Welcome to Fallacy Friday – the Genetic Fallacy

19 Jul


We’ve been dipping into some initial areas of formal logic by considering terms and propositions.  On Fridays, I’d like to look at what is called ‘informal’ logic.

By the way, ‘Formal’ logic does NOT refer to thinking in fancy dress or tuxedos, but studying the FORM of an argument.  Informal logic refers to poor, lazy thinking, that is to say faulty or fallacious ways of arguing, hence:  “fallacies.”

People often unwittingly resort to fallacies as shortcuts because they don’t want to take the time (or they sense the impatience of their opponent) to present a sequentially thought-out case for why they believe what they do.  Let’s look at a snippet of a typical conversation taking place at a county fair.

Old-timer: Carolina barbecue is the best in the country!

City-slicker:  You’re just saying that because you grew up in Appalachia!

Our Old-timer (OT) just made an assertion and he should be willing to offer proof.  But the City-clicker (CS) is not being fair to assume that the OT has no reasons to back up his claim.  It could very well be that OT DID grow up in Appalachia AND that Carolina barbecue IS the best per some culinary standard.

The likelier case is that neither wanted to take…. the…. time to investigate the reasons.

But the argument regarding the superiority of Carolina-style Barbecue does hang on reasons.  Where our Old-timer grew up is immaterial or irrelevant to his claim.  We should never dismiss an assertion due to the background of the one making the claim.

When we default to that kind of retort or response to a statement/conclusion, we are using the Genetic Fallacy.  Genetic is reminiscent of our word for origins, or ‘genesis.’

Where the person making the claim comes from should have no part in the argument.   They MIGHT be prejudiced toward something related to their background, but they might just as equally have stacked the deck against the very thing.  We have an adage about that, “Familiarity breeds contempt!”

In summary, clear thinking people who correctly use the tool of logic rely on REASONS to support their case and they ask others to show evidence to support their claims as well.

However, as you know, most public conversation we observe barely rises above the swamp of snarkiness. Look at the kinds of retorts that fly back and forth, whether in the Press, on TV or just in every day conversation:

“You’re just saying that because you’re………..

·         a westerner

·         racist

·         a woman

·         against women

·         over 40

·         a teen

·         against the establishment

·         vegetarian

·         an agnostic

·         a Christian

·         against having fun

·         rich

·         Democrat

·         ….and ad nauseum…….”

 All those circumstances MAY be the case, but we need to look at the naked argument.  A claim and its reasons need to stand on their own.  Period.

So what do you do when someone makes what sounds to you like an outrageous claim?  Challenge them gently by asking them why they think that!

See if you can recognize the Genetic Fallacy during the next few days.  Ask yourself, instead of addressing the claim, what accusation are they making against the person advancing a point of view?   Or catch yourself falling into the same rut of laziness argumentation!




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