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Archive for the ‘Fallacies’ Category

Aristotle on Bad Arguments

Leading Minds Research Project.
Leeds, UK
4-5th July, 2014

Why does Aristotle include knowledge of defective arguments within the arts of dialectic and rhetoric? On one attractive way of understanding the nature of Aristotelian rhetoric and dialectic, these are (in large measure) expertises in the use of good arguments and good reasoning to persuade others. How then should we explain the place Aristotle gives to defective arguments (merely apparent enthymemes / syllogisms / refutations, sophisms, and in general invalid and otherwise defective arguments) within his works on these expertises of dialectic and rhetoric (Topics, Sophistical Refutations and Rhetoric)? How should we understand his apparent recommendations regarding the use of such arguments? By what standards of propriety does he mark out arguments as “merely apparent syllogisms/enthymemes”, particularly given his famously “more relaxed” standards for genuine enthymemes in rhetoric?

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Essay Prize in Informal Logic/Critical Thinking/Argumentation Theory
The Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking (AILACT) invites submissions for the 2013 AILACT Essay Prize. This will be the ninth year in which the prize has been offered.

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We all know we’re not supposed to engage in fallacious argumentation.  We might disagree about what fallacies there are or how they work, but we all agree that there are certain moves in argumentation–at least in some contexts–that are just downright, well…dishonest. How do we keep students and others in our charge from wandering down that path? Most of the time the method is to teach and to reinforce practices of good argumentation, while at the same time teaching them how to recognize and nullify, with critique, the fallacious arguments of others. So far the story is not all that different from any other well-known model of moral education. Teach and promote the good, identify and punish the bad.  And that works most of the time in the hermetically sealed environment of the classroom.  Then our students go out into the world and encounter argumentation like this:

Or this… (more…)

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DIALECTIC AND ARISTOTLE’S LOGIC

September 2-4 2013
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen (Netherlands)


Aristotle’s logic is often treated as though it falls into two quite distinct parts: the deductive syllogistic system, discussed in the Prior and Posterior Analytics and the dialectical system, discussed in the Topics and Sophistical Refutations. Each of these parts has received sustained, independent attention: logicians have done much to articulate the structure of Aristotle’s syllogistic, while commentators have seen Aristotle’s dialectic as key to his whole philosophical enterprise.  (more…)

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Note: As of this posting, RAIL has adopted the convention of posting the author’s name and institutional affiliation at the bottom of each article.

 

What do patterns of abusive argumentation reveal?  Feminists maintain that we receive a disproportionate level of abusive responses to our argumentation, and a disproportionate level of abuse, even relative to the level of anger and hatred on the internet.  Because people are skeptical about the prevalence and level of verbal abuse that feminists receive, and because abusive comments are deleted on many websites, feminist video blogger Anita Sarkeesian AKA “Feminist Frequency” has archived the response to her argument-based request for research support. More details can be found in The New Statesman, and I would add that I (and other feminist instructors) occasionally receive sexist abuse directed at the feminist course content in anonymous comments that are part of our student evaluations of teaching. Anonymity may be a crucial factor in this phenomenon. (more…)

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My but these things are popular. This one comes to us via yourlogicalfallacyis.com and is free to download in three sizes. The graphic is also downloadable as vector art for those saavy and motivated enough to want to work with the image some more. In terms of design I think I like this one the best of all those shared on RAIL so far. (You can see the others here and here.) It also avoids the tricky business of classification and therefore might be more useful for teaching purposes. Below is a (crummy) screenshot. The files available for download are much higher quality.

Who are those three chaps in the middle there?

It is interesting that the fallacies seem to be bubbling up as a meme in the culture at large like this. I wonder if it’s a sign of sorts that people have had enough of the shoddy, transparently shortsighted and self-interested discourse that has come to characterize so much of public life and are starting to crave discourse of a different kind–perhaps more rational, thoughtful, and careful.  That would be nice…and timely too.

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Readers of RAIL might remember this chestnut from two years ago on infographics and visual argument.  That post featured a TED talk by David McCandless. Though I’m tempted, I’ll refuse to commit the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy here and simply report that McCandless’s website, Information is Beautiful, now features a very nice-looking infographic on the fallacies, (oddly) titled Rhetological Fallacies.  Clicking on the thumbnail below will take you to the full version at its home site.

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Cate Hundleby:

It seems to me that these reasons are not sufficient to prefer men (or white, straight, wealthy, able-bodied, etc. people) over other people. It’s not sufficient because the sorts of impressions addressed here while quite ubiquitous are of minor relevance to what makes a good …. whatever the issue is. Speakers need more than an authoritative voice, and also a social significance that can be parsed in many different ways. Track records can also be assessed in different ways and being established by track record in any case may also indicate entrenchment in outdated approaches and even burnout or over-exposure. The person who attracts an audience is also not necessarily the person who makes the greatest impression on an audience.

Yet it seems argumentation theory ought to be able to provide a clearer means for dismissing these sorts of appeals.  In a hierarchical society hierarchical social categories such as gender and race are sometimes relevant, but how can we show the (severe) limitation of that relevance?  Is generic status ever sufficient reason to promote or prefer a person?

Originally posted on Feminist Philosophers:

In a sexist society where there is a very long tradition of women being excluded from a wide range of desirable public roles, we should expect many of the following things to be said of men and these roles:

People expect a man to be doing X.
People associate manliness with important features of this role. (E.g., a male voice has more authority.)
Men have much more of a proven track record at X.
(Some) men will have much more of an audience than any woman does.

So what do we think of appealing to such beliefs as a reason to favor picking only men for such roles? One response is to label it as the ‘Sexism Wins’ strategy, with the implication that the actions are sexist. What would you suggest? Notice that the strategy is different from the frequently false response to the effect that there just aren’t any…

View original 90 more words

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Rush Limbaugh’s recent dismissal of Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” reminds me of how much more vulnerable women are than men to the abusive ad hominem.  There is a a greater number of abusive words associated with women:  add “whore,” “bitch,” “cunt,” “old maid,” “hag,” “bag,” “jezebel,” “hoochie mama,” etc., as opposed to “prick,” “dick,” and “boy toy.”  Plus the feminine insults tend to be considered so bad that people often won’t actually say them, but only allude to them, for instance in saying “the c-word.”

On top of that, women tend not to be listened to, so the ad hominem may always be more effective against women.  Merely pointing out that a speaker is a woman may act as reason to ignore her. The same would apply to any marginalized people.  One’s very identity can undermine one’s claims and one’s reasons.

Lorraine Code has argued in a few places that the dismissal of women’s reasons for being women’s reasons should be identified as ad feminam.  The vulnerability of women to ad hominem suggests indeed that ad feminam deserves recognition as a distinct category.

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The increasing popularity of on-line discussions has given rise to an argumentative neologism that may be more widely applicable: “trolls.”  Trolls commit an inappropriate move in an argument, saying something unreasonable that derails the discussion.  (I recall analogously in my highschool biology class we learned to ask the teacher, Mr. Houghton, about living through the London Blitz in order to steer the conversation away from the work at hand.)

These unpleasant people are not trolling the web in the sense of carefree fishing, or surfing, but today Mike Elgan, who bills himself as “the world’s only loveable technology writer,” suggests that trolls are seeking something, namely attention.  That quest does not particularly distinguish trolls from the rest of us, but it does explain the behaviour as depending on that exclusive or predominant motivation.

Trolls are argumentative, and they may be either deliberate and malicious or inadvertent and well-intentioned.  Egan’s distinction, borrowed from Matt Honan, between deliberate and inadvertent trolls corresponds to Walton’s distinction between fallacies that are sophisms and those that are paralogisms.

Yet Elgan points out that those who are well-intentioned and argumentative (the academy is so full) are not always trolls.  Passionate advocacy frequently may be trying but it need not be ugly, and it is often beautiful and worthwhile.

How then do we identify trolls?  Might this be a species of fallacy that can be identified as deviating from an otherwise acceptable form of argumentation, that is to say forms of advocacy?  Perhaps we could articulate the appropriate critical questions (using the Walton / Tindale model of fallacies) for identifying such trolls.

If the desire for attention is the cause of the misstep, then what is the missing (or side-lined) motivation that would be appropriate?  How ought we to be motivated?  That is a central question of argumentation theory, and answers include resolving disagreement (pragma-dialectics) and developing understanding (epistemology). Fabricated disagreement and errant claims thus would be paradigmatic troll moves, but that is only to say they are fallacious.

If trolls fit no particular pattern of fallacious reasoning, they may nonetheless indicate a new need for fallacy instruction: preventing trolls from derailing discussion.  On-line trolls have made available for instructors a new wealth of examples of fallacies.  Students should also learn that the fallacies approach to argument evaluation may be a good defense against trolls, a way to defuse a diversion by naming the problem.  While this rhetorical power of the fallacies approach can be misused, it can also be valuable in dealing with trolls.

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