Tag Archives: Ad Hominem

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!

Logical Gal and how kids can benefit from studying Logic

31 Jan

A friend of mine’s daughter has her doubts about the benefit of studying logic.  It’s a required course for 7th graders at her classical school.  The curriculum introduces informal logic in the 7th grade and formal logic in the 8th grade.

Informal logic consists in all the fallacies or bad arguments people use.  Formal logic is the study of GOOD argumentation: its form.

But back to this pre-teen’s question about the relevance of her course of study.  I hear it as a French teacher and I’m sure math teachers have learned to shut their ears to this perennial question:

When am I ever going to use THIS!!!!

Here is how the study of poor argumentation can help anyone, no matter his or her age.  Armed with the ability to identify the fallacies of others, you will be able to stop them in their tracks when they come at you with:

  • …because I said so (Argumentum ad Baculum – Big Stick) – often used by parents!!
  • …because anyone who is anybody does it (Argumentum Populum – Mob Appeal)
  • …because Justin Bieber said they were the coolest running shoes (Celebrity Transfer)
  • …because these puppies and kittens will die if you don’t donate (Appeal to Pity – avoiding looking at other reasons, but relying on emotions)
  • You shouldn’t vote Joe for class president because he’s a nerd (Ad Hominem Abusive- attacking the guy’s character instead of looking at his platform)
  • You can’t trust what the disciples said about Jesus.  After all, they lived with him for 3 years (Ad Hominem Circumstantial – they must be biased)
  • You can’t tell me not to smoke because YOU smoke (Tu Quoque – you do it, too!)
  • You can either clean up your room now or before dinner. (False dichotomy – there are other times) again, a favorite of parents.
  • If you don’t let me have a cell phone at age 12, then I’ll never have any friends! (Strawman – reframing someone’s position incorrectly)- a favorite of kids!

These are just a few of the more common poor arguments or fallacies that swirl around us all the time. Can you see how useful it will be in giving both the adolescent AND the adult the key to identifying manipulative reasoning?  Even if you don’t remember the name of any of them, once you understand the thinking behind each, they are super easy (and fun!) to spot.  All you have to do, when someone tries to lay one of these babies on you,  is come back forcefully with,

That’s a fallacy!  

Try your hand at spotting what’s wrong in this argument!

How did you do? At least you could probably FEEL that something was wrong.  It’s invalid because of the Fallacy of Equivocation.    In this case, the word ‘headache’ is used equivocally, that is – in two different senses, thus creating the fallacy.  Equivocal words refer to two different concepts.  Both a pain in one’s head and an annoying condition can be called a headache.

Finally, the one fallacy I, as a parent, would want my child to have down pat before launching out on his or her own would be the Fallacy of the Non Sequitor.

If you have a daughter, think of a guy trying to get her to indulge in casual sex with him.  He lays this line on her: “If you love me, you’ll sleep with me!”

That, my dear readers, is an example of something that does not follow, hence a NON SEQUITOR.

Or how about this: “Why not try these drugs, you’re only young once!”

In both cases, there is absolutely NO CONNECTION between the first premise and the second.  Our children need to know HOW to respond before they are faced with the absurd and sinful choices, which will surely be thrown at them.

Question: Which fallacies have you succumbed to?