Let’s say I write an article in which I assert that the mid-day sky is actually bright scarlet red in color.
You might respond “You’re just Mitch Berg. You’re a conservative, so you always think stupid things”. That response is half, maybe 3/4 true – but doesn’t say anything about the color of the sky. What it does is say “your argument is false because of who you are”. The term is “Argumentum ad Hominem” – latin for “arguing against the man”, rather than the facts the Man presented. It’s a logical fallacy. Who I am has no bearing on the facts I present, right or wrong.
You might then respond “You don’t have a degree in meteorology – how would you know anything about the sky?” That’s also true – I’m not a meteorologist. But it doesn’t address the facts presented, but rather my credentials. It’s called an “Appeal to Authority”, and it’s another logical fallacy. One’s credentials might lend authority to a statement – but not truth or falsity, all by themselves.
You could try another tack, something like “you are an idiot”. That’d be called an “Appeal to Ridicule”. Again – I might be actually an idiot, but it doesn’t address my factual assertion in any way. It’s…yep, another logical fallacy.
Maybe you could dig back on Twitter, and find some example of me saying “the sky is blue”, and post a before-and-after saying “Hah! You’re being inconsistent!”. That’s called the “Argumentum Tu Quoque” – focusing on the fact that one has changed their mind on a subject, rather than the facts at hand – which is a really dumb one; the fact that I was a Democrat growing up, for example, doesn’t make me less a conservative today (or vice versa for someone else).
You could go on the offensive, and claim that if I believe the sky is scarlet with “Sooooo, what you’re saying is you want old people to die”. That’s called a “Straw Man Argument” – trying to make someone defend an argument they never made. I said the sky was scarlet – nothing about Grandma at all.
You could write “the sky is blue, because as I noted above, the sky is blue”. That’s called “Begging the Question” – perhaps the most mis-used phrase in the quasi-educated dialect of English, which people usually use to refer to “asking a question again”. It means “using your conclusion as proof of your conclusion”.
Or – here’s a radical thought, you could post a picture of a bright blue, or dull gray, sky and tell the world “Look! The sky above is blue! It’s not even a little bit scarlet!”. That would address the actual facts of my assertion that the sky was bright scarlet.
And the technical term for that is “a factual argument”.
I’m writing this not because I’m trying to go all Jordan Peterson on you, but because our society would be a lot stronger, smarter and BS-proof if more people learned how to make a logical argument, and to spot and call out an illogical one.
“That’s just NPR!” or “That’s just National Review” or “that info came from people allied with “the swamp”” and many other arguments…aren’t really arguments at all. They are illogical deflections.
Not to go all Walt Kowalski, but there was a time people had to learn this stuff. And there are times I think, reading social media, that learning the basics of, if not logic, at least spotting gross illogic and not being illogical, should be required before people can vote…
…much less post on Facebook or Twitter.
And if I’m ever appointed king, or otherwise become a benevolent strongman…
(Careful, kids – in some quarters, particularly academia, the above is very un-PC. It’s what we used to call Samizdat. )
This post was originally run on May 11 2020. I’m re-running it because, well, it seems appropriate.