Can you construct an argument? No, really?

Posted on June 6, 2006


The blogosphere, and indeed, the world, is filled with dumb motherfuckers. Motherfuckers who think they know how to argue, when actually they are imbecilic, and often racist, bitches. So I’ve taken it upon myself, not to change these peoples’ minds, but to educate them in the basic principles of logic, that they might better express their infantile ramblings. At least then my synapses will stop fizzing with rage.
I took a course, critical thinking, as an undergrad at McMaster University. That, along with the training for the Law School Admission Test, and law school itself, has cleared my thinking considerably. And I want to share the love. Because I just can’t think over the rattling, in so many heads, of lone brain cells.

So, an argument is composed of one or more premises that lead to a conclusion. A premise is a statement (a sentence that is either true or false) that is offered in support of the claim being made, which is the conclusion (which is also a sentence that is either true or false). I won’t confuse you at this stage by talking about deductive and inductive, valid and sound arguments. Suffice it to say that you’ll want to make an argument that has true premises and a true conclusion. It’s more useful at this stage to talk about logical fallacies, or errors in reasoning.

1. The Ad Hominem attack
An Ad Hominem is where a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. The reason why an Ad Hominem is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made (or the quality of the argument being made).

Bill: “I believe that abortion is morally wrong.”
Dave: “Of course you would say that, you’re a priest.”
Bill: “What about the arguments I gave to support my position?”
Dave: “Those don’t count. Like I said, you’re a priest, so you have to say that abortion is wrong. Further, you are just a lackey to the Pope, so I can’t believe what you say.”

2. The appeal to belief
Appeal to Belief is a fallacy that has this general pattern:

  1. Most people believe that a claim, X, is true.
  2. Therefore X is true.

This line of “reasoning” is fallacious because the fact that many people believe a claim does not, in general, serve as evidence that the claim is true.
Note: this may not be a fallacy when talking about community standards, which are often taken to be the standards that most people accept.

3. Begging the question
Especially popular amongst religious people. Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true.

Bill: “God must exist.”
Jill: “How do you know.”
Bill: “Because the Bible says so.”
Jill: “Why should I believe the Bible?”
Bill: “Because the Bible was written by God.”

4. Confusing Cause and Effect
Confusing Cause and Effect is a fallacy that has the following general form:

  1. A and B regularly occur together.
  2. Therefore A is the cause of B.

In order to determine that the fallacy has been committed, it must be shown that the causal conclusion has not been adequately supported and that the person committing the fallacy has confused the actual cause with the effect.

Bill: “This rap stuff is always telling the kids to kill cops, do drugs, and abuse women. That is all bad and the kids today shouldn’t be doing that sort of stuff. We ought to ban that music!”
Joe: “So, you think that getting rid of the rap music would solve the drug, violence and sexism problems in the US?”
Bill: “Well, it wouldn’t get rid of it all, but it would take care of a lot of it.”
Joe: “Don’t you think that most of the rap singers sing about that sort of stuff because that is what is really going on these days? I mean, people often sing about the conditions of their time, just like the people did in the sixties. But then I suppose that you think that people were against the war and into drugs just because they listened to Dylan and Baez.”
Bill: “Well…”
Joe: “Well, it seems to me that the main cause of the content of the rap music is the pre-existing social conditions. If there weren’t all these problems, the rap singers probably wouldn’t be singing about them. If the social conditions were great, kids could listen to the music all day and not be affected.”
Bill: “Well, I still think the rap music causes the problems. You can’t argue against the fact that social ills really picked up at the same time rap music got started.”

There are many more here. I urge people to look at these in the strongest possible way. Otherwise I will continue to post excerpts until I have pissed off everyone who reads this blog – but at least my conscience will be at peace!

Posted in: stupidity