Posted in Uncategorized by chamblee54 on August 9, 2010

In the video above, Rachel Maddow fights back against some critics, in an entertaining fashion. She discusses, among other things, the ad hominem and ad populum arguments…where you attack the messenger, and say that you are right because more people agree with you. The phrase “logical fallacy” is used.

There is a lot of this in our culture. One possible reason is having a free society, where you are not told what to think, at least not directly. The means of control are more subtle. Here the authorities and wanna be bosses have to convince you of a message. Many of the arguments that are used are not worth the time it takes to listen.

Another factor is the popularity of Jesus worship. This religion is based on beliefs, and to be a part of the family you have to agree with what you are taught. Critical thinking is not honored, and to be a team member you have to go along with some arguments that are simply not true.

In researching this feature, an e book came out of nowhere. HUMBUG is an easy to follow description of a few of these logical traps. From ad hominem to weasel words, with illustrations and cartoons. There are ads scattered throughout the ebook version, which no doubt give you a chance to practice your critical thinking skills. (The authors also have a blog .)

The front page has a collection of slang words (non profane) that describe the concept of nonsense words. Humbug, bunk, nonsense, twaddle and drivel are a few favorites. The 8 letter word for bovine excrement is missing, as is Rachel Maddow’s favorite, bullhockey. If they could fit skates on those hooves, bulls might be good at hockey. It is imagined that most languages have a similar list.

3 Responses

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  1. Morgan K Freeberg said, on August 9, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    I applaud the introduction of these fallacies to those who are not yet familiar with them.

    However, over the years I have gradually come to be aware of yet another fallacy or two that need to be tacked on to the end of such taxonomies. For lack of a better term, I’d call it the “I spotted a fallacy fallacy.” It’s common to kids fresh out of college. They see a way they can plausibly categorize what has just been offered to them within one or more of the classes of fallacy they have just learned, they utter the phrase that has been used to describe it, and start to act like this is some magical incantation that makes the inconvenient evidence all go away.

    I recall seeing a lady living in France, who claimed to be a Ph.D. and was using this credential to bolster her status, finding herself outnumbered on a discussion of something…global warming or some such, I forget what. But she began using some very weak logic, and more than one among her opposition questioned whether this was the thinking process involved in earning her degree. She used the phrase “ad hominem” in order to dismiss this attack. That is not what an ad hom is. You see the problem by now — they lose track of what the ideas are that have been proven, refuted, bolstered or damaged, and what evidence has arrived to do this proving, refutation, bolstering or damage. What it is you think you know and why it is you think you know it…that is really the object of the exercise, is it not? They are using what they have learned in a formalized setting to dismiss “inconvenient truths” more quickly. This is an abuse of what is supposed to be higher education.

    • chamblee54 said, on August 9, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks for stopping by.
      The list in the book is by no means complete. I can think of some that I could add. I may start a running list…that usually makes me think of more examples of something. This can be another excuse to put some pictures up.
      One fallacy is the “why is that?” gambit. You make a statement that is unproven, and highly contentious. Before you discuss the merits of your statement, you say “why do you suppose that is?”. When you start to think of reasons why something happened, it bypasses the need to “prove” your original statement. ( Prove is the classic weasel word. There is a difference between prove and indicate, and yet people use the terms interchangeably. One man’s proof is another man’s nonsense.)

      • Morgan K Freeberg said, on August 9, 2010 at 7:06 pm

        Too true, too true.

        Wikipedia has accumulated a very impressive list, although I imagine none of these can ever be truly complete.

        A few years ago I realized it was futile to come up with an exhaustive list of fallacies, until one first came up with an exhaustive list of the ways in which any given point can be made. I came up with nine. This has been an invaluable help in dissecting those most problematic arguments, which are the ones I want to see neither win or lose…I’m just concerned about figuring out the truth. That’s when it gets really tough.

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