Introductory Logic: Basic Ad Hominem, or “How to Not Respond to a Commenter”

Our Christian blogger friend in Here responded to My Post about his bad defence of Euthyphro dilemma on the comment section in the same page of his own blog. Now, surely he was not obligated to respond in mine, but since he did not publish my comment on his response, I decided to put this into good educational use and make a new post out of it.

My response to him was as follows: “lol! Ad hominem. Quite pathetic tbh, but I don’t expect anything more. 😀 “ Which was not published. That’s OK, after all, I probably should have expected less! However, his comments in response to me are interesting enough to put here. I believe this is a good introductory example of ad hominem attack:

Though I do appreciate your commentary, your discourse here reflects what most Atheists have; an inadequate understanding of Christian theology. This would be like me walking up to a Chinese man and telling him that his worldview (in the context of philosophy) was crazy without the slightest idea of how Confucian worldview operates. I really do appreciate when we can have discussion from one side to the other, but do your homework on true systematic Christian theology because your arguments, though seemingly adequate on the surface, would be considered irrelevant in academia by both atheists and theologians.

Also, I prefaced my argument with you must have the most basic understanding of orthodox Christianity and you have proven that you in fact so not have that most rudimentary skill necessary to argue on the other side of this post. It only makes sense within a Christian worldview. I don’t expect it to make sense to an atheist. That’s why that post was for Christians who were struggling with philosophy, not atheists. You of all people (self proclaimed master of logic) should know that you can’t make an argument without premises 🙂.

I would like to also mention that my linked post is devoid of any comments about him or his knowledge of moral philosophy, or lack there of. Also, just for the record, to my recollection I have never called myself “master of logic”.

 

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Published: “The Small Handbook of Fallacies: A Guide to Exposing Nonsense in Everyday Life”

As in “Introduction to Logical fallacies: A More Organized Approach” I had mentioned, I was planning on publishing a small handbook on logical fallacies. Mainly designed for the younger generation (high school and early college), I most likely hope that it would be good for educational purposes. Some of the posts that followed the original one were to act as samples of this handbook. Almost two days ago I published this handbook in Amazon Kindle (KDP).

Here is the link to the finalized published “The Small Handbook of Fallacies: A Guide to Exposing Nonsense in Everyday Life“:

Copy of the link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Small-Handbook-Fallacies-ebook/dp/B00BMIST0M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1362039374&sr=1-1&keywords=Handbook+fallacies

I welcome any review and criticism, and I shall work towards a better edition accordingly.

 

Introduction to Logical Fallacies (Workshop Style): Ad Hominem (Poisoning the well)

Ad Hominem simply means personal attack. It is the argument that someone is wrong because there is something wrong with him/her. This fallacy is essentially the fallacy of attacking the arguer instead of the argument.

Example: This is a paragraph of a blog post by a user named “The answer girl”. She obviously is far from having any answers, because of the following post, which is about the rejection of homosexuality being natural:

“But the proof offered, my dear friends, needs to be towards the unbiased side of the spectrum. This means that those pro-homosexuality and/or LGBT supporting websites shouldn’t be part of your argument, since – in most cases – the information is biased and misleading. A friend of mine told me she was reading a book on this type of research, for example, and the authors were a homosexual couples. One would assume that information might have been mishandled or the research conducted might have been leading (i.e. forced), for example.”

One must be very careful regarding the notion of “bias”. In research method there is indeed a serious case for being biased, but the nature of the research itself is very determining in such cases. As you can see above, our answer girl is not trying to go after any evidence to suggest the results of research done by LGBT supporting websites or books are indeed biased, she is doing the very basic case of Ad Hominem attack: The information is biased because it is given by LGBT supporters.

It does not matter who gives the information, a Nazi may claim racism true, but he or she is not wrong “because” he is a Nazi. If we wish to prove anyone wrong, we need to prove their claims or arguments wrong.

This fallacy could be very tricky at times. In a lot of TV shows we can more or less hear things like “You are a member of party X, obviously you agree with anything that your party says!” Of course, a person’s political party is irrelevant to the truth value of the claims they make, or the structure of their arguments. The following conversation between Rachel Maddow and Nick Gillespie in an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher”:

“You will always take the side of a Democrat over a Republican,” Gillespie replied.
“No, I won’t,” Maddow shot back. “You don’t even know me.”
“I’ve seen your show,” Gillsepie said.

The first line has nothing to do with the truth value of the claims given in one’s show or made in any other program, aside from the fallacious line of reducing one’s arguments or claims (in this case in their show) to their position or political party.

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Reference:

Thought on Homosexuality. The Answer Girl. 12/1/11. [ http://theanswergirl.tumblr.com/post/8790361207/thoughts-on-homosexuality]

Rachel Maddow, Nick Gillespie Have Intense Argument On ‘Real Time’ (VIDEO). huffingtonpost. 06/23/2012. [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/23/rachel-maddow-real-time-nick-gillespie_n_1620826.html]

Introduction to Logical Fallacies (Workshop Style): Appeal to force/emotions

Trying to persuade others by means of coercion or by appealing to their emotions. This is a more obvious form of appealing to consequences.

Example: There may be a lot of cases in which this fallacy happens in our ordinary lives. I remember my own dad’s response to my question of “Why?” was usually given as a shout of “Because I say so, and you know what happens when you don’t listen to me boy!”. It was obvious to me, even at my very young age, that his way of coercion does not make things he wanted right. There must have been reasons behind them other than his sheer force[1].

Perhaps the simplest and most common examples are some students at the end of the semester “You cannot fail me Professor Smith, if that happens I’ll be expelled/ My dad will kill me.”

Professor Smith may be quite sorry that these things may happen, s/he may even consider passing the student, but there is absolutely no logical reason for that. The argument is flawed since it only appeals to emotions and abandons the reason behind a fail grade, that the student simply does not know enough about the subject at hand[2].

Propaganda is another less common form of this fallacy. It is a media based movement devoid of any substantial reason, but based on excitation of the feelings that people may have on a particular subject. An example for movement is the so called “pro-life” movement in US. Most of what is presented by the pro-life could be considered as propaganda. Read a part of the poem written from an unborn child’s mouth against abortion:

please don’t let them kill me,
it wasn’t my fault mommy.
and if you think you’re doing what’s right
then ask yourself, what if it was me?

Remember that no argument is presented, if one tries to argue against abortion, one has to do so by means of reason and evidence, not just by writing poems of this sort, designed only to provoke emotional response instead of giving a message by means of reasoning. Most propaganda exists exactly because there are no good reasons to appeal to, only emotions.

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[1] My father died some years ago, it’s a pity he died as the same person as is portrayed here.

[2] There is a humorous story based on this fallacy: There was a very poor writer who lived in a very bad state. He wrote a book and took it to a publisher as a last ditch of effort to earn some money. The publisher asked: “What’s the book about?” to which the writer responded: “It’s a story about a woman who’s in love with a young man. They marry each other, and she gets pregnant, but the man is eaten by a shark, the child is born dead, and she finally commits suicide from heart-break. Also, if you don’t publish the story, its writer will die of hunger!”

Introduction to Logical Fallacies (Workshop Style): Appeal to Authority

The fallacy that the notion X is true, only because authority Y says so. No matter who the authority is, God, Prophet, holy book, the President, or Mr. John Smith; the authority still needs a reason to believe the notion, and that reason has to be clear. Sometimes, the reason is perfectly clear. A doctor has a specialty and a definite insight into the illnesses s/he has specialized in. It is perfectly reasonable to assume a specialist has good reasons for her claims. Therefore it won’t be fallacious to back a claim about one’s health and cite the doctor as the source of it.

To make this more clear, we could put it this way: Authority cannot be replaced as a premise of an argument, or as the reason behind a claim. However, a legitimate authority can be put as the source of reasons behind a claim.

Example: There is quite an interesting issues on morality which could be pointed out under this fallacy. A lot of moral claims given by fundamentalists turn out to be purely fallacious, on both fronts: replacing the authority with reason, or appealing to an authority which by no means is even remotely close to being a specialist on the subject of moral claims. Sometimes it is even worse, the authority turns out to be completely devoid of any sense of morality.

One of these particular issues is the law itself, when the law is presented as the only reason for the correctness of a notion. In a back and forth conversation with some pro-guns after the shooting in Sandy Hook elementary school (in 2012), they kept pointing out that “We have the right to have guns, our constitution is clear about it.” and I kept asking them “It’s true that the law in US allows people to have weapons, but why do you think it’s the right thing to do? Why the law is right? What is the reason?”

The law does not make a notion automatically right simply because it is “the law”. There are reasons behind what our politicians decide to legislate, and simply pointing at a certain law does not make a similar claim right.

Perhaps the worst of all appeals to authority are the claims from religious fundamentalists on the subject of moral values. In arguments with religious fanatics, “X is wrong” is a notion that is usually backed up by “Because God has commanded it”. Obviously God (any God) is by no means a legitimate authority on moral subjects. Most of it could be because God never seems to clearly answer questions about his reasons for a particular commandment[1]. And moreover, by reading most religious books we immediately realize that most Gods are worse than psychopaths, how could they ever be a legitimate authority on moral subjects?

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[1] Compare this with the case of  legitimate authority who specializes on a subject. For example a scientist on his/her specialty  A legitimate authority is always prepared to provide reasons for what s/he believes.

Introduction to Logical Fallacies (Workshop Style): Appeal to Tradition

Trying to persuade other by an appeal to their feelings and respect for a certain tradition. In other words:

  • X is traditional
  • Therefore X is good (or acceptable)

The reason this line of argument is fallacious is a hidden premise: “Whatever is traditional is acceptable”. Immediately we realize such is not the case. Slavery and sexism were (and still are) traditions in different societies. We now do not consider them acceptable, and if we find them in a society today (such as Islamic societies) we condemn them. “Tradition” is not “reason”.

Example: During the course of her carrier, the prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, was questioned about the issue of gay marriage numerous times. Her replies were usually a matter of dancing around the question, starting with “Our position…” or “I and the Labour party have a clear position…”. She usually avoided answering “Why?”, instead repeated her disagreement in different ways.

However, there were some cases which she did try to answer, and that is when our first fallacy is clearly shown. As the Daily Telegraph report here reads, Ms. Gillard tried to justify her disagreement with gay marriage as follows:

“I think that there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future,” she said. “If I was in a different walk of life, if I’d continued in the law and was partner of a law firm now, I would express the same view, that I think for our culture, for our heritage, the Marriage Act and marriage being between a man and a woman has a special status.”

Surely, if we wish to agree with Ms. Gillard, as we saw above we may as well continue slavery and misogyny. After all, they were important parts of our culture and heritage. There is one more thing that is indeed not traditional: Women as prime ministers. I suspect Ms. Gillard should resign according to her own logic.

This fallacy is also important to note in defense of things that may actually be good. Take the whole different celebrations (such as Christmas) that most cultures have around the world. If one asks what is the point of celebrating Christmas (or any other celebration), one may wish to defend the so called “tradition” of Christmas simply because it is a part of the American culture or heritage. But such defence falls into the same category of fallacious argument: If Christmas (or any celebration) is “good”, that does not come from it being a tradition. Traditions are not reasons.

In such case we may wish to argue about the good effects that such celebrations can have on the society. Or perhaps based on the fact that having such celebrations can have positive impact on individual lives.

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References:

  1. Australian PM Julia Gillard: Gay marriage against my upbringingThe Daily Telegraph, March 21, 2011 [http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/pm-julia-gillard-gay-marriage-against-my-upbringing/story-e6freuy9-1226025009815]

Introduction to Logical Fallacies (Workshop Style)

Introduction:

We are human beings. We used to be Homo erectus, we surpassed our other homo cousins (such as Neanderthals), and now we are homo sapiens. Without a doubt, we progressed. A painful, slow and most of the time dangerous progress, but progress nonetheless. And now that we are here, we may as well ask the question which perhaps enabled our ancestors to reach here: “Why?”

There are a combination of reasons for why we progress; why we, human beings, are beyond any other living creature on this planet. Even the smartest species of mammals, even the closest to us, our Chimpanzee cousins, have not been able to know more and be more than our children of a very young age.

We may have gained a lot of advantages in our path of evolution, but one advantage remains the reason why we evolve, even today. That is our language, our ability to make a claim, say what we think, and reason for its truth value. The way of the argument and reason. The ability to agree or disagree with each other, to ask “Why?” and to answer it. It may have all started with that first homo[1] who around two million years ago, suddenly[2] ask that very same powerful question: “Why?”

Good vs. Bad argument:

A logical argument is not simply a discussion between two or more people, it is a set of statements together, but in a certain structure. It is the support of one statement (conclusion), based on some other statements (premises)[2]. A good argument is those set of premises which will necessarily result the conclusion, and has to meet certain criteria:

  • Well formed structure,
  • Relevant premises,
  • Reasonable, clear and sound premises,
  • Internally consistent,

A fallacy on the other hand is an argument that does not meet the criteria above. Any problem with what came above will result in a faulty argument, and faulty arguments do not result in giving an acceptable conclusion. Keep in mind that this does not mean the conclusion is necessarily “wrong”, it means that the conclusion cannot be accepted in the light of the presented argument.

Before going ahead with introduction of the logical fallacies, it is worth mentioning the number zero fallacy, and that is making a claim without an argument to support it. We all at some point have heard the phrase “But that’s just my opinion”. An opinion is not an argument, and that statement is in fact “the” none-argument. It s a way of running away for those who wish never to give any reason for what they perceive to be true. Those who only wish to have conclusions, and only wish to stop any progress which could be achieved through conversation[3].

Logical fallacies, bad arguments:

What comes in each of the next follow up parts is a rough list of the most common fallacies which we hear nowadays from homophobic groups, religious fanatics and of course politicians[4]. Each fallacy is briefly defined and is accompanied with related examples. I have tried to find at least one example from the real world of news and politics for each section, since they are much more interesting than a made up  example, and frankly easier to find.

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[1] Literally!

[2] I do not know, but maybe he was washing himself and suddenly it clicked. Maybe he jumped up, and maybe, maybe, he shouted “Eureka! Eureka!”.

[3] “They” usually tend to be religious fundamentalists, fanatics or politicians. Of course it could indicate a comfortable delusion or utter dishonesty.

[4] Of course, politicians are a perfect source for fallacies. Their dishonesty is astonishing, their ability to deceive almost unmatched by any other profession.