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    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2008 edited
    I'm trying to improve my grasp of the english language and am now chewing through the vast tradition of arguing and debating you anglos have. (ok not really, I have like a canadian book by baillargeon and engel's language trap, but I'll get more when I get some of the monies, I promise.)

    Debate class and clubs is sadly lacking in my country, and with the fad of books arguing against religion I got interested by reading Hitchens in how to make and more importantly how to recognize a shady logical argument when presented to you.

    With interest in debate coming back (in films, the presidential race and the reverse engineering of spin) as backlash from the boredom of tv sound bites, I thought it would be pretty überneat, umlaut and all, if we named each type of arguments and provided examples, as we understand them, and get a conversation going since, well, there are some fine minds with diplomas on whitechapel [insert link to presidency thread here] .

    Also, I have to admit there's some glee in reading about the subject.

    Some types of arguments are famous like the post hoc ergo propter hoc or the ad hominem.
    I managed to find some that are less so. I'll do three right now, two that I found downright dishonest and one that is just deliciously sneaky. If interest builds up in the thread I'll go on with the others, and obviously if the thread dies, is sunk or closed, I clearly won't be doing none of that.

    Let's not go over what a syllogism is since we are learned chaps, and storm directly to the sneaky fun ones : the red herring, the ad populum and the paralogism of composition and division.

    (oh and of course excuse my english, i'll try at best to keep it to acceptable levels of annoyance.)

    the red herring

    The red herring consists in exploiting the opponent's attention span of a butterfly to refocus the debate on another topic.
    Legend has it that prisoners in the south threw their pursuers off their scent by leaving herrings behind, hence the name of the stratagem.
    It can be very effective if the opponent has enough blood pumping in his brain that he will take any occasion to clash with you on any subject. The more subjects he takes on, especially on the fly, the higher the chance he will stumble on the irrational or contradict himself. When that happens, well ha ha ! you can just wail on him, drunk with power.
    Also, great if the debate is time limited.
    Children are very good at the red herring because of their sweet, innocent and feeble non-sequitur minds :
    "don't play with this box of matches. -it's not a box it's a spaceship, daddy."
    "i'm just tired, kid, don't worry.
    -is that why you were crying earlier?"

    for the sake of example, before the consensus shifted on the existence of global warming, one could argue :
    Passing even more government regulations on our businesses to stop this so-called global warming, would be adding to an already vast body of laws currently stifling the economy and refraining innovation in our businesses. Bureaucrats writing edicts, rules and laws keeping the everyday man from taking decent jobs and making a living wage to bring food and clothes to their families.

    fishy argument, yes ?

    Technical people knowing full well they are more knowledgeable on their particular subject of expertise tend to use the red herring by zooming on the minute details. Talk about p2p technology instead of copyright infringement. Talk about the closed circuit nature of CCTV instead of the right to privacy. Photoshop instead of why this is looking like poodoo.

    Best defense is to always keep and eye on the prize, and of course, to point out that the opponents are trying to change the subject, the spineless bastards.

    ----breaking the thread as to not scare on the first impression, be right back-------
    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2008 edited
    the ad populum, or the call to the masses.

    My parents, the wise old crankies, use to tell me : if the whole class jumped through windows, would you do it ?
    Maybe that's why I switched to macs.
    Anyway, the ad populum is the stratagem of calling on the majority of the population to create a somewhat legitimate credential for your argument. It doesn't even have to be the majority, it just has to sound big.
    Calling on the authority of the bigger number is obviously faulty but the stratagem is everywhere especially in advertising, because somehow the ad populum bypasses the frontal lobe and zeroes in directly in that lazy part of our brain , the "bah that will do" part.

    ad for car : 10 million drivers can't be wrong.
    the pepsi generation

    There are variants, like using statistics. Problem with statistics is they need context : for an example close to (my) home, a soffres -the french institute of statistics- study came out saying around 70 percent of french people think they were racists.
    (the number was that high, you will have to excuse the fuzziness of my memory)
    This number was taken and brandied at the antiracist association I was temping in like the red flag of righteousness, as you might expect.
    The problem is the study asked the question "Do you think the french are racists ? " and well the responders said yeah, i think the french (implying not me, the guy being asked the question) are racists. the study was about how the french view their own society, but because no one should underestimate the ability to ignore subtelities, we had a big fat 70 percent of racists in france as a number to prove any point we wanted. Ha.
    Another study was done years later with a clearer premise, thankfully.

    Big numbers imply some mystical common knowledge, and calling on them has the benefit of not having to bother with building an argument.
    Ever notice someone just making up statistics to prove a point ? How annoying is that, the lazy prick.

    I think Letterman said, studies just in, 3/4 of people make up 75percent of the population. Just the fact of juggling numbers that sound major lend credence to an argument, even if an argument doesn't exist in this Letterman quote.

    Another variant is calling on the dead. Why limit yourself to the living when you can will in your debate the dead ghosts of past generations. This variation of the ad populum is when you call on tradition.

    as an example, consider these following arguments :

    No societies, anywhere in the world, at any point in history, ever institutionalized same-sex marriage. Why do you think that is ?

    Traditional chinese medicine has been around and saving lives for thousand of years.

    Since the invention of the printing press, we have been sharing words and literary works over and through borders, whether these were legal or physical ones. Content will always tend towards being freely shared.

    Of course the vast majority and tradition can be wrong. The ad populum is only iffy if it substitutes itself to a real, logical argument. It is better used to highlight a point, and should be lit up in flames if it just stands there, alone, looking smug.

    There's also something inherently creepy about calling to the masses, especially if you're having an audience at your debate. Calling on the lowest denominator to stir the passion of the crowd might be fine to get a few encouraging claps from the audience, but yeah, never trust more than two people nodding in approval at the same time, and on the same rhythm.

    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2008
    not to get lazy and just dump a wikipedia link on you, but....I'ma get lazy and dump a wikipedia link on you.

    My favorite are circular arguments. They can be pretty damn sneaky sometimes.
    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2008 edited
    @ jared : ah crap got scared i was paraphrasing, but just did a quick scan and it is different, i think. for example their red herring is totally in the logical sense (false conclusions) and i m more interested in the more fluid parts of argumentation.

    also, i'm trying to bring fun in it, cause one of the books I'm reading is so dry you want to pour liquid boiling sugar in your eyes just to keep reading.
    I'll wait a bit before writing the next argument type.

    i read a great circular argument uttered on a usenet of fundamentalist christians :
    To say the Bible was written by men and may contain inaccuracies completely contradicts the word of the Bible.

    not at all sneaky this one circular argument is, but I just found it a very clear and impressive demonstration of dumb-fu ^_^
    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2008
    my bad. I thought you were just looking for ways in which people fudge their way to victory. But that is not the case.
    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2008 edited
    no, no , that too :)

    edit : actually that's exactly what i m looking for ! What we use to convince or persuade a point, barring that point is not based on glaring faulty logic (impossible to argue with someone who can't think straight, now that i think about it)
    • CommentTimeFeb 1st 2008
    A few - well, a lot - of examples here.

    Sure, it's tongue-in-cheek, but none of these tactics surprise me after 8 years of message-board experience.
    • CommentTimeFeb 1st 2008 edited

    paralogism of composition and paralogism of division

    I like these two because they are closely similar to our thought process, and are thus particularly sneaky if finely diluted. Like arsenic.

    Paralogism of composition consists of drawing a conclusion on the whole from a statement on one or more of its parts. Pretty straightforward, so let's have three faulty examples and one that is a cute child's riddle.
    1 and 3 are odd numbers. their result will thus be an odd number.

    a horse drinks more water per day than a human. There is more water drunk by horses each day than by humans.

    the 11 best soccer players in the world will make the best soccer team in the world.

    child's riddle :
    why do white sheeps eat more grass than black sheeps ?
    because there is more :)

    paralogisms of division are the reverse : going from general and drawing a conclusion for the specifics.
    How can we love a country without loving its inhabitants ? (Reagan)

    What's pernicious about those is that they feel and sound like a deduction or an induction, two legitimate ways of going from hypothesis to results and vice versa. Yet the paralogisms of composition and division are malleable and when drowned in a block of text, difficult to pick up, especially if one uses both to shank you from both sides :
    the divide between the rich and the poor is getting wider : the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer.

    This argument deserves and explanation as it is a fine one (and i struggled to understand it) :
    the divide getting wider (the general case) doesn't automatically means that the poor are poorer (maybe the rich and the poor both got more money, but the rich, waaaay more. the divide is wider, but the poor are still richer than before). By stating the general we are implying one of its specific case by just following up with it.
    It works both ways (the specific implies the general is true) but because the paralogism of composition in this case is logically true (the divide does get wider when the poor gets poorer and the rich gets richer) it implies truthiness for the first paralogism.
    It's like pretending to play ping pong with the truth as a ball, but hiding the fact that the ball is stringed to one of the paddles.

    finishing on a rather dickish argument I heard at a café containing all three of the paralogisms (red herring, ad populum, composition) :

    personA : Math is a science of abstracts.
    personB : E=MC2 wasn't abstract for the people of hiroshima.

    Now that is crude.
    • CommentTimeFeb 1st 2008
    @ howyadoin : "Hundreds of Proofs of God's Existence" ? Oo i need to print that with my morning coffee. ^_^

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