Friday, November 18, 2005

Textbook Examples

Another shiny nugget from the mother of all lodes, the Arizona Republic Letters-to-the-Editor page, don't you know. These come out on such a regular basis that somebody should start a blog just for the sake of dismantling these things for frequent fun, education, and entertainment.

A letter full of fallacies indeed. Well, not full full, just a little full. Just two fallacies are cited for, but then also perpetrated on, the reader.

In criticism of a previous letter-to-the-editor, this writer asserts the following:


"He says Rosa Parks has done more to change the U.S. than many other famous persons. He also argued that she is one of the only people who symbolized the true meaning of our Constitution."

On the face of it those are two perfectly logical and acceptable statements. Rosa Parks is all that. I think the letter-writer is assuming, note assuming, that the original statement was a fallacy of the all-instead-of-some variety. Unfortunately the wording defies the argument. "Some" and "one of the only" are not "all." So the writer of the letter sees a fallacy where there is none.

Rosa Parks has done more to change the U.S. than many other famous people, like Kevin Bacon, for example, or Cindy Lauper, who are both very widely known.

And Parks is one of the only people who symbolized the true meaning of our Constitution. Of course she's not the "only" person to have done so. Many people have, and she is one of them. She is an icon for many of us who value civil rights for all, myself included.

Then the young student of logic continues with these observations:

"The fallacies I found here are overgeneralization and pity. Steve overgeneralizes when he writes that Rosa Parks has done more than any other individual since Martin Luther King. Katz also uses pity in his letter. But if Katz wants to catch the reader appropriately, he should lay down facts and avoid pity. "

Maybe the first letter, to which the young writer refers, does make the rather overgeneral claim that Parks "has done more" than so-and-so, but without an actual citation from the original we will not know. (My albeit brief search could not exhume the original LTTE by Steve Katz from the Republic's archives, so I can do no better that the young writer herself.)

Likewise, the critic herself includes no citation of the "pity" she says should be avoided in logical argument.

By injecting such an emotion-laden word, though, isn't she herself committing just that fallacy, the use of emotionally-charged words? Especially in light of her neglect to provide of an example of such, ignoring her own admonishment to "lay down facts."

Hey, there's another thing. The young critic has tried to apply two logical fallacies to Katz's letter, and these just happen to be the first two listed in one of the most-commonly cited texts on this subject, "Straight and Crooked Thinking" put out by Robert H. Thouless back in 1930, but a popular college standard still for those who study such things. Hmmm. The first two. Well now.

Mere coincidence? I do NOT think so!

And maybe I should not be so rough on a young and perhaps impressionable high school student, but the very fact that she chose Rosa Parks to pick on just scares the hell right out of me. Maybe she could start like someplace here and do a philosophical analysis of the people who attacked the freedom marchers on Bloody Sunday back in 1965, continuing to mix a little modern American history in with her studies of the principles of logic.

There are better targets on which young cubs can sharpen their logical claws, like Virginia Abernethy, for example, who perhaps actually deserves some criticism for her views, which straddle the line between "separatism" and "segregation."

Maybe that's it. Maybe that's the real problem here.


dorsano said...

Great post again - a little wordy though :)

But it's a tough job!!! Thank you for your service.

Eli Blake said...

What really bothers me (and I have a subscription to the Republican, which I suppose I have a one shot opportunity to cancel-with-a-message if they do something really egregious) is that when you see a letter like this, and actually take the time to refute the letter writer on, they rarely publish. I do say 'rarely' because I have seen a handful published. I've also sent several specifically refuting a letter and had a couple of those published, and when they don't get published I don't mind it when I see someone else published with a similar letter, because I know then that they received at least two letters of refutation, meaning they are aware that it was more than a lone objection.

As a matter of fact, I sent them a letter last night refuting what they said today about the 'leadership' of Hayworth (the news had a heads up on the story), I doubt they will publish it but we will see.

Becca said...

I dunno.

I think Hulk Hogan did quite a bit to change America. And he was kinda famous.

The Platypus said...

I can't make an informed comment on the original letter without seeing it, but that hasn't stopped better people than me from doing so anyway.

I see a ray of hope in that young writer's willingness to challenge the accepted story despite a political environment that will smack him down for doing so. Ms Parks is a legend bigger than any individual could ever be. Her six hour funeral broadcast on local television is testament enough to that, but few are willing to say out loud that much of what we know to be fact about the woman's life is instead a myth. Some myths are calcualted in their fabrication, and others just happen, but a myth is a myth all the same. Parks was a little of both, and at the same time was real person who knew the secrets behind the orchestration of the bus boycott, but it all became fact when it was presented in a history book. I don't mean to denigrate the contributions of Rosa Parks, she is unarguably a great symbol to the Black community and all of America, but I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to question "reality".