Posts Tagged ‘fallacies’

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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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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Informal Logic vol. 31 no. 4

The latest edition of Informal Logic, dedicated to topics emerging from Charles Hamblin’s landmark 1970 work, Fallacies, is now available.  Contributing authors to this volume include Jim Mackenzie, Douglas Walton, Ralph Johnson, Fabrizio Macagno, and Jan Ablert van Laar and John Woods.It’s an interesting and welcome collection of essays with entries that range from developments of Hamblin’s ideas to criticism of the same.  In the latter category is John Woods’s highly recommended essay “Whither Consequence?”. Those interested in foundational questions of informal logic (for instance, whether informal logic is rightly called logic in the first place) will find Woods’s discussion of Hamblin’s views on induction very stimulating indeed.  It is an important discussion not just for informal logicians and argumentation theorists, but for logicians of all denominations. It easily is one of the best essays of the year.

Having had only the opportunity to peruse the other entries at this point I have to say that I’m very much looking forward to reading them too. If they are as interesting and insightful as I believe they are on the basis of what I’ve seen of them, then this issue of Informal Logic is a worthy tribute to the enduring importance of Charles Hamblin’s work and its impact on our field.


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The Ambassador Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons. Original by Mike Russell, CC 3.0 S-A

As many in the argumentation studies community know next week is OSSA 9, one of the bigger events on our calendars.  The conference theme this go around is “Argumentation, Cognition and Community”.  Having had a look at the schedule I think this promises to be an interesting conference. Many leading scholars in argumentation, informal logic, rhetoric, and normative pragmatics will be there presenting and responding to papers.  There is also a good range of strong papers by up and coming scholars as well.  This is one to look forward to, if you’ll be coming.

All the pertinent information for OSSA, including .pdf downloads of the schedule and abstracts among other things, can be accessed here.

Unfortunately, as we all know, not everyone who would like to attend can attend.  These are tough times and many of us find ourselves at institutions who can’t always support travel to events like these as often or to the degree that they would wish. For those who won’t be coming but want to follow along, I thought I might propose a conference back-channel on Twitter with the hashtag #OSSA2011.  Those of us who have Twitter accounts and will be there could post about discussions, sessions, workshops, and everything else OSSA between sessions or whenever else we have the chance.  That way those who cannot come can follow along. An added benefit is that those of us who are there will be able get to know each other a little better and to coordinate a little easier when it comes to dinner plans, taxi rides, etc.. (To get a better idea of how it works, you might check out this post from the innovative and consistently helpful ProfHacker blog on the Chronicle of Higher Ed website.)

If you’re interested, let me know!  You can comment here or post to Twitter including “#OSSA2011” somewhere in your tweet.

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Informal Logic, vol. 31, no. 1

As part of the mission of RAIL is to keep readers informed of new publications, journals, and articles of interest, I’ve arranged with the editors to post announcements here when new issues of Informal Logic become available.  If you’d like to have your informal logic/argumentation-themed journal, or special issue similarly featured here by all means please drop me a line and let me know!

Click here or on the image above to reach the current issue of Informal Logic.  If you see something you find interesting or want to discuss in this issue, why not start the conversation by commenting on it below?

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Here’s a lovely graphical representation of the family of fallacies via The Fallacy Files. (Note: I found out about this infographic first via the Philosorapters blog, which gives advice on job hunting mostly but also occasionally on teaching philosophy.) I think many readers of RAIL will find this way of cutting the cake rather interesting, as the classification of some fallacies is…let’s say novel.  Others represented here are altogether new to me (e.g. the “Texas Sharpshooter”).

Whatever one makes of it, you have to tip your cap to the work that no doubt went into putting this concept map together. I’d love to see some alternatives.  Anyone out there up for it?

I'm a sucker for a nice infographic!

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Well, you've got to admit that it's easy to work with from a theoretical perspective...

Creating explanatory or theoretical models of complicated phenomena is one of the chief intellectual activities of academics in nearly every field.  As we do this, it is salutary to remember that as powerful and helpful as our models can be they can also bewitch us too.  Rather than providing us with a lens that helps us see the phenomena we study more clearly, they can inflict a kind of selective vision on us that shackles us to our grounding assumptions, forces interpretation in their terms and blinds us to important bits of information that lie outside their boundaries.

Sometimes, this can be funny.  For example, I recall a bit of apocrypha about a philosopher who, upon first encountering black swans, rather than admit them as proof of that the conclusions of inductive arguments were underdetermined by their premises insisted instead that those black feathery things serenely gliding around on the water out there couldn’t possibly be swans at all.

Physicists are susceptible to this sort of thing too and they recognize it in this old and much beloved self-effacing joke.  It is funny, but I can’t help but think as well that lurking somewhere in there is a new fallacy patiently awaiting discovery by some intrepid researcher in argumentation theory.  Certainly being in the grips of a model is a common enough cause of poor argumentation to warrant designation as a fallacy of some kind.  I’m willing to start the process if you are.  Post a short description of your candidate for the new fallacy here in the comments section.  Best entry wins…er…let’s say eternal glory. 🙂

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