By David Peel
We need to teach logic in schools.
I know as an injury lawyer who argues for a living, I rely on logic every single day. But I find the ability to structure reasonable arguments and rebuttals in the average person has just about gone by the wayside.
As an example, there are logical fallacies that no one who has studied logic would try to fall into. However they are so commonly used even on news media, that they become commonplace.
One is called “false dichotomy.” And it sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. It’s the idea of presenting a false “either or” choice. An example: your child wants a $40,000 custom Jeep. You explain to him that in no way, shape or form on this planet will he be getting such a vehicle. He says that he has “to be able to get to college so I guess I don’t have a vehicle, so I just won’t be going to college, because you don’t care about my higher education.” Well clearly, there are other vehicles and other options out there other than this elaborate jeep.
As an example, in the abortion debate, some will argue that if you do not keep abortions free, easy to obtain and legal then everyone will have back alley abortions and many women will die. Clearly, for the first 200 years of our country, abortions were illegal in most every instance and women seemed to survive on the whole. I’m sure there were losses and no one denies that. But it’s not that simple in “either or” propositions either. There are choices like raising the baby, adoption, and others that are not included in this false dichotomy. So, regardless of where you stand on any issue, a fallacious argument does not advance your cause at all.
“The strawman.” And example of the strawman is taking your position to an extreme that you did not state, and then warring against it. I made the comment that trained concealed carry holders ought to be able to carry in more places to minimize gun free zones. I made that argument based on the fact that all but one mass shooting has taken place in a gun free zone. The person hearing this argument did not respond to the argument I was proposing about trained concealed carry holders. They said, “if people are walking around with 300 magnum rifles strapped across their chest in every place I go I’m going to stay home.”
So when opposing concealed carry for trained individuals, this person made an argument against open carry. No one was talking about open carry.
Global warming or climate change is another emotional issue for some. And we see both these instances used in those debates.
I am worried that our country has become so polarized and so personalized, that people are unable to debate ideas anymore without getting angry with the other person. And that’s kind of what logic is supposed to do, evaluate the ideas not so much the person who saying them. That is actually another logical fallacy where you attack the person, called ad hominem attack.
Both sides do all these things in all these issues. There’s no one side that only argues logically. An ad hominem attack was made against Obama for flying Air Force One and then a fleet of vehicles to a climate change summit to reduce pollution
Now while that’s clearly hypocritical, which is a valid character argument against him, but it actually doesn’t make an argument against climate change. It makes an argument against his credibility.
Climate change actually involves two additional fallacies that are used to support it. One is that “so many people seem to agree with man-made climate change.” That is called an “appeal to population.” It’s a popular opinion and a lot of people agree with it, therefore it must be right. A related one is an “appeal to authority.” If a whole bunch of scientists agree on something, then it must be right. That’s the reason that toothpaste companies will run a commercial saying “four out of five dentists agree” on something. That actually doesn’t make it any more likely to be true, it just makes it popular and a lot of authority figures agree with it. What if they ask 4 dentists to work for the company and the fifth dentist didn’t? Would that not change the perception of whether or not they were accurate?
The bottom line is that you’re entitled to your own opinions and feelings, but you’re not entitled to your own facts. And the way you express facts can be much more powerful if you address the actual argument rather then either the person who’s making it or an argument that someone hasn’t made, or a choice that is not necessarily involved.
Peel seeks justice for those injured in car accidents, work place incidents, medical malpractice, and nursing homes. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Peel may be reached through PeelLawFirm.com wherein other articles may be accessed.
By David Peel