February 11, 2017

Naming A Few Fallacies

I've been thinking about the kind of conversion I typically see on-line, and in light of that, I've spotted a couple of fallacies that are commonly made that do not seem to have names. And so, I have named them. I offer them to the internet in the hope that people can recognize these as fallacious and, hopefully but not likely, improve the quality of internet conversation. They are
  1. Same Mind Bias
  2. Opposite Fallacy
  3. Misplaced Proposition Fallacy
  4. Counter-argument Fallacy
  5. Leading Counter-argument Fallacy
  6. Transubstantiation Fallacy
  7. Analogy/Allegory Confusion
Same Mind Bias

This is similar to the bias known as the False-Consensus Effect, where someone believes that more people agree with them than they actually do. However, this isn't connected to knowledge, but to thought process.

The assumption here is that people usually think the same way that you do, and when they come to different conclusions than you, you make assumptions about how they got there. In reality, of course, people have radically different ways of thinking, and even sometimes come to the same conclusion for entirely different reasons. However, this generally doesn't stop people from generally assuming that people think in the same manner.

A couple of examples are in order. First would be the well established Historian's Fallacy, where you judge a decision that someone made in the past based off of modern sensitivities. Another is the tendency for an empathetic person to think that someone doesn't care about others, because that person isn't being as sensitive, when in reality that person may care a lot, but is focusing on helping the person's practical needs. A third example is the expectation that someone would come to believe the same as you do, if they are presented with the same evidence and arguments which convinced you, and then become incredulous when they do not. Often, in the last scenario, one assumes the other person is ignoring you, or is uninterested in truth, but the possibility that the person may simply be ingratiated by a different kind of evidence rarely comes up.

All of this is a lead up to the first fallacy I named here:

The Opposite Fallacy1

This is a fallacy that is based off of the Same Mind Bias and a specific example of an Appeal to Motivation. This is when someone has an opposite opinion of you, so you assume that they have opposite premises or motivations. Therefore, you are assuming that they are thinking the same way that you do, even though their conclusion is different.

My favorite example of this is the abortion debate. Many times, people who are pro-choice assume that those who are pro-life are somehow "against women", which is strikingly odd. Pro-life people are quite open about the fact that we are motivated by belief that fetuses are children, and thus shouldn't be unceremoniously killed. But because pro-choice people are motivated by women's issues, they are assuming that those who disagree with them have opposite motivations. In reality both the pro-life and the pro-choice movements have a greater variety of beliefs thaN either side typically acknowledges.

Definition The Opposite Fallacy: The assumption that if one has an opposite opinion, they also have opposite motivations.

Misplaced Proposition Fallacy

I honestly don't know why this isn't already a named fallacy, and perhaps it is but simply listed in places of which I am unaware. The concept is fairly simple. In the midst of a debate, a person misunderstands a particular claim's role in the other person's argument, or misunderstands the role of their own claim. When an argument is laid out mathematically like this:
  1. p -> q
  2. p
  3. therefore, q
the role of each proposition is quite clear. But in more complex arguments, and especially ones couched in colloquial speech, it is often easy to lose track what exactly an argument is doing. Therefore, it is quite common for people to just simply misunderstand what it is that is going on.

The most famous example of this is the fallacy fallacy. This is the mistake that your counterargument works as an argument against the person's position. I can make a bad argument for something that is actually true. For instance, I could claim that everything that is made of water is blue, the sky is made of water, therefore the sky is blue. Neither of those premises is true, yet the conclusion is. Proving the argument wrong does not mean that the conclusion is wrong. It would simply mean that I will have to justify the conclusion for different reasons. But fundamental to this mistake is a misunderstanding of the role of counter-argumentation. What follows are some other examples of this kind of mistake.

Counterargument Fallacy

This fallacy is actually intimately connected with the Fallacy Fallacy. Indeed, it is essentially its opposite. The counterargument fallacy is when someone discounts a counterargument due to it being insufficient to counter to person's position.

I often hear these kinds of arguments when dealing with the arguments from God's existence. For instance, if an atheist argues that God doesn't exist because of the existence of evil, I could counter with the simple point that God could have justifications for the allowance of evil. It is unfortunately not uncommon for an atheist to then say, "That doesn't mean that God exists!" Well, yes. It doesn't mean that. My point wasn't that therefore God exists, but that your argument is merely insufficient to prove His non-existence.

I actually run into this a lot and, again, I am amazed that no one has named this fallacy already.
Definition The Counterargument Fallacy: The rejection of a counterargument because it is insufficient to defeat the whole position.

Leading Counterargument Fallacy

This basically is an example of the Fallacy Fallacy, but usually when we think of the Fallacy Fallacy, we think of it in terms of the middle of a debate, where someone names a fallacy, and thinks that that is sufficient to win the argument. However, a bit more confusing is when someone starts the conversation with a counterargument.

The most famous example of this is when an atheist argues, "If God created the universe, then who created God." Many use this as a stand alone argument against God's existence, which is simply confusing. The argument, as presented by Dawkins, was a counterargument against the teleological argument. But I could simply reject the teleological argument, or believe in God for other reasons, and the point because irrelevant. Now I don't think that it is a good argument even in that respect, but when an atheist leads with this, it is merely confused.
Definition Leading Counterargument Fallacy: When a person leads a discussion with a counterargument.

Transubstantiation Fallacy

Now the name here is actually a pun, and has nothing to do with the Catholic view of the Eucharist. Rather the Transubstantiation Fallacy is where a person thinks of a substantiating argument as a major argument. So for instance, one could present the Kalaam Cosmological Argument as follows:
  1. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
    1. An infinite amount of anything cannot exist in the real world
    2. If the universe were eternal, then it there would have been an infinate amount of seconds
  3. Therefore the universe must have a cause
Now above are basically two arguments. One is the main argument which are propositions 1, 2, 3. But under premise 2 is a separate argument which argues for premise 2. This is a substantiating argument since it is arguing for the soundness of the premise rather than for the final conclusion. Whenever you present an argument, it must be both valid and sound. A valid argument is one where the conclusion logically follows from the premises while a sound argument is a valid argument whose premises are true. The process of showing that the premises are true is called substantiating your premises. Hence the name "substantiating argument".

 OK, so what do I mean by Transubstantiating Fallacy? It is where someone takes a substantiating argument to be part of the main argument. So, using the above example, if I were to argue that the universe cannot be infinitely old, because an actual infinite cannot exist, they may reply, "OK, but that doesn't prove anything! That doesn't mean that God created the universe!" Correct. It doesn't prove that. All it proves is that the universe must have begun to exist. That is why there is more to the argument.
Definition The Transubstantiation Fallacy: When someone takes a substantiating argument to be part of the main argument.

Analogy/Allegory Confusion 

 I am someone that uses a good deal of analogical thinking as I reason through things. As such, I have found it extremely frustrating when using analogies in debates. This is because people often over-extend the analogy, claiming that it fails because it doesn't do what it isn't designed to do. Part of the problem is that analogies require effort on the opponents part to understand. They are fantastic at explaining concepts, but only if the other person actually wants to understand. If a person is simply trying to defeat you, they can easily pick apart even the best analogies.

 There's an old saying about the Trinity: all analogies fall short. I find this saying to be a tad obtuse though. Of course all analogies fall short of explaining the Trinity. This is because all analogies fall short of explaining anything. After all, if an analogy worked perfectly, it wouldn't be an analogy, but an example. At its core, an analogy is a kind of metaphor, and metaphors work by talking about something different, but has a tiny sliver of overlap, as a way of isolating that sliver. Analogies, by their very nature, are trying to merely explain part of an idea, rather than the whole thing. To say that an analogy doesn't work because it fails to take into account the rest of the discussion is a mistake. The entire point is to isolate the concept away from the rest discussion in the first place.

 Now part of this is because people also have a tendency to use analogies poorly. This is because people often mistake what the role of an analogy in a discussion is. Many think of an analogy as a kind of argument: a way of demonstrating the truth of what it is that you are saying. But by their very nature, an analogy can never be used to show an argument's soundness, only its validity. The purpose of an analogy is to be understood, but being understood is not the same thing as being convincing. Something can make sense and still be false, like fantasy stories.

Part of the root cause of all of this that most people seem to want win a debate as quickly as possible. The dream is to have that one comment that shuts the other person down. However, in real conversation, dialogue takes time. For analogical reasoning this poses a problem, for understanding an analogy requires a sympathetic ear. The listener has to try to make the analogy make sense, for it naturally will not on its own. But if a environment of mutual respect isn't garnered, then such sympathy from an opponent is impossible. Instead they are going to see all of the ways in which the analogy falls short of the discussion.

 But we shouldn't do this, even if our opponent is using the analogy as an argument, for it is still good for us to understand his point. Just because the presenter doesn't understand the purpose of analogies doesn't mean we don't have to either. We can still seek to understand what is being said, and as such we have to avoid the tendency to allegorize. Unlike an analogy, an allegory is a way of re-framing an entire topic using different images, to get us to look at the issue a new way. In an allegory, there does exist perfect correspondence, or at least some facsimile to it. But analogies are not allegories. Allegories get us to emotionally connect. Analogies explain. Allegories paint in broad strokes. Analogies surgically isolate particular components.

And this one is probably the one that I am the most passionate about, because the frequency of this mistake is what I truly lament the most when it comes to most conversations: people are in too much of a hurry. Arguments have pieces to them, and it is usually good to talk about each piece individually and carefully before moving on. If you are constantly trying to talk about the whole issue, it is very unlikely you'll accomplish anything. To convince, you usually need to go deep. And to go deep, you have to tease out the particular assumptions that the two of you have. Often our debates are merely symptoms of much deeper differences.  ______________________________________________________________
1I originally called this the "Same Difference Fallacy", but I didn't really like this name I don't particularly like this name either. Suggestions are welcome.

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