Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Logical Fallacies

From time to time I point out common logical fallacies that unfortunately infest our public discourse. Today's lesson is argumentum ad hominem, in which the debater claims that some characteristic of the proponent of a view renders that person's argument invalid.

This has three forms. Tu qoque is pointing out that the proponent has said or done something in the past which is contrary to his or her position. This may be embarrassing, but it does not in any way invalidate the argument the person is currently making. And of course, people can change their minds, although this is something politicians apparently are not allowed to do ("flip-flopping").

The second form is guilt by association. This essentially means pointing out that someone who we should consider unsavory holds or held the same position. For example, Hitler was a vegetarian so that invalidates arguments for vegetarianism.

But the one I specifically want to discuss today is called the circumstantial ad hominem fallacy. This is claiming that some characteristics of the opponent make him or her likely to take the position, so why should we pay attention to the logic of the argument? Again, this is a distraction which is in no way a valid responses to an argument. Another problem with this is that it often is not even true.

For example, suppose someone made the claim that my argument for single payer national health care is invalid because I have never held a private sector job, or been self-employed, therefore I am not like most people and can't possibly understand what is good for them. A valid counterargument would have to show that for people in private sector employment, or people who are self-employed, having health insurance might be bad for them. This seems to me difficult to justify, but that's the only logical reason my employment history could matter.

However, I have in fact been self-employed and I have worked exclusively in the private sector my entire life, unless you count teaching a course for one semester at a community college when I was in graduate school. Some of my employers have been non-profit organizations, but many have not. My first job was as a stable hand. I managed the concession stand at the town beach in the summers when I was in college. I worked in a razor factory as a material handler, and I worked in a radiator factory bending tubes and pressure testing. I had a carpentry business with my brother-in-law. I worked as a security guard. I worked for a small mom and pop consulting business, then I worked for United Way. While I was getting my doctorate I was self-employed as a consultant to community organizations and government. I worked for a community organization in Boston for 15 years and only then, in my fifties, did I take a full-time academic job.

During my periods of self employment and low-wage employment I did not have health insurance. I wish I did. For one thing an untreated fracture in my left hand would not have led to osteoarthritis many years later which required very painful surgery and a long recovery period. If Obamacare had been available I would have been very grateful.

Oh, by the way, I do not hate America. I'm not sure why advocating for single payer health care would lead to that conclusion. You fucking moron.

1 comment:

Don Quixote said...

It seems there is no end to the list of rationalizations that Republicans, Libertarians, and other "conservatives" can make for any argument. But this is inherent in what it means to be "conservative," which, as you recently explained, is to want to ensure continuing wealth for people who already have it.

Capitalism is as bankrupt as any other "-ism." Any system of governance--whether in a classroom, school, university, church, mosque, synagogue, temple, company, business, government, club, or any other small- or large-group milieu--would work wonderfully if it were practiced by men and women with hearts of gold.

Conservatives have very small hearts filled with the lust for the perceived benefits that gold itself can bring to them and them only.