Basic logic courses teach students to construct and test the validity of syllogisms as well as recognize fallacies to avoid (or exploit!) when engaging in logical discourse. In the US, logic is typically considered useful when it exploits (law, politics, news media), though it also serves to question (philosophy) and create a framework for civil discussion. Given today’s polarized, disconnected, and often haphazard state of civil discourse, I wish to encourage a greater acceptance of logic as a tool to question and debate. To do this, it may be instructive to remember some logical devices and why they matter.
Syllogisms– A syllogism is composed of two premises which lay the basis for a conclusion. The force of the syllogism lies in the truth (or strength) of its premises as well as the validity of its conclusion. While true premises properly applied can lead to valid conclusions, false or misleading premises or illogical treatment of said premises can lead to invalid conclusions.
False premise/Invalid conclusion
|True premises/Invalid conclusion||Valid premises/Valid conclusion|
|-Americans need a president who represents their interests (T)
-Donald Trump’s racist, self-serving, and sexist remarks represent American interests (F)
∴ Americans need Donald Trump as president (invalid)
|-Women’s lives/health and autonomy are worth fighting for (T)
-Many women receive support, testing, and counseling from PP that allow them increased health and autonomy (T)
∴ Defund PP (invalid)
|-Safety awareness and owner accountability helps reduce avoidable gun deaths (T)
-Mandatory background checks and safety courses for US gun owners would help increase safety awareness and owner accountability (T)
∴ Mandatory background checks and safety courses for US gun owners would help reduce avoidable gun deaths (valid)
At any point during a logical discussion, the truth of premises can be called into question. Further, the validity of the conclusions can also be scrutinized. Logical discourse does not eliminate individual preference or guarantee unanimity. It does, however, create a framework for civilized discourse.
Logical fallacies-A complete list of logical fallacies can be found in any college textbook about logic or through a simple online search. I do not wish to lecture or bore, but rather to remind the reader that these resources are readily available. For this reason, I will only focus on a few recurring and current fallacies. It is worth noting, however, that a perusal of these and other fallacies can help to sidestep many a non-productive and frustrating turn in political/legal discussion and philosophic debate.
Straw Man: a weak proxy of the issue under debate is constructed that can easily be defeated, thus giving the impression that one’s stance is superior to the actual issue (not the weak proxy).
-ex. Liberals want to take away our guns, we need less restrictions! How does this photo of a bloody mangled fetus that we continue to call your child make you feel? Pro-Life!!!
Red Herring: the technique of deliberately derailing a debate with the goal of drawing attention away from the real issue at hand
-ex. Debates over maintaining antiquated, arbitrary, and unfair power dynamics re-framed as issues of morality (Maintaining undue power over women and their bodies re-framed as pro-life and MRAs, maintaining power over ethnic minorities re-framed as a failure to recognize white privilege and support of stop and frisk (etc.), maintaining power over non-heteronormative sexuality re-framed as being biblical, maintaining power to execute vigilante street justice with firearms re-framed as pro-gun/real American/hero, maintaining economic and military dominance over developing and developed nations established through historically (and currently, who are we kidding?) unjust, illegal practices (slavery, child labor, genocide, etc.) re-framed as American exceptionalism, etc., etc.)
Anecdote: A singular experience presented as a universal
-ex. I once had a bad experience with a person X. Naturally, this experience and my feelings about it apply to everyone that I believe looks similar to person X.
Ad hominem: Attack of a person rather than their ideology
-ex. “Failing candidate Hillary Clinton, who is desperately trying to hold on to her lead in the democratic primary against Bernie Sanders, is knowingly putting out lies about my stance on illegal immigration. I said “Mexico is sending”— I’m not knocking immigration or immigrants, but rather am very critical of the country of Mexico for sending us people that they don’t want. Likewise I am very critical of illegal immigration and the tremendous problems including crime, which it causes.
She is desperate, she is sad, and she is obviously very nervous when she has to revert to issues that have already been settled given the absolute accuracy of my statement. She speaks about “my tone” and that’s the problem with our country’s leaders. They are more worried about tone than results! It’s not about being nice— it’s about being competent.
Hillary should spend more time producing her illegally hidden emails and less time trying to obfuscate a statement by me that is totally clear and obviously very much accepted by the public as true. I am honored, however, that she is attacking me, instead of Jeb Bush. Obviously she knows that JEB is no longer her real competition. The last person she wants to face is Donald Trump.” – https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrump/posts/10155829886030725, 7-14-15
The list goes on.
While I don’t believe that the American people will ever reach full agreement about our basic values, I do believe that when presented with the falsehood of one’s stance, it is possible to change. And change can happen when we are willing to discuss our differences without reverting to pretenses that limit logical discourse. Engaging in logical debate with an opposing viewpoint is an act of respect for the holder of that view. Moving forward, I hope to see more logical debate in the political and personal realm, debate in which both parties are willing to engage in an open, honest, and respectful manner.