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Separate out the issues

25 Nov

pick up stix

Do you remember the delicate touch you employed in order to play Pick up Stix? Dumping them all out on a table produced a challenging mess.

Similarly when confronted by the onslaught of jumbled sound bytes that stand in lieu of rational, orderly arguments, we have to first untangle the issues before we can discuss what is being advanced.

Recently my ‘go-to’ source for messy thinking, the Letters to the Editor page of the local newspaper, provided fun fodder.

The tragic death by handgun of a local child prompted a letter. The author’s premise ran like this:

All persons who advocate the rights of the unborn should also advocate regulating the rights of handgun owners.

He reasoned two ways:

  • by asking questions calling into question the heart and sympathies of pro-life supporters
  • by pointing out that since the misuse of cars can cause accidental death, and we accept government regulation, then we should equally embrace state and federal regulation of guns

Were I to dialogue face to face with this gentleman, I would gently point out that the use of a fallacy doesn’t take the place of marshaling reasons to support a claim.

Just what is the fallacy?  Look at his questioning technique I cited.  That is nothing more than a ‘kind’ version of an ad hominem attack.  Focusing on the character of your opponent is a weak substitute for a reasoned argument. Succumbing to a fallacy also communicates that you don’t know what else to say in support of your position!

What about my letter writer’s 2nd tactic, to tie the details of one kind of accidental death to another?  He’s arguing in essence for a broader principle:

All objects that can be misused resulting in the accidental death of someone should be regulated by the government.

Is he going to agree or balk?  If he agrees, then take his argument seriously and push it to the point of the absurd.

I just googled this topic: “Too much of this can kill you”

and what popped up after you tube videos of ‘too much love’ was the following from a CBS News website (see the link at kidney failure):

Doctors have traced a man’s kidney failure to his habit of drinking a gallon of iced tea each day.

Black tea has a chemical called oxalate, known to cause kidney stones or even kidney failure in excessive amounts.

But tea isn’t the only everyday ingestible that could kill you.

Mr Letter-writer is going to have to limit the scope of his claim.  His broad-sweep application of ONE situation (government regulation of drivers and cars) cannot, ipso facto, be applied to every situation.  Keep him focused on how to solve the evil killing of the child.

Actually, what both the wrong use of cars and the wrong use of guns has in common is the evil nature of the handler of either. Now THERE’s a topic worth discussing!

Taking it to the absurd

23 Sep

Up for a quick logic workout for your mind?

Critical Thinking the other national deficit

I heard someone advance an argument FOR killing unborn babies in the womb.  It went like this:

  • Since many Christians espouse the doctrine that pre-born and newborn babies as well as very young children all go to heaven (before the age of accountability), why should anyone oppose what Planned Parenthood does?

At first hearing, I thought – “Huh! – I wonder what this theologian’s response will be?”

Reassuringly, the speaker proceeded directly to the question I, myself, have learned.  Before any question or comment, do this: take your opponent’s argument seriously and flow with it to its logical and uncontrived conclusion.   Then lead him to consider that conclusion by posing a question.

  • So if we follow your logic, since a child of 1 has not yet reached the age of accountability, then it’s okay to murder him, seeing that he’s headed to heaven?

It’s clear that very soon, his entire premise will crumble.

Beside the toddler, who else might not be accountable for their actions?  I can think of

  • those born with mental disorders
  • those in a coma
  • those with Alzheimer’s or dementia

Evil terrorists could easily exploit this argument of a quick dispatch to heaven as well!

So is this a slippery slope argument?   In this case, yes!

As Archbishop Justin Welby recently and forcefully argued:

“Whenever assisted suicide is discussed, supporters of a change in the law are quick to pour scorn on “slippery slope” arguments, dismissing them as scare-mongering. The truth is, however, that some slopes are slippery and it is important to identify them”   Website here