Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Repugnicans and Libtards (Fallacies, Part 15)

Returning now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, the fifteenth installment of my series on argumentative fallacies continues our list of red herrings — responses to arguments that distract from the argument rather than address it directly. This week we cover the abusive fallacy, the appeal to equality, and the appeal to accomplishment.

Abusive Fallacy

Repugnicans and libtards — who could possibly take seriously anything they have to say? The abusive fallacy is an extreme form of argumentum ad hominem in which name-calling overcomes every other part of the discussion. The objective is to smear the individual and group so completely that anything they have to say is discredited.

When someone surrenders to the abusive fallacy, any pretense of rational discussion goes out the window. If Occupy Wall Street protestors are “dirty, smelly hippies,” there’s no reason to address the substance of any of their arguments. Similarly, if there’s nothing to the Tea Party but astroturf racists, then nothing they say need be taken seriously either.

Appeal to Equality

What does “equal rights” mean? After all, people aren’t “equal” in most normative senses. We aren’t all of the same height, or the same age, or the same weight, or the same IQ, or the same income, or the same education. Though I subscribe fully to the moral concept of equal rights, the logical issues of equality are more complex. For example, I believe in equality of marriage rights, but I don’t accept that a fetus should be considered legally equal to a human being. I believe in freedom, but I’m willing for society to impose imprisonment or other penalties for people who commit certain offenses. Is this logically inconsistent?

No. It’s an example of a logical fallacy known as the “appeal to equality.” In other words, citing “equality” as proof that Person A should be treated the same as Person B is insufficient to make the case.

The argument that gays and lesbians should be permitted to marry, or that a fetus deserves the civil rights of a person, requires additional reasoning. This is important, because we all — properly — make distinctions. The murderer does not have the same rights as a non-murderer; a child does not have the same rights as an adult.

It’s not inconsistent or logically inappropriate to make judgments and distinctions; in fact, it’s required.

Appeal to Accomplishment

In 1970, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, in which he claimed that very large doses of Vitamin C had a variety of health effects. It’s probably fair to say that if I had written that book, no one would have taken it seriously.

The appeal to accomplishment is the logical fallacy that the accomplishments of the arguer serve as evidence in favor of his or her claim, whether or not the claim is necessarily related to the area of accomplishment.

While it’s reasonable to take a close look at a proposition because Expert A claims it’s true, it’s important not to confuse that with the belief that Expert A is necessarily right.

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