Informal fallacy

This is the main board for discussing philosophy - formal, informal and in between.

Moderator: Only_Humean

Forum rules
Forum Philosophy

Informal fallacy

Postby Gamer » Wed Apr 25, 2018 10:54 pm

Seems like at every level of debate, whether it's two children, two smart grownups, or two decorated philosophers, conversations tend to have all kinds of tangles and messes in them. I'm not talking about mathematical or formal fallacy, even though I'm sure there's plenty of that. I'm talking about the informal fallacy, the "aha, I see what you did there, now we have to backtrack and untangle it." It's the stuff that pushes back against progress toward clarity, relevance, completeness, order, consistency, etc. Can be anything from a subtle ad hom or baculum, to trickier things like confirmation bias, generalization, moving the goal post, equivocation, and I think the list goes on and on, hundreds. Sometimes these are employed by accident, a true fallacy, and sometimes unconsciously to advance a point on which you have a vested interest. Whatever the reason for the fallacy, there it is. Or isn't. Or, is it? Take this forum. Most of the time we quote swatches of each other's comments and tell each other about the fallacies the other engaged in. When accused of committing a fallacy you can either challenge and prove it's not a fallacy, or you can concede, which nobody ever does. That might be because you can challenge the accusation in a number of ways. You can shift the premise, and pretend that the other person had mistaken the premise all along, or you can employ other fallacies to distract the accuser or sway the audience to something that's more important than the first fallacy. It's no wonder conversations peter out, it's exhausting. I once watched Chomsky debate Dershowitz. Two great minds, legal, linguistic masters. Soon it became like watching two petulant children yelling at each other. Chomsky seemed to be slippery, always cherry picking some arcane fact out of his ass to support some disturbing general point he made, or moving the goal post any time a valid point demanded a direct answer. In the end, Dershowitz said something "just because you say it happened that way doesn't mean it did!" That's just one example so let's not focus solely on that one.

No two debaters can advance a complete argument about a non-mathematical subject involving a macro system like politics or war unless they have all relevant facts (impossible), and an identical ethical basis of evaluation, and it's impossible to place a numeric value to a fact and tally up who has the most facts, or the most important ones. So I don't expect us to spit out answers to messy polemics in a mathematical way.

But what's missing from the debate is the humility. The methodical willingness to work together to define terms and agree on a premise, and then collaborate on a new model. Sure, a debate like the one mentioned above is technically a form of entertainment or sport, but you know this sort of derailment happens even in a well-intentioned discussion.

What's most surprising to me is that we don't simply blurt out the technical name of the informal fallacy as it occurs, similar to how a judge in a courtroom will say, "denied, leading the witness," etc. In a philosophical discourse or casual intellectual discussion, you don't hear "denied, asserting the consequent," "denied, tu quoque," "ad populum argument." To hear Sam Harris attempt to explain to someone where they went wrong in their thinking is to listen to a drawn out analogy and paragraphs of content. You would think we'd be at a point where we (or if not we, SOMEONE) can spot an informal fallacy, name it, agree it happened, or examine if it's a fallacy or a confusion of premise, prior to proceeding with the argument or introducing new arguments.

I've never seen this happen in person or on ILP. What is preventing this from becoming a thing? Whoever says to me "yeah well you can't look at chomsky, he's intentionally doing that" is understanding my point. Whether it's intentional or not doesn't change the item we're discussing, namely the species of each informal fallacy that occurs in any given piece of rhetoric, either monologue or discourse, and our current lack of ability the spot it and redirect efficiently.
User avatar
ILP Legend
Posts: 2143
Joined: Mon May 31, 2004 5:24 pm

Re: Informal fallacy

Postby Karpel Tunnel » Thu Apr 26, 2018 12:02 am

Gamer wrote:But what's missing from the debate is the humility.
Sure, and laziness- moving forward, not wanting to go back and be careful. Trying to be careful, but improvisationally.

Seeing it as Worldview contact rather than individual contact, sometimes - iow learning over time to understand the way both sides think, and being rather selfish about the results of that process. Not trying to collaborate on content, having this very careful dialogue, sort of like writing a very polished essay collaboratively.

So elements of trying to get better like at Judo, but not, for me, with the goal of being the great fighter (debater, philosopher) but rather engaging in a natural selection type way to see what survives (not who survives).

And also finding the fallacies at least as important as the good arguments. I suppose on some level I am more interested in understanding what is going on with humans, in this corner of the brain, than really coming to the best possible grip on whether free will is possible or whatever the topic at hand is. What do minds do? Because what they do is running things the way they are being run.

Having a collaborative, mature, win win debate might do this also. So I am not arguing that my reasons are good, just trying to get an honest handle on why I don't do what you are suggesting.

On another forum, there was a person who supported reason and science against all threats and 'threats'. Interestingly enough he did this through insults, ad homs and then a really high percentage of fallacies. I used to point this out and more would come. So I stopped responding with content and simply labeled the pieces of his posts. Quote, fallacy X. Quote, insult, no content. This irritated him very much and I was childish enough to enjoy that. And then he ignored me and continued unchanged. This example is by no means part of me suggesting that we shouldn't be more humble, more open about our own mistakes, etc. It's just the closest I ever came to doing the kind of simple labelling you suggested. Other facets of your suggestion I did not rise to.
Karpel Tunnel
Posts: 435
Joined: Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:26 pm

Re: Informal fallacy

Postby Dan~ » Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:29 am

When I have an argument with someone almost always they do a straw man.
I was saying that morals are relative to the situation, what is good for one may not be good for the other.
Then they say, morality is not absolute.
Then i say morality is diverse and it evolves out of a variety of situations.
It's a natural phenomenon.
Then they say im wrong and there is no absolute.

I can't remember every detail of this moral argument.
But i tried to rewrite it.
User avatar
ILP Legend
Posts: 9905
Joined: Thu Nov 24, 2005 8:14 am
Location: May the loving spirit of papa hitler watch over and bless you all.

Re: Informal fallacy

Postby Gamer » Wed May 16, 2018 6:52 pm

Dan~ wrote:When I have an argument with someone almost always they do a straw man.

Well yes, and maybe this is because any non-mathematical assertion you make in the course of a conversation can mean a number of things, and in no way can it mean all the things you intended to say, including all caveats and specifics, premises, and definitions. Thus, it's too easy for your listener to simply "fill in" or challenge these missing parts in a way that best suits their motives. Rarely do we find that pure listener who doesn't do that, and instead is aware of the infinite regress of detail involved in any non-mathematical or non-tautological argument, and attempts to fill in or understand these gaps with you collaboratively, without resorting to straw man. Or at the very least, it's rare in the course of argumentation to find someone willing to repeat back your position – as it so stands in the course of a conversation – in a way that you approve.

I don't think this is always malicious. Many of us are decent enough, we want to get along, and we care about getting to the truth. The problem is that it's too hard to do the work, and too easy to get sucked into defending a narrative or ideologue that allows you to feel a certain way; for to feel a certain way is the fabric of life, and the stakes are supremely high.

Nonetheless, my focus is on the average person, not the philosopher (bless his soul.) Those of us who can peel into topics and go several layers deep are the least of my worries. Not much can be done there, nor is it really needed.

Where much can done, and where it is sorely needed, is for the average person, and with regard to the first or second layer of a topic, for the average person rarely peels back anything. I think they would though, if given a tool to help them do it, something as easy to use as a can opener and cuddly as a teddy bear. Until such a suitable tool arrives, maybe it should be you. And perhaps at first the topics should be prioritized – at least at first – to topics that involve an existential threat to the human race, or human dignity and safety. For example, if someone rushes to judgement with regard to an issue like global warming or racism, a conversation is in order. We may not get to a final resolution, but if we can get people to ask better questions and avoid the low hanging fruit fallacies, that's a start.
User avatar
ILP Legend
Posts: 2143
Joined: Mon May 31, 2004 5:24 pm

Return to Philosophy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users