Thread on Logical Argument and Common Fallacies
I can't stand it anymore. I've been threatening to start a logic thread, and I finally have been compelled to do so because so many of the posters on this board have no clue what logic is or means. It sounds somewhat dry and dusty and may sound like it would be a difficult subject, but it is much, much more accessible than other areas of philosophy and (IMO) emminently more useful. I'll post some useful links below on logic.
We get into an amazing array of topics in this General Chat session, many of which are fairly complex issues that are truly important. I am starting this thread in the hopes of raising the level of argument here so threads become not only more productive, but more enjoyable for all, as well.
Before I start, I'd like to make two points. Well, knowing me it will end up being more than two as I ramble on, but what the heck, you're all used to that by now :D. First, my motivation is not to denigrate anyone or to insult your intelligence. In today's educational environment, unfortunately, not only are young people not taught logic, like my "old fart" crowd was. . .you are actually taught to argue illogically. What do I mean by that? Well, most of academia today have a very poor understanding of logic themselves, and they teach their students to argue from emotion, to judge positions by the motivation of the person holding the position, not by the facts put forth in support of it. I'd wager that the majority of university professors today, especially in the social sciences, themselves don't know how to contruct a tight argument and wouldn't recognize a logical fallacy if it bit them on the behind. Many of you younger posters are very good at constructing logical arguments, and I wonder how you acquired that skill. Props to you! Anyway, it's not your fault if you can't argue logically! This thread is here to help you.
Second point, most of the time, logic won't "prove" a point. There are two kinds of logical argument, deductive and inductive. Deductive arguments prove, inductive arguments simply make a case for a position being likely to be true. Most of life's questions are inductive in nature, so they don't lend themselves to one simple answer which everyone should accept. Example of a deductive argument would be this.
That is not something open to opinion, if you don't buy the conclusion that ElPietro lives in Canada you're an idiot. You have to be careful, though, not to draw too much conclusion from the premises (each of the first two sentences is called a premise--it is assumed the premises are true when evaluation the conclusion. If the premises can be shown to be false, the conclusion may also be false.). For example, I might have stated as the conclusion that "Therefore, ElPietro is a Canadian." The premises are insufficient to draw this conclusion deductively, as ElPietro may actually be American or Mexican or Korean, and living in Canada.
Toronto is located in Canada. ElPietro lives in Toronto. Therefore ElPietro lives in Canada.
Let's make an inductive argument, then.
I didn't "prove" ElPietro is Canadian with that argument, but it's not bad inductive reasoning. He probably is Canadian, although without more information we simply cannot know that.
ElPietro lives in Toronto. Eighty percent of people living in Toronto are Canadian. ElPietro is probably Canadian.
The point about inductive reasoning is that when you get into much more complex issues than whether or not ElPietro is Canadian, it becomes very difficult to prove anything conclusively and we need to understand that reasonable and intelligent people can look at the same fact pattern and draw different, but reasonable conclusions from them. So if someone disagrees with you, they are not necessarily idiots. Of course if you disagree with me, you've made a very strong inductive case that you are an idiot (JK :D). Remember that. Especially on issues which we are passionate about, we can be uncharitably disposed to other points of view, to put it mildly. I, for one, will always respect a differing opinion if reasonable and intelligent arguments are made in its defense. I have those disagreements around here all the time, and others do, as well, but when they are with people who are truly trying to argue--not fight, but argue--they are usually very civil. It's when the poo flining starts that it gets ugly.
I guess I had three initial points, and here's three. Now that we understand most young folks have not been taught even rudimentary logic, and, in fact, have been taught to argue poorly by their teachers, I must disabuse you of something else you have been taught. Not only have you been taught to argue from emotion, to judge a conclusion apart from the supporting premises and to attack the conclusion when it is not politically correct rather than attack the premises, not only have you been taught that if you have reason to suspect someone's motives in an argument you can attack all of their conclusions. . .Horror of horrors, you've been taught that your opinions deserve to be respected simply because you hold them. And to that I say BULLFEATHERES!
Reasonable people can look at the same facts and draw different conclusions from them. However, bunky, you are not entitled to have any opinion respected simply because you woke up that day and decided to hold that opinion. If you can support your position with even the most rudimentary logical support (using facts, by the way, what a radical concept!), then you are entitled to have your opinion respected even by those who disagree with you. There was a thread about this very topic a while back. The poster asked how can someone respect me as a person and not respect my opinions, or something to that effect. Well, they can. I respect a lot of people for much that they have done, much of what they are. They are so illogical, however, I don't respect any of their opinions. You are not entitled to have your opinions respected, you have to earn that.
There are folks here who can construct very good logical arguments, and who disagree with each other from time to time, but you can tell they respect each other (well, with the possible exception of Chris Mason, who knows you're an idiot if you disagree with him ;) ). What they are respecting are not the opinions of the other party, but the way in which those opinions are put forth and supported. This can be a difficult thing to catch. Not all opinions are created equal, boys and girls. You may not like it, but that's life. You may not be an idiot, but if you argue like one, you've got to be prepared for people viewing you like an idiot.
Now the resources. I'm going to post some links here and encourage a discussion on logical argument here as a topic in and of itself, apart from any arguments that may be made as examples.
I'm hoping it resonates with people here and becomes a popular resource and actually increases everyone's enjoyment of the board. Perhaps it might even be made a sticky. But it's purpose is not to create a forum for pushing opinions.
I'm begging the mods here to go along with this because it will make WBB a much more enjoyable place to visit. PLEASE chop any posts which attempt to continue an argument in this thread and suggest a new thread be started. Gun Control, the upcoming thrashing in Iraq, Smith Machines (horrors:eek: ) could be used as examples here, but the purpose is to analyze the argument and post something about logic! If you want to start another gun control thread, by all means start one, but the purpose of this thread is to be educational.
OK, here's a great link on logical fallacies with examples. By a Canadian professor, too! Wooops! Can't know that. Too broad a conclusion! The main site is at the University of Alberta, but the professor may be Japanese for all I know.
There are instruction links, and an excellent resource link with books (I'm going to review one shortly) on logic, too.
Now how about an example. From the many gun control discussions that have come up here, one of the most common fallacies I've seen is the False Dilemma. Remember, I'm not starting a gun control discussion here, I'm making a point about the logical fallacy called false dilemma.
If anyone posts that they are against gun registration, a frequent response will be something like this. "Well, if you are against gun registration, you must be for hundreds of people being killed in accidental shootings!" Or whatever. The actual statement isn't important here. The point is an implicit argument is made, but not stated, that posits registering guns will reduce accidental shootings. This may or may not be true, but no support is made for this unspoken argument. . .it is just assumed. The false dilemma, then, is that accidental shootings have not been shown to be the inevitable result of not registering guns. Facts must be assembled and arguments constructed to support that conclusion.
By the way, that kind of response is ususally made very authoritatively and with an air of moral superiority, a kind of chest-thumping, "I guess I showed you, didn't I!?" Umm. No. You look like an idiot, and your opinion does not deserve to be respected. Sorry. Stupid argument. It may be true or it may be false, but it is a stupid argument. Come back with a fact pattern and build a set of premises and conclusions and I might respect your opinion even if I disagree with it.
Here is a link to the list of fallacies on that website.
Don't feel bad if while perusing that list you recognize a lot of your own tactics. As I said, it's not your fault. You've been taught poorly. But now you have a challenge! Go and learn!
Hope this becomes a fun thread, and I hope it doesn't degenerate. Next to the training advice here, which is of very high quality, this thread could be the most useful thing you get out of WBB!