Opinion

(Some) Logical Fallacies and Politics

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Posted: Oct 24, 2020 12:01 AM
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(Some) Logical Fallacies and Politics

Source: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Logic, the science of constructing and analyzing arguments, is a forgotten discipline.

This is a lamentable state of affairs, particularly given the importance of critical thinking vis-à-vis politics.

Familiarity with logic is familiarity with the many ways in which arguments go wrong. When an argument is deficient, then it is fallacious.

Aristotle, who is widely regarded as the Father of Western logic, identified numerous fallacies.  Below is a select list of them: 

Appeal to Unqualified Authority: Arguments from authority are not illegitimate in themselves. Authorities, genuine authorities, are recognized as possessing expertise with respect to the subjects of the arguments in question. 

Yet an argument is weak if the “authority” to which it appeals is not actually an authority on the matter at all. 

Example: 

Tom Hanks, who had COVID-19, assures us that we all need to “quarantine” ourselves. 

Tom Hanks, while an authority when it comes to his craft, is absolutely no authority when it comes to COVID.

Yet even when an argument from authority alludes to a recognized authority, it is critical to bear in mind that this hardly renders the argument bullet proof.  The Age of the Great UnReason, the COVID era, has demonstrated this in spades, for repeatedly we witness medical experts, either career bureaucrats or university researchers, whose livelihoods are dependent upon government funding making dramatic (and, not infrequently, mutually contradictory) assertions regarding “the Virus” that are essentially negated by those medical experts that depend upon no such subsidies. 

Argument from Ignorance: This is also known as an Argument from Silence. This occurs when the arguer tries to use the absence of evidence for X as evidence for non-X.  

Example: 

It hasn’t been proven conclusively that Donald Trump did not collaborate with “Russia” in the 2016 election season. Thus, Trump did collaborate with Russia.

Argument Ad Hominem (Against the Person): This is by far and away the most common fallacy in contemporary politics generally, the Trump era specifically.  It has three versions:

AbusiveThis consists of name-calling.  Here, a person’s position is dismissed on the basis of a character defect that the arguer assigns to him.

Example:

Donald Trump is a “racist,” a “white supremacist,” a “misogynist,” a “homophobe,” and so on.  Hence, his position on X (where X stands for whatever in the world we choose to plug for it) is illicit. 

Circumstantial: This version of the ad hominem argument doesn’t consist of any direct insults. Rather, the circumstances of one’s opponent are exploited by the arguer as a pretext upon which to discredit his point of view.

Example:

Donald Trump’s claim regarding the availability of a vaccine for COVID-19 before the end of the year is not credible, for Trump wants to be reelected (and has good reason to think that if people believe that a vaccine is discovered by then that he will be reelected).

Notice, it is indeed true that Trump wants to be reelected.  And it is equally true that he has good reason to think that people will be more inclined to reelect him if they are confident that a vaccine for COVID will have been discovered within the near future.

Yet these circumstances of the President have no logical relevance to the truth-value of his claim. 

Tu Quoque (“You too”): Here, the arguer attempts to deflect a charge leveled at him by his opponent(s) on the grounds that they are equally guilty of the same charge. 

Example:

Bill Clinton (and a whole lot of other Democrats) are guilty of associating repeatedly with Jeffrey Epstein?  Well, what about Donald Trump?  He had associated with him as well!

Besides the fact that Trump “associated” with Epstein only to the extent that he evicted him from his club precisely because of Epstein’s inappropriate interaction with a young woman, the above argument is illogical.  Even had Trump been the best of buddies with Epstein, this would have been logically irrelevant to the truth of whether the Clintons and other Democrats had close ties with this known pedophile. 

Strawman argument: The arguer grossly misrepresents his opponent’s position to make it appear much weaker than it actually is, and then proceeds to demolish his caricature of it. 

Example:

Donald Trump said that Nazis were good people because he said about the clash in Charlottesville that “There were good people on both sides.”  But Nazis are not good people.  So, Trump, being a Nazi sympathizer, is not a good person (or something like this).

Of course, Trump never expressed a scintilla of sympathy for any Nazis or neo-Nazis.  He simply acknowledged that among the large numbers of protestors and counter-protestors that showed up in Charlottesville, VA in 2017, there were decent people who wanted for a monument to Robert E. Lee to remain standing, and decent people who wanted for it to be razed.

Red Herring: When this fallacy is committed, the arguer diverts attention from the main topic at hand and toward another. 

Example:

Antifa is an idea, not a movement.  The real problem is “White Supremacy” and Donald Trump’s encouragement of “White Supremacist” groups. 

Of course, the reality is that the “White Supremacists” who Trump has allegedly encouraged are a fiction concocted by his enemies in the Democratic Party.  The point here, however, is that rather than address the issue of the domestic terrorists who have been wreaking havoc throughout the country for the sake of advancing just those goals to which Democrats routinely pay lip service, Democrats, like Joe Biden and his Big Media enablers prefer instead to avoid the topic by changing the topic.  

Complex Question: This fallacy is framed in terms of a question, a rhetorical question.  It’s intended to imply a conclusion for which the arguer has not argued. 

Example: 

So, Mr. President, do you denounce “White Supremacy?” 

Particularly given that the President has denounced this countless times over the last few years, this question that the Democrat operatives posing as politically-neutral journalists in Big Media continue to ask of him really isn’t a sincere question at all.  It’s meant to convict Trump of “White Supremacy.” 

There are many other fallacies that we could consider, but space constraints preclude it.

Especially in the COVID era, the Age of the Great UnReason, it is more important than ever to revisit the discipline of logic and familiarize ourselves with the fallacies.  Bad arguments are all around us.