Archive | October, 2013

Logical Gal falls prey to Appeal to Authority Fallacy

30 Oct

The other day I entered into discussion with an acquaintance about a controversial topic.  I couldn’t really think on my feet to offer a substantive reason why I disagreed with him.  Automatically, without consciously making a decision, I found myself falling back on a fallacy!  I appealed to a respected and well-known pastor who shares my belief.  “You know that So-and-so believes the way I do.  And he’s a biblically-minded Christian!”   (” So there! ”  I almost added)

Whether the authority we appeal to is respected in the field or just famous (Oprah is an expert talk show host – she holds no PhD in nutrition), we weaken our position when we  bypass reasoned discourse.  Citing someone who shares our views is NO substitute for argumentation.  This practice does not advance our point of view.  We give the appearance of  having no reasons for our assertion.  Our opponent should push back gently and retort, ” So what if Nobel Prize winner Professor John Doe of Ivy League reputation agrees with you.  Why do YOU think that X is better than Y?????”

Plenty of companies earmark advertising funds to pay celebrities for promoting their products.  Name recognition undoubtedly  helps build consumer confidence.  After all, if a football player uses this cologne, or a big name relies on a particular cell phone service, then these items must be okay, after all.

Short of the cachet or approval that comes from celebrity transfer, how can we promote a product or our point of view?

The old-fashioned way  – with reason.

Logical Gal is surprised at ubiquity of genetic fallacy

28 Oct

You’d think that if people did not want to reason and argue from evidence……..

…..that they would at least employ some VARIETY among their fallacies!

Au contraire mon frère!  That over-used Genetic Fallacy keeps cropping up!  You remember that tactic – instead of careful analysis of your opponent’s point of view, you simply dismiss it in one fell swoop by saying, “What did you expect?  He’s from Virginia….or France!”  as if that matters a hill of beans!

This is pure laziness on the part of the man or woman who defaults to attacking the origin of his opponent.  The honorable and thinking approach would be to offer a persuasive alternative to your opponent’s views.

Four months ago we moved from Virginia to Western North Carolina.  We landed near a very liberal city whose daily newspaper reflects a left-leaning perspective.  The irony is that the governor of this state is Republican.  After reading mostly negative name-calling thought-less diatribes that pose as letters to the editor, I wrote in to offer my observations. I suggested that since the majority of the state elected a conservative governor, maybe the results reflected the actual will of the people. And if that were the case, I continued, couldn’t the newspaper be a bit more balanced?

One man responded that I should go back to Virginia.  Another called me a biased infiltrator and then castigated the governor because he, TOO, was tied to Virginia by virtue of his birth.

Furthermore, (continued the letter-writer) Mark Meadows ( a congressman who has become a lightening rod for liberal attacks because of some remarks before and during the government shutdown in October) is from France!!!

Wow!  I had no idea that where you were born automatically disqualifies you from a place at the table!  Funny, how your origin must mean you are incapable of clear thinking, that you are born with an unshakable bias!  Virginians and the French are genetically engineered to be ________ (you fill in the blank with whatever attribute!).

What is sadly humorous is that the letter writer doesn’t even know that the majority of Virginians voted twice for Barack Obama and that France is a more socialist country than America!

So here is the gist of my accuser’s ploy – just call someone a name and disparage where they are from and you can avoid dealing with their argument!

If I were to see him face to face and questioned his lack of substantive reasoning, I imagine he might jab back at me, “Well, that’s my opinion!  And I’m entitled to voice it!”

Yes, dear man, you are entitled to your opinion, but it is worth nothing unless backed up with reasons that all can examine. Stop hiding and have the guts to think through your position!

Logical Gal asks – “….as opposed to what?”

25 Oct

Single words and short non-threatening questions…….

are a great tool when confronted with difficult material to comprehend.

We’ve talked about the value of the 2-letter word ……SO??? 

I’ve used that word when an emotional  friend has announced with outrage something like, “And we have to pay a $15 co-pay each time we go to the doctor’s office!”

By using ‘So?’, you are encouraging your interlocutor to state his or her pre-supposition that is BEHIND their bare proposition.  It’s like you’re saying, ” So – what’s your point? Is it good or bad or strange or wonderful that you have to pay a $15 co-pay?”

Today, I’m adding a 4-word question that helps me when I’m trying to categorize a new concept or term.

If someone were to offer this comment about their spouse, ” John is a good provider”, I would lack context to understand the point of their communication. For me to begin to understand  I would ask, ” a good provider, as opposed to what?   If your husband is a good provider, what would he be if he were not?  What are the other possibilities?

Skitch - Husband Roles

The articulation of other possibilities helps me now to compare this information with other attributes.  The very fact of SELECTING and communicating just the one quality of  ‘provider’ actually says a lot more, like

  • EITHER  her husband John doesn’t have the other qualities
  • OR that she does not value those other qualities as much

The other day in a phone conversation with a friend, she mentioned that her new pastor was KIND.  That was the ONE word she used out of many.  Knowing she could have chosen others such as:

  • theologically deep
  • good communicator
  • excellent administrator
  • sound counselor
  • effective teacher
  • holy in his practices

helped me see not only what my friend valued but that this man’s kindness must REALLY be noteworthy.

This morning, listening to a podcast discussion about the Mathematical Laws, one speaker mentioned that they were discovered.  My 4 word Question flew out of my mouth – ” As opposed to what?”  

In the next breath, he answered… opposed to being invented.

Bingo!  That contradistinction made the quality of being DISCOVERED much clearer to me.   For if laws are invented by humans, then they do not necessarily conform to reality.  But if they are discovered, then they are grounded in Truth.

Do you see how useful this question may be?  Where has it helped you?

Logical Gal laments lack of arguments

23 Oct

They say that nothing is new under the sun.

But I’m not so sure.

Coming off of the staged government shutdown, our newspaper has overflowed with jubilant and smug shout-outs  to ‘ the winners’.

They are painful to read because the readership of our local paper had not been well informed about the positions of each side.

The electorate deserves a good argument.  But effort is required to lay forth a case.  It seems that many people resorted to name calling during this last political crisis.  And loudly at that!  They didn’t even bother with using a fallacy to buttress their side.  I guess THAT takes too much thinking!

What ever happened to reasoned argumentation?

Thomas Paine published a pamphlet in 1776 named Common Sense.  America today probably has a higher literacy rate than that of the 13 British colonies. Nevertheless, enough people read  this British transplant’ s work or heard it read out loud to grasp the argument Paine was making FOR independence.  Most historians will attest to the sway Paine exercised on our nascent country.

Looking at just one sentence, though, I am amazed at the sophisticated use of language.

” The laying of a Country desolate with Fire and Sword, declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling; of which Class, regardless of Party Censure, is The Author.” 

For further reading, check out this blog post

What has happened to create such a decline in our verbal output?  You probably have your theories about technology or education or parenting or the pace of life.

A better use of our energies is to brainstorm ways to exercise our minds and practice using language to explain and defend our positions.

Here are a couple of quick tips off the top of my head.

When someone shouts pejoratively about a group or person,  just ask them:

  • what do you mean by calling them that?
  • what does that adjective about their person have to do with their viewpoint?
  • what exactly IS their viewpoint and what parts of it do you object to?
  • what is YOUR point of view about the subject?
  • what have you read recently about this subject?
  • where do you get your information?

One day on a college campus for a conference, I stopped to engage in a conversation with a man about some teacher union strikes that were occurring in the Midwest.  I had not taken ANY time to study the issue and look at the arguments of both sides.  All I had in my head were sound bytes from my  husband.  I quickly came to the conclusion, after listening to this man, that I had NOTHING of substance to add to the conversation.  I was embarrassed.

Note to self: spend a few minutes researching current issues and then practice articulating them at home.   I don’t want to be tempted to resort to name-calling myself as a pathetic crutch for not having done my HW!

Logical Gal and the value of what something is NOT!

21 Oct

I didn’t grow up in a house that valued critical thinking or questioning.

There were right and wrong views. My father expressed his views with the weight of authority.  He was older and he had experienced some of the historical events that were our topics of discussion.   Except, there wasn’t ever any discussion.  He expressed his views.  Teenage Maria voiced hers.

Two watersheds in my life introduced me to critical thinking and questioning:

  • I began to be shaped by the truth of Old and New Testaments
  • I was hired to teach Logic in a classical school

Learning that changes us from the inside out takes time.  My twin abilities  to think clearly and ask specific questions have grown ever so slowly.  I need LOTS of practice.

But once I can articulate something to YOU, then I am heartened by this evidence of a deep, multidimensional knowledge.

A useful habit I am practicing is the art of asking what something is NOT.  For example, let’s suppose you show me a tool that I’ve never seen nor heard  about and you tell me that this THING-A-MA-JIG is good for XYZ.

What helps me gain understanding is to ask you questions like:

  • what do similar tools in its category do?
  • what can this widget NOT do?

It seems that by seeing what something is NOT, we can see what the idea or object actually is or does

The other day I was reading for the umpteenth time, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6b)  For the first time I asked myself;

  •  If people are not traveling in their spiritual journeys through Jesus,  then where do they arrive?

That question birthed  a thought new to me.  I  recalled  a quote I had read a couple of years ago that “All roads lead to God – for judgment!”

My questioning and asking what the statement was NOT saying helped me make the distinction between God as judge and God as father.

I’m beginning to see that every proposition is essentially saying what something IS and IS NOT.

  • An apple is a fruit

Okay….so what is an apple NOT?  Maybe what it is NOT is far more revealing than what it is!

Word choice matters and what is NOT said is sometimes more powerful than what is explicitly communicated.

Where have you seen this in your life?

Logical Gal and Bulverism, aka Genetic Fallacy

18 Oct

Welcome to another Fallacy Friday!

Have you ever heard of Ezekiel Bulver?  He’s an imaginary 5-year old, immortalized by CS Lewis in brief hypothetical transformative moment of this young man’s life.

” ….. Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father – who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third – “Oh, you say that because you are a man.”At that moment,” E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet.” (essay read to the Socratic Club at Oxford in 1941)

What CS Lewis describes in story form is none other than the Genetic Fallacy.  Remember that fallacies are often used IN PLACE OF reason, either to make a case OR to attack an opponent’s claim.

This kind of low blow attempts to discredit the speaker by talking about his or her origins.

To wit:

  • What do you expect from someone over 40?
  • You’re only saying that because you’re a conservative!
  • Of course they would argue that way, look at what they have to gain!

Do you see how these retorts are likely to distract the recipient from the merits of the argument in question?   Tactical parries of this sort often lead someone on a fruitless bunny trail away from the meat of the discussion itself.

So, how can we respond?

Calmly acknowledge the partial truth in what your opponent says and then redirect BACK to the claim and the reasons:

  • I may be over 40, but what about my claim that ‘holding on to a car for more than 3 years makes more sense, financially’ ?
  • Yes, I am a conservative; nonetheless, I still maintain that working a job is better in the long run than accepting a government handout.
  • Just because public school teachers want to keep their jobs and thereby have a vested interest in lobbying, what does that have to do with the merits of their argument?

What interesting examples of ‘Bulverism’ have you encountered?

Logical Gal and how disjunctive syllogisms help us

16 Oct

Either our government will find a solution for the budget impasse or our country will fall apart.

Our government is working hard to find a solution 

Therefore, it is unlikely that our country will fall apart

Voilà – a proper disjunctive (either/or) syllogism. (Whether it’s true or not, that’s ANOTHER question!)

This way of framing choices is very useful.  Sometimes, however, there are more than 2 options.  And when someone forces you to make a choice, between the two, it is RIGHT to balk and suggest others if they appear to you.

Moms do this frequently, when they are trying to get a child to do something he or she does NOT want to do:

” You can clean your room before going to bed tonight or before going out to play tomorrow morning”

A logical child might say, “Mom, that’s a false dilemma.  How about if I pay my brother to clean my room?  Would that satisfy you?”  Poor Mom!  She had better bone up on logic.

As important as parenting is,  let me direct us to a more serious subject – fear and faith.  The last two days as I’ve been following my Bible reading plan, I’ve come across the same verse in two gospels.  Both Mark 5:36 and Luke 8:50 record Jesus encouraging someone with this logic:  Do not fear, only trust and rely on God. 

The Greek word ‘believe’  or Pisteou (Strong’s 4100)  can be translated this way:  to trust, to believe, to rely on, to put faith in, to entrust, to lean on

The two options are a proper disjunctive – we can either fear circumstances, people, our propensity to make the same mistakes over and over….OR…we can commit our concerns, situations and problems  to God and rely on Him for His help, wisdom, grace, presence, protection and solution.  We can’t do a little of each – simultaneously fearing and trusting. Just think about it:  if we are relying on someone or something, then we are looking to them/it.  And if we are consumed with fear, we are NOT looking at our source of rescue.

Picture a toddler clinging for dear life to MOM.  She is NOT confused about the one she is trusting, clinging to, relying on.

I’ve been helped in a real way these past couple of days as I’ve reminded myself of the fact that there are ONLY TWO CHOICES.  Who wouldn’t want to rely on the God of the Universe who actually promises to supply our needs.  I’m also reminded of God’s  words to us  as spoken through James, half-brother of Jesus, “You have not because you ask not.” 

Logical Gal extols “First things, first!”

14 Oct

The wisdom and simplicity of ‘First things, first’ hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was listening to a discussion between a Christian and an agnostic/atheist.

The non-Christian started to list many evils done in the name of Christ.  The Christian graciously stopped him with this simple question: “Before we look at both the good and the bad actions of those who call themselves Christians, would it be okay with you if we look first at the claims of Christianity?  After all, Christians affirm many different events and statements about a historical man in 1st century Palestine who claimed to be God.  If those claims don’t prove to be true, it’s a certain waste of both your time and mine to go any further in our discussion.”

How brilliant is that!!!  And it’s logical.

Peter Kreeft, in his book Socractic Logic, describes what he calls ‘three aspects of reality’: terms, propositions and arguments. Remember that terms are either clear or unclear (ambiguous), propositions are either true or false and arguments are either valid or invalid.

So, in keeping with the ORDER of logical thought, we need to determine the truth or falsity of  propositions BEFORE we start to proceed via argumentation into implications.  Claims are going to be either true or false.  They can’t be both and there is no other alternative.

My impatience to jump into explaining my point of view has cost me frustration AND time.  And no doubt I have used up much good will in certain relationships.

Employing simple principles of logic and clear thinking benefits all of life!

Logical Gal shines the light on the Fallacy of Fake Precision

11 Oct

Son # 2 is visiting this week with his wife and little one.

His presence has stirred up many precious memories, especially of meals shared around the dinner table.  As a teen, Wes loved to pronounce facts dramatically with flair.

His style was to throw in large numbers, meant to beef up a weak argument.

  • 16.27 million teens have their own cell phones
  • 97.5 % of all high school juniors have a curfew later than mine

Or he would announce some news and just add in a big number to make it sound more interesting.

  • Did you know, Mom, that 7.2 out of every 10 American households have at least 3 television sets?

This use of arbitrary figures, pulled-out-of-thin-air statistics is meant to make the claim-maker sound more knowledge.  After all, how many people are going to actually challenge his large numbers?   So what defense is available to you?  How do you respond?  Simply ask:

  • How do you know that?
  • What is the source of your statistic?

Many groups make use of this creative fallacy.  Scientific researchers, political groups and marketers.   Who doesn’t remember Crest toothpaste’s statistic!

And you can bet that 84.5 % of America’s car salesmen use this kind of tactic to get you to part with your money and buy from them!

Logical Gal and Reasoning like a Doctor

10 Oct

One of our cats died this week:

What a painful decision it is to choose to euthanize an animal when her quality of life is rapidly going down hill.  For years this cat had suffered from a chronic malady.  We struggled with her as we tried different remedies suggested by the vet.  But in the end, there was nothing more we could do.  At the ripe old age of 17 1/2 her organs were too weak to respond to medicine.

As we were chatting awkwardly with the vet who was getting to administer that final drug, I realized that the trial and error solutions that he and previous professionals had suggested were examples of abductive reasoning.

In language-based logic, there are 3 ways of reasoning: deductive, inductive and abductive.

Deductive reasoning is when you go from 2 known truths to a new piece of information.

All cats are curious

Leia is a cat

Therefore, Leia is curious

If the first two premises are true in a correctly formed syllogism (called ‘valid’ ) , then it follows that the conclusion must be true.  The conclusion is, in effect, GUARANTEED to be true. 

Inductive reasoning is more probabilistic.  The conclusion is at best LIKELY to be true.

The hurricane is moving in a northeasterly direction at the rate of 15 miles per hour.

Therefore, if it continues at that same rate and heading, it will probably reach our city by tomorrow night. 

Now to the thought process used by doctors, scientists and detectives.

Abductive reasoning is when you gather evidence and draw the best and most ‘reasonable’ (i.e. based on reasons) conclusion!  Many people rely on this kind of decision-making.  So much of life is uncertain.  But we gather the facts as best we can and we propose a solution or a conclusion. It’s trial and error.  Many of the decisions we take MUST rely on abductive reasoning.  I know this is frustrating to Americans who crave and are almost addicted to having certainty.

It is important, therefore, that you trust the character and procedures of the one who is reasoning this way.  Our cat did die, but all the vets involved in her life worked diligently and with care to provide the best treatments.  We are grateful to them and to God who guided us in that final decision as her owners.