but he and his colleague, Tom Coburn (R-OK) were famously against similar aid for the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy. Oh, that’s weird.  I wonder what Inhofe has to say about that:

That was totally different. . . . They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. . . . They had things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there, they were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C. Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.

First, off, he’s opposed to funding help for those battered by a storm because he’s worried about grift?  Sheesh.  Second, if it does happen in OK, is he on the hook then?  Oh, and Inhofe and Coburn have a long history of opposing funding FEMA (despite the fact that OK has among the most disasters).

Senator Coburn wants the help, too.  He proposes to pay for it by cutting other federal programs.

Again, we have a case where we must ask whether we have a case of acceptable tu quoque.  We’ve regularly here at the NS argued that cases of tu quoque that show double standards are appropriate and relevant.  Similar cases should be judged similarly, and it zip code is not a relevant reason to change one’s view on whether funding is deserved.  So reveling in the hypocrisy charge here isn’t for the sake of feeling hate toward someone or to score points on a vice, but to show that someone’s not been an honest arbiter with reasons.  That’s what’s happening here.  It’s not schadenfreude, it’s not ad hominem abuse.  It’s evidence that someone doesn’t proceed fairly.  That’s what it shows, and when your constituency is suffering, you understand the role of government support.  That’s what the hypocrisy charges amount to.



You would have noticed this hypocrisy… if you weren’t such a hypocrite

Jonah Goldberg at NRO rings up a fantastic subjunctive tu quoque:

Yes, it’s extremely unlikely he ordered the IRS to discriminate against tea-party. . . . And his outrage now — however convenient — is appreciated. But when people he views as his “enemies” complained about a politicized IRS, what did he do? Nothing.

Imagine for a moment if black civil-rights organizations, gay groups, or teachers’ unions loudly complained to members of Congress and the press that the IRS was discriminating against them. How long would it take for the White House to investigate? Answer honestly: Minutes? Hours?

The overall form of subjunctive tu quoque is not that you have actual inconsistent behavior or double standards, but that you would have them.  You just know it!  Of course, this form of tu quoque requires, for the subjunctive to be accepted, that the audience think the President is a hypocrite and an employer of double standards.  So, often, the subjuctive form of the tu quoque isn’t an argument from hypocrisy, but one to it.

**A later addition to the post 5/21/2013**

For other discussions of  subjunctive tu quoque, see Colin’s original post HERE, and John’s got a lengthy discussion HERE, and we three co-wrote a paper that appeared in INQUIRY about a year back, which I’ve posted on my Academia.edu page HERE. For cases that tu quoque arguments are regularly relevant, see one of my recent posts on it HERE, and my essay in Informal Logic HERE.



OMG. What if?

Mark Steyn’s recent contribution to NRO’s page is an exercise in (a) guilt by association, by way of (b) rampant speculation.  The ultimate payoff is to criticize the food stamp program.  Here’s how the line of argument goes:

[The House Audit and Oversight Committee] are now trying to discover whether the Tsarnaev brothers used [Food Stamp EBT cards] to pay for the Boston Marathon bombing

OK.  So where it stands is: we don’t know if they did.  But there’s an investigation into the funding.  Ah, so we might have, in providing a safety net for millions, provided the means for a lunatic fringe to build a bomb from household and cooking supplies. (Pressure cookers.) Maybe.

Ah, but all the ‘maybes’ in the world won’t hold Steyn back.

Paying Islamic terrorists to blow you up is more like assisted suicide.

And… Scene.

Earlier in the post, Steyn complained about the fact that the EBT cards had been used to buy porn, piercings, and manicures.  Add funding terrorist attacks to the list.  (Maybe.) Well, that’s enough to be up in arms about the welfare state — we, as Steyn sees it, not only encourage dependence, but irresponsibility and wantonness with welfare.  And terrorism.  (Maybe.)

Oh, and Steyn’s analogy is flawed: in providing the minimal means to live to the Tsarnaevs, we weren’t paying for them to blow us up. We were paying for them to survive and eventually prosper.  That they used that generosity against us is simply more testament to the fact that their minds were infected with hate — they were aggressive toward a society and state that had showed them some consideration.  We didn’t deserve that.  Would Steyn’s alternative be that because we don’t want that, we’ll cut off all those other people welfare helps?  I’m pretty sure that’s the plan.



A Harvard Ph.D. should have been able to figure out what was going on


Jason Richwine, Heritage Foundation scholar and Harvard School of Public Policy PhD, was forced to resign last week after people actually read some of his work.  Here’s conservative commentator Byron York:

On Friday morning, the 31 year-old scholar resigned from the Heritage Foundation, where he had co-authored the new report, “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer.” The paper, released last Monday and written largely by Heritage scholar Robert Rector, argued that Hispanic immigrants to the United States, most of them low-skill, end up costing the government more in benefits than they pay in taxes. It was an explosive entry into the debate over the comprehensive immigration reform measure currently being considered in the Senate. By the time of its release, reform advocates on the left and right had already published a number of “prebuttals” arguing that Rector and Richwine had it all wrong, that in fact immigration would be a net benefit in years to come.

Heritage expected that debate. What it did not expect was the firestorm that broke out Wednesday morning when a liberal Washington Post blogger posted an article titled, “Heritage study co-author opposed letting in immigrants with low IQs.” The blogger, Dylan Matthews, wrote that Richwine, who earned a doctorate from Harvard University in 2009, had written a dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy,”which argued that on average immigrants to the U.S., particularly Hispanic immigrants, have lower IQ scores than “the white native population.” Admitting immigrants with higher IQs, Richwine argued, would be a better immigration policy than admitting low-IQ newcomers.

. . . .

It got worse. In the 24 hours that followed the Post’s initial report, other outlets noted that in 2010 Richwine published two articles on a website called AlternativeRight.com, which describes itself as “an online magazine dedicated to heretical perspectives on society and culture” but is better defined as a site with a strong white nationalist perspective. Then a web video surfaced of Richwine saying, during a 2008 panel discussion, “Decades of psychometric testing has indicated that at least in America, you have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks. These are real differences, and they’re not going to go away tomorrow, and for that reason we have to address them in our immigration discussions and our debates.

To repeat, this is the description of a conservative commentator.  Here’s how he then sets up Richwine’s reply:

By Friday, he was saying his goodbyes at Heritage and wondering what had happened. “It still amazes me that it would be me who is portrayed this way,” Richwine says. “I have a pretty good educational background, I have a good background in doing very good quantitative work. The idea that I am some sort of foaming-at-the-mouth extremist never even crossed my mind.”

They should have fired him for that view: you don’t have to be “foaming at the mouth” or “extremist” to hold wrong or ill-formed racist views.  As a matter of fact, not being an ignorant extremist just makes the charge more damning.  York makes effectively the same point:

That is true, but assessments of AlternativeRight at the time of its founding pegged it as a white nationalist site. The site’s editors “hide their sexist and racist ideologies behind the gloss of sweet-sounding, pseudo-intellectual terms,” wrote Tim Mak, then a reporter for David Frum’s old site FrumForum. “Instead of spouting racism, Alternative Right is engaging in the much more respectable-sounding analysis of ‘human biological diversity’ and ‘socio-biology.'” Mak’s article appeared the same week Richwine published his piece for AlternativeRight.

And even if the words in the site’s articles sounded respectable, a Harvard Ph.D. should have been able to figure out what was going on.


Here’s the skinny

Michael Jeffries, attractive man

Putzing around the internets the other day I ran across an example of an interesting and very common kind of downplayer.  Some context, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch (see above), a clothing retailer, has claimed he only wants to sell clothes to thin, attractive people:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

So he’s a jerk.  Now comes the downplayer.  Reacting to the story, Shana Lebowitz of Greatist writes:

It’s truly incredible that these news stories have sparked such intense conversations about the way the media helps shape our relationship to our bodies. At the same time, it’s too easy to point fingers at Abercrombie and media outlets that glorify the thin ideal. Sometimes it seems like all we need is a couple of models and mannequins who aren’t stick-thin and everyone’s body image would significantly improve.

But that’s too easy. In reality, skinny models and mannequins don’t cause anyone to feel any way about their bodies. While we can’t always control the size of the T-shirts on Abercrombie’s shelves, we do have the power to walk through the overly cologned aisles without feeling bad about ourselves. So why don’t we arm people with the psychological tools to develop a healthy body image — even in spite of messages that can damage our self-esteem?

Perhaps it is easy to latch onto this guy’s sorry but unsurprising attitude about attractiveness, popularity, and so on.  But really, so what?  Things that are easy, however, not any the less true or worthwhile on account of their ease.

Further, note how the downplayer turns into a straw man: tweaking one or two things about stores or clothes sizes will not solve every single problem!  No kidding!  Who says it would?

Pretty in pink

Check out Charles Krauthammer’s downplaying analogy over at the NRO for Obama’s ‘Red Line’ ultimatum with Syria using chemical weapons and what the Right thinks is dithering (or “fudging and fumbling”) in the face of the worry they’ve used them.  The headline:

Pink Line over Damascus

Get it?  Not red, but pink.  You see what he did there? Replaced red with pink. So, it’s like a girl’s ultimatum, which is, you know, not very decisive:

He would have it both ways: sound decisive but never have to deliver.

Yeah, just like a little girl, so pink.  And conservatives wonder why they have a problem with women.