A sound Art of Fallacy Recognition must involve more than just being familiar with what fallacies are out there. It must involve the skills for distinguishing fallacies from the cogencies, and from each other. And a true manual of Fallacy Recognition needs to have information on the fine details between each fallacy and it’s related cogencies (as well as related other-fallacies).
One area of philosophy that I find to be very neglected is the art of Fallacy Recognition. I go into Google, searching for some beacon of hope, and all I find is link after link after link to pages that reduce Fallacy Recognition to a mere quiz where someone is provided with a fallacious statement and asked to identify the fallacy present within it. In short, the at of Fallacy Recognition has been reduced to a trivia game of “name that fallacy”.
Or, I get some hits that purport to be actual manuals for fallacy recognition – such as Dr. Michael C. LaBossiere’s document, which is among the best resources that I was able to find — but the best of which are really just compendiums of fallacies, lacking something very key to what I would call a true “fallacy-recognition manual”.
So what is this key thing that is missing here? Well, being a compendium, it exposes us to many different fallacies, while letting us be aware that the argument-patterns the reader is exposed to are in fact fallacies. But fallacy recognition is about more than knowing what fallacies are out there. And it certainly is about more than being able to identify which fallacy is being displayed once someone else has sorted the question of whether a fallacy is in play. It’s about being able to sort through arguments and being able to separate instances of fallacious argument-patterns (referred to as “fallacies”) from instances of valid argument-patterns. To my knowledge, there is no concise term for valid argument-patterns – so (after a heated Facebook-thread on the subject) I concluded the best term to use for this purpose is “cogency”.
Fallacy recognition needs to be about more than knowing what fallacies are out there. It needs to enable a reader to distinguish the arguments that are valid from those that are fallacious. Of course, when the fallacies used are thrown around in the most blatant and obvious manner, then simply knowing what fallacies are out there may be all someone needs if they are to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, many times the distinction can depend on a fine detail that these guides simply do not prepare people to look for.
Take for example the Appeal to Consequences fallacy – where someone claims that statement A must be true, because if it isn’t, then statement B must be true. In instances of this fallacy (unless it is being coupled with another fallacy) it is indeed established (either by being proven separately or by being present in the agreed-upon set of premises) that if A is false, then B must indeed be true. However, the problem is that thus-far, the Appeal to Consequences fallacy is no different than the cogency that is behind all inverse proofs (which I will refer to as the “Inverse Proof cogency”). So, in a case of dispute, how do you resolve whether or not the argument is an instance of the Appeal to Consequences fallacy or the Inverse Proof cogency? The key distinction is in whether or not it has been properly established that statement B is in fact false. If statement B is not properly established to be false, then the argument is an instance of the Appeal to Consequences fallacy – but not if statement B is properly established to be false. And if statement B is properly established to be false, but in no way has it been established that if A is false then B must be true – then the argument does fail as an instance of the Inverse Proof cogency, and is indeed fallacious – but it isn’t an instance of the Appeal to Consequences fallacy, but of a different fallacy. Unfortunately, this alternate fallacy is one that I can not name here because it’s name is in itself dependent on it’s context (due to a sloppy system of fallacy-classification that is in itself very closely related to the lack of any systematic approach to fallacy-recognition).
A sound Art of Fallacy Recognition must involve more than just being familiar with what fallacies are out there. It must involve the skills for distinguishing fallacies from the cogencies, and from each other. And a true manual of Fallacy Recognition needs to have information on the fine details between each fallacy and it’s related cogencies (as well as related other-fallacies). Currently, this information is generally provided only to the extent that the person writing the compendium sees it useful in explaining the fallacy — but it needs to be instead made a standard part of each entry in the manual – and not blurred in with the rest, but written in a clear, distinct way – so that one using it can easily vet out what is and isn’t a fallacy.
In the case of the Fallacies of Intimidation (the most pure example of which is the Appeal to Force fallacy) calling out a fallacy is mostly a matter of developing the nerve to do so. However, in the case of the Fallacies of Obfuscation (that is, fallacies that work by disguising themselves as cogencies) it needs to be a matter of familiarity with many argument patterns – not just the fallacies, but the cogencies as well – and in the case of each argument pattern, it must include knowledge of what other argument patterns are closely related to it, and how to spot the subtle differences that can be used to distinguish one from another. For this reason, a good Fallacy Recognition manual needs not just an entry on each fallacy, but also an equally systematic one on each known cogency.
I hope that some time soon, the Art of Fallacy Recognition will be re-organized to deal with these issues — as a first step in bringing logic from the laboratories of a few extensively-trained individuals to the everyday-life of broader society where it is sorely needed.
My first thought was that maybe an annual event, a Transgiving … where transgender people who can’t joyfully celebrate with their family or friends can celebrate together. But then I realized … this idea would end up being just one more way of helping only the trans-folk in larger communities while leaving those who live in the boonies out in the cold.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you – one and all. And if you have a warm, loving family who respect you to celebrate with (as I do) that is something to be thankful for. And if you have a circle of loving and caring friends to celebrate with – that’s something to be thankful for as well. Be thankful – because there’s lots of people who don’t have either of these blessings. Among those people who are deprived of this blessing are a large portion of the transgender population.
Yes, I am transgender too – and I suppose that just being born trans is in itself a bad stroke of luck — but I’ve had other strokes of luck that are wonderful — among them being born into a loving, caring family that embraces me for who I am inside. A lot of trans-folk are not so lucky – and for them, the holiday times (first Thanksgiving, then later Christmas, Chanukah, or whatever else they celebrate) can be a time of much anguish. Either they are altogether unwelcome to celebrate with their families or the invitation to celebrate is in essence an invitation to come and be mercilessly misgendered and/or otherwise disrespected. This year, just as every year since I began my transition, I heard of way too many cases of this happening. (Of course, even one case would be one too many — but I heard significantly more than that.)
You would think – okay, don’t celebrate with your family. Celebrate with your friends as well. Problem is, in many such situations, friends who are any better than that are also hard to come by. Of course, you can argue that true friends are by definition better than this – but often it’s only by the broader definition of the term "friends", the definition that does not preclude such nastiness, that these individuals are able to find any friends at all.
And I thought, “can’t anything be done about this”? Now, I could get on my soapbox here and rant about how rejecting and/or mistreating a family member who happened to be born not fitting into the mold you hoped for is not a family value – or how you’re really not much of a friend at all if you turn your back on someone because they were born not fitting the mold — but no, neither of these things are what this blog-post is about. We can push for a future where people are not mean to their own flesh and blood and where friends are true – but in the mean time, people will be mean.
This blog-post isn’t about calling mean people out on their meanness. No, it’s about what can be done to help those who are victim to such meanness. My first thought was that maybe an annual event, a Transgiving if you will, could be organized – where transgender people who can’t joyfully celebrate with their family or friends can celebrate together. But then I realized the flaw in this plan – it would probably only be easy to implement in larger cities with vibrant trans communities – cities where (for all I know) they may already have such an annual event. But the places where folks probably feel the biggest sting from such treatment are the places where they have nowhere to go to – smaller communities in more backward parts of the country. In short, this idea would end up being just one more way of helping only the trans-folk in larger communities while leaving those who live in the boonies out in the cold — like that isn’t already done way too much already.
Ultimately, an answer will not be easy in the making – but as we enter the holiday season at the ending of 2014, let us ask ourselves what can be done to bring some holiday cheer to those trans-folk who are stuck with no loving family or friends in not-too-metropolitan parts of the country.
Okay — I read a blog-post that really got my goat. It was this blog-post about a supposed revelation that Jenny McCarthy’s son never had autism to begin with. Why am I so opposed to this blog-post? It’s not because of their objection to the myth of autism being caused by vaccines — and it’s certainly not because of their insistence that you shouldn’t get medical advice from Jenny McCarthy — nor the assertion that anyone should have known better than to get medical advice from her. I’m eye-to-eye with them on all those things.
What upset me about this article is the reason they give why (in their view) people should have known better than to get medical advice from her. Not once in this article is it even mentioned that Jenny McCarthy isn’t a medical doctor, nor is she a medical scientist, nor a trained and qualified expert in any other relevant field. To confirm that lack of qualification, I had to look her up on Wikipedia. Instead, they just harped on and on about her history of having posed nude for Playboy in the past.
Seriously, guys — if some other schmoe just as unqualified as McCarthy were to come and give you the same kind of medical advice – would you just accept it, so long as that person never posed nude? And inversely, if someone who is a certified MD, as well as a PhD in a relevant field of medical research were to give you sound medical advice, would you reject that advice if you found out that she paid her way through med-school by (gasp) posing nude for Playboy?
I was thinking the other day about how there needs to be a philosophy requirement added to the High School education curriculum – and how it should include rigorous training in things such as fallacy-recognition. I would have liked to be blogging more about that. Instead, I’m blogging about someone who (based, at least on one blog post) might need the remedial course!!