Thursday, 28 May 2009

Debate and Logical Fallacy.

One of the things that I find quite fascinating is the study of logical fallacies. You might very well think that I am a bit of a nerd and not share my enthusiasm at all, such is the nature of subjective things. However, regardless of whether you find it interesting, I think the importance will always hold. When somebody causes others to arrive at an improper conclusion through a crooked line of reasoning, then in the very least they are being quite reckless about whether or not the truth will come out. If somebody deliberately continues to use fallacies even after their mistake has been pointed out to them, that, in my opinion, comes very close to lying.

If you suspect that somebody has hoodwinked you in the course of a debate or discussion, it’s always worth doing a google for ‘logical fallacies’ and then running through the list to see whether one has been used. They usually involve a sneaky intellectual sleight of hand which misdirects the audience. There are many good resources to be found via google, such as The Nizkor Project.

To give you an example, I can remember an occasion when an RNID apologist packed not one, not two, but three logical fallacies into a mere two word portion of one sentence. You may think that my claim here is rather outlandish, but let’s see what you think after I have broken it down in a scientific manner. The speaker, in response to a criticism of RNID referred to the critics as a ‘vociferous minority..’
‘Vociferous,’ according to Chambers means ‘loud and forceful, especially in expressing opinions.’ The first question you should ask of such a statement is ‘how does this relate to the actual criticism it is addressing?’ The answer was that it did not; it was an irrelevant misdirection. If Solomon expressed his wisdom a bit louder, that fact does not make his wisdom less wise. The only thing that would make it less wise are the words themselves.

Secondly, the use of the word ‘minority’ is an argumentum ad populum; it is trying to say that because not all that many people share a view, that view must be wrong. There was a time when the overwhelming majority of people thought that the earth was flat and that the sun descended into the sea. In the 1930s many Germans thought that Adolf Hitler was the best person to lead Germany. The fact that many people thought something most certainly did not make it right. Conversely, the fact that not many people might think something does not make it wrong.

Finally, the two words combined, ‘vociferous minority’ is an argumentum ad hominem or personal attack - it is attacking the persons making the argument rather than attempting to refute the argument itself. This is a particularly unpleasant fallacy because it not only misleads the audience, but maligns the target. Even very clever people use this tactic because it gives them an ‘out’ – it’s a lot easier to shoot the messenger if you can’t deal with the message.

Watch out for those fallacies – they are nothing more than dirty tricks!