Check It Out
Jared Diamond has an interesting lecture on ways in which social decision-making can go disastrously wrong, including problems with analogies:
"The remaining reason why a society may fail to anticipate a problem before it develops involves reasoning by false analogy. When we are in an unfamiliar situation, we fall back on reasoning by analogy with old familiar situations. That's a good way to proceed if the old and new situations are truly analogous, but reasoning by analogy can be dangerous if the old and new situations are only superficially similar.
Sources: Jared Diamond, "Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?", Edge, 4/28/2003
Q: "I have a question about an argument. Person A states that I am immoral because I eat meat, therefore causing animals to be killed, which is immoral, therefore I am immoral. I reply that I admit I cause animals to be killed, but do not believe that causing animals to be killed is immoral. In addition, I must point out to Person A that eating vegetables causes animals to be killed, also (collaterally), so the accusation is hypocritical. Am I engaging in a tu quoque fallacy? I don't think I am, since I'm not attempting to divert attention from my own guilt, which I do not even acknowledge. In other words, I'm not saying 'You, too'." Lee
A: Sorry, Lee, but you can't get off the hook that easily. Putting aside the question of how in the world being a vegetarian causes animals to be killed (even "collaterally"), what you are doing is turning an unanswered criticism back on the critic. Whether you accept the criticism is beside the point, and most people who commit tu quoques don't accept the criticism. It is often because they do not accept it, and do not wish to accept it, that they use the fallacy. Instead of attacking Person A as a hypocrite, why not attack Person A's argument? Attacking the person instead of the argument is argumentum ad hominem, and attacking the person by accusing the person of the same or a similar thing is tu quoque.
A "Bad Moves" Rising
Julian Baggini has a new "Bad Moves" column up, this one on quoting out of context, which he calls "selective quotation".
WHO's on first?
Here's an excerpt from a report on the mayor of Toronto, Mel Lastman, reacting to the World Health Organization's advisory against non-essential travel to the city, due to the SARS epidemic:
"Mr Lastman, in his rage, mistakenly criticised the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC). A doctor, standing beside him during his speech, prompted him with: 'WHO'. The Mayor repeated: 'the CDC'. The doctor repeated: 'WHO'trying to correct him. But he kept thinking it was a question. She eventually spelt out: 'No, the World Health Organisation'. The Mayor said: 'Yeah them too.'"
Santorum's Slippery Slope
Stanley Kurtz makes some good points in a recent article on Senator Rick Santorum's controversial argument about the right to privacy. Kurtz correctly analyzes the argument as a slippery slope (causal variety), and points out that the widely-made criticism that Santorum was "equating" homosexuality with incest, among other things, is bogus. He does not "equate" homosexuality with these other things, nor does he even compare them. The most that he is guilty of is mentioning them in the same breath.
However, Kurtz's fulminations against the media are exaggerated, since in this case it is as likely that the failure to understand Santorum's argument is due to logical illiteracy as it is to liberal bias. Moreover, Kurtz also errs logically in giving Santorum's argument too much credit. The slope from homosexuality to incest, adultery, and polygamy, is not very slippery at all. There are obvious places for the Supreme Court to gain footholds to stop the feared slide: for instance, incest is not a purely private matter if there is a chance of procreation; adultery involves the breaking of the marriage contract; and polygamy has to do with the public recognition of marriage, not with what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms.
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I've expanded the entry for the fallacy of circumstantial ad hominem.
Ad Hominem and Hypocrisy
Julian Baggini has a new "Bad Moves" column, on ad hominem charges of hypocrisy, though he doesn't identify the fallacy by name. This is interestingly similar to the kind of charges of inconsistency discussed by Michael Koplow below, with the difference that Baggini is talking about the kind of inconsistency between beliefs and behavior usually called "hypocrisy". According to these charges, the person who eats beef but declines to slaughter a cow is a hypocrite, and the person who supports a war but fails to sign up for military service is pragmatically inconsistent. We can see that these charges are ad hominem by using Koplow's comparison technique, for the arguments won't work against those who would gladly fight or willingly hunt. Hypocrisy may be a bad thing, but charges of hypocrisy are bad arguments against meat-eating or wars, or anything else that people may support but hesitate to do.
Sources: Julian Baggini, "Can't do it? Don't back it.", Bad Moves
Check it Out
Spinsanity has a rundown of a number of recent misquotes and misattributions, including the New York Times one previously mentioned here. The following example is especially interesting:
"In a March 11 Times profile of The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, Nation columnist and MSNBC blogger Eric Alterman said, 'Reader for reader, [The Standard] may be the most influential publication in America.' The Standard, seeking to promote this quotation without identifying its left-liberal source, featured the statement in ads promoting the magazine in its March 24 (p. 36), March 31 (p. 31) and April 7 (p. 30) issues, attributing it each time to 'The New York Times,' despite protests from Alterman. Obviously, a statement quoted in a news story in no way represents the views of the newspaper."
This is a variant of the fallacious appeal to authority in which a quote is attributed to a prestigious publication in an attempt to get some of the prestige to rub off on the subject of the quote. For instance, a quote from a letter to the editor could be attributed to the publication without any indication that it is from a letter.
Sources: Ben Fritz & Brendan Nyhan, "A Spate of Misquotes and Misattributions", Spinsanity, 4/9/03
Inconsistency, Ad Hominem, and Straw Man
Michael Koplow sent in the following insightful comments about the kind of charges of inconsistency often leveled at those who oppose abortion but support capital punishment, or vice versa:
"Let's imagine someone saying, 'This person who opposes abortion rights is in favor of the death penalty' or 'This person who opposes the death penalty is in favor of abortion rights' and ends it up with 'gosh, how inconsistent.'
( 8:42 PM )
In a current article on John Kerry's inflammatory call for "regime change" in the U.S., Spinsanity's Bryan Keefer notes the following:
"In response the Republican National Committee has promulgated some spin of its own. An email to supporters over the signature of Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver claimed that 'These [Kerry's] comments are just the latest example of Democrat leaders blaming America first Joe Lieberman called President Bush a "greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein."'
Check it Out
If any evidence is needed that quoting out of context can be a serious business, consider the following correction in today's New York Times:
"A front-page article on Tuesday about criticism voiced by American military officers in Iraq over war plans omitted two words from an earlier comment by Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of V Corps. General Wallace had said (with the omission indicated by uppercasing), 'The enemy we're fighting is A BIT different from the one we war-gamed against.'"
This was in an article in which the misquote is the primary attributed evidence that the war plan was flawed. Perhaps it was only A BIT flawed.
I've revised the entry for the Volvo Fallacy.