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?

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