Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fallacies. One of My Favorite Topics!

McBride is a teacher??? At a University??? God help our UWM students...


Al-Qaeda just took responsibility for killing 9 American soldiers in Iraq.

Harry Reid just said we have "lost" to the enemy in Iraq.

So, is Harry Reid saying we've lost to Al-Qaeda?
I suppose he wants to "redeploy" the troops to go looking for

In any good critical reasoning or logic, you must be able to break it down into what amounts to a sound mathmatical formula. First is this inductive or deductive:

Intro to Inductive and Deductive Reasonsing

Many people distinguish between two basic kinds of argument: inductive and deductive. Induction is usually described as moving from the specific to the general, while deduction begins with the general and ends with the specific; arguments based on experience or observation are best expressed inductively, while arguments based on laws, rules, or other widely accepted principles are best expressed deductively.

The strength of such an argument depends in large part on three of its elements:
how accurate and comprehensive the previous observations are;
how strong the causal link seems to be;
how similar the two cases are.

I would say that going from Al-Queda killing 9 people to Harry Reid saying we lost to Al-Queda in three sentences (without him actually saying it) is more likely inductive reasoning. She went from a set of observations, and tried to make a huge generalization about Harry Reid. Although I suppose she is attempting syllogism or a conditional here which is only a deductive argument, so I suppose this is arguable, I don't think she achieved deduction, but I am not willing to quibble the point further.

What she's proposing here is most likely what I would catagorized as an Inductive Emotional Appeal Fallacious Argument with an Appeal to Indirect Consequences. I'll get into this more in a bit, and I'll break down where her so called "deductive logic exercise" is ALL wrong...

Emotional Appeals.

Emotional appeals all have two things in common:

They attempt to elicit an emotional response that will serve as the basis of any decision made, instead of presenting an argument and relying on its soundness.

As a result, they are never acceptable in an argument, though they can be quite
effective in arousing non-rational responses. Fallacious appeals to emotions are effective because it's easier for most people not to think critically, but to rely on their gut reaction; and it's easier for the person making the appeal to excite his listeners' emotions than to construct a persuasive argument. As a result, those who try to persuade us most often--politicians and advertisers-- tend to rely on emotional appeals in order to motivate us to do things that we might not for purely rational reasons.

A very simple example of a deductive syllogism is:

All X are Y
Z is X
Therefore, Z is Y

or should we try a conditional?
If P then Q
Therefore, Q
These are true, logical and non-fallacious.

Here's the best I can do with Jessica's argument:
If A = "Al-Queda" and B = "9 Americans killed in Iraq" and C = "Harry Reid" and D = "losing the war" and E ="the enemy in Iraq"

And if I break it down mathmatically:
A causes B
C blamed E for D
So, C blamed A for D

Her assumptions that are not articlated but that she invites you to deduce are that B=D, A=E and in the conclusion that C wants or supports B and A.

Listen, there is NO way to make the deductions she is proposing. They rely on these assumptions:
1) That the 9 American soldiers killed by Al-Queda are the only soldiers killed and that Al-Queda is the only group killing American soldiers in Iraq.
2) Harry Reid meant that the only enemy in Iraq was Al-Queda.
3) That "losing" in Iraq is solely determined by if Al-Queda is the only group killing Americans in Iraq. (in other words, that not creating a true democracy is not his definition of losing, or that not finding wmd is his definition, or that not winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi's is his definition, trust me, I could go on and on thanks to Bush's long history of changing goals in this war...)
4) It also assumes that Al-Queda being in Iraq is not Harry Reid's immediate definition of losing the war.

What McBride's done here is set up a classic fallacy based on fear (of Al-Queda), spite-hatred-indignation (towards the Democratic leader), anger (that our soldiers were killed). It's really actually a very poor example, because she hasn't thought it through in any meaningful or logical way (I've seen my kids put together a better fallacy than this one...LOL) which is why it falls under the emotional appeal catagory.

It also can be subtitled as a loose Appeal to Indirect Consequences. This is also known as slippery slope. It's a bit tentative that she's using this, but as it's the most common of the fallacies, it's generally applied in these cases because so many humans are vulnerable to it. My reasoning for deciding that she's also using the slippery slope fallacy are that she makes huge jumps in reasoning from one statement to another that would require numerous other facts and causations to be true.

Not sure if I made my point yet, but it's really clear that this woman has no business claiming to know anything about deductive reasoning and logic. She does this really frequently in her posts and it's about time we start to point out that just being able to say you're a journalism professor doesn't mean you have any idea how to frame an argument (that would be another fallacy).

;) Rae

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