Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Edge of Reason

I've been casually reading about logic and fallacies the past few weeks, mostly on this site and this site. I figure I spend enough time getting myself into arguments around the internet and do plenty of reading that it might be helpful to bone up on when an argument is logically sound and when not. It'll also be helpful whenever switching on government debates and whenever I pick up a book from the 'Current Events' section of Borders which in my opinion should be renamed Pundit Alley. Seriously, this section is all filled with Coulter and Franken and Moore and O'Reilly all sniping at each other. It gets tiresome after a while. But I digress...

Actually, I don't digress that much. That actually helps me segway into my next point. There are two logical fallacies that I've been reading about that seem to be the most popular, both around the 'net and in politics in general: the ad hominem and the appeal to emotion. The former is discrediting one's opponent through irrelevant caricature. It may manifest itself in what in politics is called 'mud-slinging' or what in junior high is called a typical day.

Example of ad hominem: Oh, those Democrats are wrong because they're tree-hugging, gay-loving, socialist moonbats. Or, oh, those Republicans are wrong because they're war-mongering, gay-hating, money-grubbing fascists. See how helpful and relevant either of these are to the argument? Me neither. That's the ad hominem.

Now the appeal to emotion is pretty similar. Basically, string some ad hominems together, throw in some flowery rhetoric about why 'we good wholesome people' are right (actual premises and conclusions are by definition unnecessary), and you have an argument that basically does little more than rile up your constituents and demonize those other people.

I've tested out some of this stuff around the 'net and it's been amazing. I found this 3-paragraph rant where, after stripping away all the fallacies, could have been said in a sentence or two. We all make use of fallacies constantly. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, though. Otherwise there'd be more thinking before talking and less talking.

Wait...would that be a bad thing?