I shall always be grateful to one of my critics, who, in a book review, perplexed me by his remark that I was "anti-intellectual." I wrote him to find out what, precisely, made him level this charge. He replied by pointing out that I explicitly took issue with the governing ideas of today’s intelligentsia…For my critic, the very fact that I had set myself against the intelligentsia made me anti-intellectual in "a straightforward sense." May I confess that his answer thrilled me? I knew I had heard something important, something I would think about for a long time. I had always thought of an intellectual as someone who thinks for himself or herself, who explores ideas wherever they might lead, and who, above all…is suspicious of the argument from authority, especially group authority.
Gary Saul Morson “What is the Intelligensia?”
You’ve seen the process play out in the courtroom on the big and little screen; an attorney makes a point, the opposing attorney challenges the relevance and the judge asks for clarification and rules. In Logic classes in college some of us learned about logical fallacies. Whether or not the judge thinks of the exact fallacy, she understands the fundamentals of logical argument.
In the courtroom there are checks and balances in the process of proving or disproving guilt. The use of logical fallacy may be the last refuge for an indefensible argument. Unfortunately, illogical arguments are made all of the time in everyday life and especially in politics and there is no one standing by to object. If there is an objection it is stated after the fact and often dismissed as irrelevant or “just politics” by the uninformed.
It takes effort and some understanding to be informed and to know a conclusion is irrelevant.
Tests in medical school (I only use this because I know something about them. Probably , other graduate schools use similar techniques) were never true/false. The closest thing to true/false looked like this:
Diamond Blackfan syndrome is the cause of severe anemia, because pyruvate kinase deficiency shortens the life of red blood cells.
It was necessary to know that Diamond Blackfan syndrome causes severe anemia, that the anemia is caused by bone marrow failure, that pyruvate kinase deficiency causes variable anemia due to hemolysis, and that that shortens the red cell’s life in circulation.
The answer then would be “B”.
Defense of an argument by proving a similar or related point is known as ignoratio elenchi. It is a relevance fallacy that loosely translated means “missing the point”. Aristotle described it in Organon. The argument might go something like; Joe Smith is guilty of the horrible act of rape followed by a long illustration of how horrible a crime rape is. Rape is a horrible crime, but in this instance the point has not been addressed; Joe Smith’s guilt.
Listen for it. “Mexicans are horrible people. Mexicans have been coming across the border running drugs, killing people and stealing.” This is another form of logical fallacy that, I think, is a type of ad hominem fallacy. It paints the group as equivalent to a few bad apples. The guilt of Jose is not determined by the guilt of Juan.
Aristotle ventured that all logical fallacies are ultimately a result of missing the point. Sometimes, the point is missed due to fuzzy thinking, other times it is a diversion to advance an unrelated agenda.
Jonathan Wolfmann pointed this type of subterfuge out when he referred to such people as Pecksniffian Bums in a recent post. Such individuals undermine morality by appealing to some moral principle in support of doing something, or not doing something that they desire.
An example in the Christian denomination I grew up in was the lack of musical instruments in the service. The argument was that nowhere in the New Testament does it mention using musical instruments, therefore, we should not have them. I imagine that the first person to venture this argument was some Scrooge who didn’t want to contribute another dime to the church.
We see these unctuous bums in politics where they reference the name of The Founders as writing a constitution that – in their view – does not support an action. (note that they capitalize The Founders to give them some semblance of deity.)
This type of argument is an appeal to authority; argumentum ad verecundiam.
So, why am I writing this? Do I think the average Jane or Joe is going to change her or his mind about anything they believe because it is pointed out that their belief is based on a fallacy? It is improbable, but possible.
To me it is important to know why I know an argument is false.
This started out talking about courtroom arguments, which seem to be the primary concern in movies, but here is another perspective:
“From what I have seen, law students who studied logic or philosophy as undergrads had an easier time understanding the essence of the first year of law school (spotting the issue).
However, if one has made it through law school and has been admitted as a member of the bar in one or more jurisdictions, there is no need to study logic - one already knows how to think logically.
Success as a lawyer will result from such attributes as understanding the law, analyzing facts carefully, and knowing human personalities well enough to present the law and the facts in the way that is most beneficial to one's client.”
Dana H. Shultz, Lawyer for startups in or coming to the U.S.
The plot in Perry Mason episodes seemed always to deal with personalities.
Here is a list of informal fallacies.
An important thing to remember is that, while a formal fallacy is an error in deduction, informal fallacies may use perfectly good form, but always fail in some way to prove the argument because they miss the point.