Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Faulty Arguments

Sorry I’ve been away from this project for a month, but the holidays as well as trying to re-gear for a new semester cut rather significantly into my otherwise “free” time. Not to mention the college bowls and now the NFL playoffs, coupled with some serious taste testing of some wonderful seasonal micro-brews from throughout the Midwest and Colorado. But I’ve been thinking about this entry for several weeks, and have finally worked up a full head of steam.

As one looks at arguments, political and otherwise, the styles and types of fallacious reasoning are easily detectible. Let’s quickly review:
Emotional arguments – such as the supposed mushroom cloud that would result if we didn’t invade Iraq
Either-or-choices – these include “slippery slopes,” as in we can’t legalize gay marriage because next we’ll be legalizing pedophilia and incest, not that there is any relationship between the victimless condition of homosexual unions and the clear victmizations involved in under-age sex and father-daughter sex, both of which often involve rape if not lesser forms of the abuse of power.

Flashpoints of ethical argument, which include
Appeals to false authority (won’t go there)

Dogmatism (think Pat Robertson, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter)
Moral equivalence – not all arguments are equal (never ever never compare anything to the Holocaust or anyone to Adolph Hitler, because nothing exceeds this era of history, or even comes close, for its shear insane inhumanity on the part of a wildly popular national agenda at the time)
Ad Hominem arguments – attack the “man” not the argument (just pay attention to the political smearing of the war records of Senators John Kerry and Bill Murtha, both of whom received multiple Purple Hearts for combat wounds and Bronze Stars for battlefield bravery, when they started opposing the war in Iraq)

Flashpoints of logical argument, which include
Hasty generalization, as in claiming liberals are “traitors” because they think there may be a better way to deal with terrorism than bombing villages in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan (didn’t work in Vietnam, surprising to think many believe it will work this time around)
Faulty causality (coming back to that in my next blog entry)
Begging the question (“We’re all Christians here,” apparently meaning everyone there is a good person even though there is no evidence to support the claim)
Equivocation (“I never had sex with that woman,” avoiding the fact she performed a sexual act on him)
Non Sequitur (our students are failing because are teachers are so bad. Eh?)
and Faulty analogy (fighting “insurgents” in Iraq somehow makes the US safer from terrorists )

General William Odom

For an excellent look at how to unravel some of the above types of fallacies, take a critical look at this article by retired Reagan-era General William Odom, who is now a professor at Yale and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. Odom, who was director of the national Security Agency from 1985 to 1988, does a great job of blowing holes in nine of the current arguments being used by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld crowd that are keeping us in Iraq at the cost of billions of dollars a year and the lives of seven American soldiers a day. It is one thing to support the troops, it’s another to use faulty logic to keep them there.