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The Untold Story of 2012!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Avoid Fallacious Reasoning

Many people when engaged in an argument often yell that the other person involved is reasoning fallaciously. "You're reasoning is fallacious" or "that's a fallacious argument." However, not many people actually understand what a fallacy is. A fallacy is simply a mistake in reasoning. Some fallacies are due to the form of the argument, and are known as formal fallacies. I will not be discussing those here. My focus will be on fallacies of content, or what is more commonly known as informal fallacies. There are hundreds of fallacies out there, but I will focus on a few that are very common in everyday discourse. And once these fallacies are known, they can be avoided in one's own arguments, and also identified in the arguments of others. I will discuss ad hominem, ad populum, appeal to tradition, begging the question, ad ignorantiam, and the false dichotomy. I will also provide two examples of each.

An ad hominem fallacy occurs when the individual, instead of responding to the content of an argument, attacks irrelevant personal characteristics about the arguer. For example, a Nazi white supremacist claims that illegal immigration should be controlled. Most of us would respond in disgust due to the source, but the source is irrelevant. The argument lives or dies on it's own. It's just usually the case a racist making arguments that deal with ethnicity are usually bad. A second example would be if a scientist were to claim that climate change should be controlled, providing evidence along the way, and the response is "you are just a hippy who wants to protect turtles over people." It is irrelevant to the argument at hand, even if true.

Argument ad populum is extremely easy to fall prey to, and to use when constructing an argument. This fallacy is when an individual makes an argument and simply appeals to popular opinion to support it. If I say child rape is wrong, and 90% of people think so, I have given no support to my position. Or if 90% of people say God exists, it does not follow that God does exist. Mere numbers (who are not experts) prove nothing.

Appeal to tradition is convincing to some, and to others it is utterly unconvincing prima facie. When an individual makes the claim that "traditionally" something has been the case, and they are only using tradition as the support, then he/she has committed this fallacy. Tradition, if supplemented with reasons in favor of the tradition, is not fallacious. Two really prominent examples of this commonly seen in American discourse is arguing against homosexuality by simply saying "marriage has traditionally been between a man and a woman" and "traditionally, schools have used test scores to evaluate students." Neither one of these ideas is very often adequately defended on any other grounds.

Begging the question is something we have all done from time to time. However, this one is a horrible fallacy to commit because there is not even an attempt at reasoning involved, whereas in the other cases discussed so far, weak attempts at reasoning have been made. One may have heard a reporter or political commentator say "this piece of information begs the question that..." This is an inaccurate use of the term. Begging the question means you assume in your reason what you want to prove in your conclusion, not that information raises a troubling or interesting question you feel should be answered. Examples of this are "The Bible is true because it says it's true" and a parent saying "Do this because I said so." It is also called circular reasoning.

Ad ignorantiam is when an arguer claims either something cannot be disproved, and is therefore true; or something cannot be proved, and therefore it is false. An example of the former is asserting that God cannot be disproved, therefore God exists. An example of the latter is claiming that God cannot be proved, therefore God does not exist.

A false dichotomy is when the individual claims that there are only two choices in a given situation, when in fact there are more than two. There could be three, four, five, or more. A famous example is when former President George Bush said "you are either with us or you are with the terrorists." I could be neutral. Or I could be on the side of the United States, and not agree with their methods for dealing with terrorism. Another example is "Cut taxes or stifle economic growth." Taxes and economic growth can both co-exist.

In conclusion, identifying these fallacies in your own reasoning and in that of others will increase your ability to think critically, and hopefully pave the way for the truth to rise amongst falsehood. Once these fallacies are learned, they seem to pop up everywhere, when in fact they were already being committed and just not noticed. Be cautious with your own reasoning, and that of others.

How to Reason

Arguments are made everywhere and everyday. One can find them in the editorial section of the newspaper, on a cable TV news show, or among family and friends. However, what exactly is an argument? And how does one go about evaluating it?

To begin, an argument can be defined as a series of statements or claims that are trying to prove another claim is true. For example, if I make the claim that an individual should vote for a particular political party, I would need to supply reasons for that claim. If I am a Democrat I would say social programs and environmental issues are moral issues that every society should deal with in a constructive way. If I were a Republican, I would say people should be able to keep the money they have earned and that aborting a fetus is rarely the way to solve the problem of an unwanted pregnancy.

Now that an argument has been defined, the next step is to evaluate an argument. There are three main ways to do this. Firstly, try to imagine if all of the reasons given in support of the claim can be true, and the conclusion false. For example, can social programs be desirable and environmental issues important, and a person still not support a Democratic candidate? Or vice versa with the hypothetical Republican candidate. If you cannot imagine a situation where all the reasons are true, and the conclusion could still be false, then the argument is called valid. If you can imagine a situation such as this, then the argument is invalid.

Secondly, check for any fallacies. These can be found easily with a simple google search, and they are so numerous it would take up an entire article just to list them all. However, one of the most commonly used is known as the ad hominem fallacy. This is when a person, instead of responding to the argument, attacks the person instead. For example, if Uncle Bob makes the claim that marijuana should be legalized, and Aunt Sue says Uncle Bob is just a free loader that wants to get high all day, she has not even come close to evaluating the claim, and instead attacked Uncle Bob personally.

And finally, check for vague or ambiguous terms. Vague simply means a word has such a wide variety of definitions it's hard to know what the person using it means, and ambiguous means there are two distinct definitions of a word, but it's unclear which is meant by the term or phrase. So an example of vague would be calling someone a liberal or a conservative, and not explaining anything about what they mean by those terms. An example of ambiguity would be the statement "I ate lunch by the bank." Does this mean a river bank, or a commercial one? From the statement alone, it is unclear. Often ambiguity can be cleared up with context. So if the person works at a bank, and there are no river banks nearby, it is probably safe to assume they ate lunch just outside of the bank, at say a restaurant or a park.

To quickly sum up, an argument is a series of claims that attempts to prove another claim is true. And arguments must be evaluated on logical (valid or fallacious questions) and semantic grounds.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Intellecual Honesty is Dying

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts released his year end report to defend his colleagues trustworthiness on the highest court in the land.  However, his feeble attempts have done nothing but show just how blind his faith is in the ability of his peers "to determine when recusal is warranted."   There is something called the Code of Conduct federal judges are supposed to all follow, but it does not apply to the Supreme Court.  What critics are arguing is that it should, with an example being Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia appearing at a Federalist Society dinner where they were guest speakers and a fund raiser was held.  For lower court justices, this would be unacceptable ethical behavior.

The most striking case of a justice that appears to have no regard for ethical appearances at all is Clarence Thomas.  His wife was paid by the Heritage Foundation for many years, and he did not disclose it on his tax returns.  And issues this group cares about will be coming before the Supreme Court.  So much for "calling balls and strikes" Mr. Roberts...

Intellectual standards must be developed to ensure that people are not allowed to act with impunity when it comes to situations like this.  Poor reasoning, denying scientific findings, and prejudiced opinions have no place in a 21st century dialogue.

Birtherism LIves!

Just when you thought birtherism was dead, it has come back to life in the great state of...New Hampshire.  You thought I was going to say Texas didn't you?  Two Republican lawmakers, as if that needs to be pointed out anymore, Laurence Rappaport and Carol and Lucien Vita, are making the claim that Obama cannot be President because his father was Kenyan.  Apparently, it does not matter where the child is born, only where the parents are!  They want an investigation as to whether he can legally appear on the 2012 Presidential ballot in the state.

Racism will never die.  It's hard to tell whether the lawmakers are actually racist, or if they are simply pandering to racist voters in order to appease them, knowing full well that questions about Obama's citizenship are idiotic as best.  The amount of pandering the majority of Republican lawmakers have done on this issue in order to attract racist white votes is appalling.  And history will look back at the first black President of the United States and see that the opposition party's claim to fame was saying no to anything of significance, and questioning the citizenship of the man.

Chris Gregoire Pushing Marriage Equality

Chris Gregoire, the current governor of Washington, is backing legislation that is expected to be put forward in the Washington legislature that will legalize same-sex marriage.  The legislature has majority Democrat in both chambers, but some conservative Democrats are not backing the bill, so with the conservative Democrats, along with the obvious Republican homophobic opposition that nearly always surfaces when marriage equality comes up for a vote, it could be a long road to hoe.

What is hopeful about this move by governor Gregoire is that, if the legislation were to pass, it would make Washington the seventh state to legalize gay marriage, joining Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.  There seems to be significant momentum on the gay rights side, and it does not seem likely to die.  In fact, with the younger generation of voters, like myself, there are very few of us actually against gay marriage.  The future of America on marriage equality looks bright. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Montana Supreme Court Shows Intellectual Honesty

The 2010 Citizens United ruling by the United States Supreme Court caused a major backlash among many members of the populace.  Why?  Well the ruling overturned decades of precedent that limited the amount of corporate spending in elections.  Now, it is legal for a corporation to spend an unlimited amount of money on their preferred candidate.  If there was any question whether our politicians are already bought and sold by rich special interests, there is no question now thanks to the Supreme Court's conservative majority.

But something funny has happened.  The Montana Supreme Court is not lying down and just accepting the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.  They are not a monarchy that rules by decrees.  The Montana Supreme Court explicitly is rejecting the reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court's conservatives that unlimited corporate spending does not cause, or at least make it appear as though, there is corruption.  It will be interesting if Western Tradition Partnership will appeal.

I applaud them for their intellectual courage.  If more intellectually honest Americans would stand up and fight back against the horrific attempt at logic these 5 conservatives on the court used to justify their decision, then America would become great once again.  Conservatives everywhere need to be called out on their inability to correctly assess evidence and make good decisions.

Iowa Caucus

Mitt Romney has won the Iowa Caucus, by a narrow range of only 8 votes.  Who says voting doesn't make a difference?  The most surprising thing, however, about the race was that Rick Santorum was the man he was tied neck and neck with.   Santorum is an extremist.

Right up until the votes were counted, Santorum was still making outrageous claims about states having the right to ban birth control and sodomy.  And then there is this jewel, where Santorum says welfare for low-income African Americans is apparently a bad thing, "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."

Mitt Romney has been called the foregone conclusion in this circus called the Republican primary.  And with Santorum's comments, it does not seem like he has much competition.  And with Romney's win in Iowa, which has one of the most socially conservative Republican bases in the country, it seems highly unlikely Romney will not be the future Republican challenger to Barack Obama.  More moderate primary voters in other states will nominate him in landslide wins.