Monday, May 26, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

Coming on Monday to 3QD: Semantics and Pragmatics

Aikin and Talisse have a piece that will appear on Monday at 3 Quarks Daily about "Semantics and Pragmatics."  We'll post the link on Monday.  Here's the opening paragraph:
Ernie: “Is it possible you’ll be around after lunch for a quick chat?”
Bert: “Yes.”
Ernie: “Ok.  I’ll see you then.”
Bert: “Wait, wait!  I didn’t say I’d be around after lunch!”
Ernie: “What the heck?!?!”

This is a case of a conversational misfire, and although errors of this kind are the central ingredients of the humor of people like Woody Allen, Larry David, and Lewis Carroll, such misfires can create a good deal of argumentative and philosophical confusion.  Let’s start with a quick diagnosis of the misfire above, then we’ll identify why this kind of misfire is common.  We’ll finish by pointing to a few philosophical lessons.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Parnassus Books Event

Aikin and Talisse had a great time on Friday night talking about Why We Argue (And How We Should) at Parnassus Books in Nashville. Here are a few pictures from the event.  Many thanks to all who attended and participated in the discussion. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Launch!

On Friday, May 9, at 6:30pm, there will be a book launch event at Parnassus Books in Nashville for Why We Argue.

Aikin and Talisse will give a short presentation about the book, which will be followed by discussion and book signing.  Light refreshments will be served.  If you're in or around Nashville, please join them!  

Friday, March 28, 2014

WWA Reviewed

Why We Argue has just been reviewed in The Australian
This is a clear and lucid book, and if its authors tend at times to talk as if naked demagoguery, deception and wilful blindness to the facts are incidental to politics, as opposed to part of its DNA, this is only because they are putting forward an ideal version of democracy in which we all have the potential to become philosophers.

Taken in that spirit, Why We Argue is a fascinating contribution to an important field.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Analogies are not identities

Aikin argues at the NonSequitur that many criticisms of arguments by analogy are misplaced because they are merely points that the analogy fails to be identity.  Showing that two cases are not alike isn't always a relevant consideration for analogies -- one must show that they are not alike in a relevant sense.  In the spirit of evaluating analogical reasons, Will Saletan (at Salon) has paused to consider the ways that, despite the fact that he holds the analogy is apt, opposing gay marriage is not like opposing mixed race marriages.  There are differences, of course (again, analogies are not identities), but the issue is whether these differences are relevant to the decision.

The crucial thing for analogical reasoning in moral contexts is that one proceed from a principle of justice that one treat like cases alike. This deep commitment is what drives the analogical arguments, and the issue with likeness in these cases is always a matter of what kind of similarity is relevant.  In the case of gay marriage, the difference opponents point to regularly is the clear difference between marriages that yield children and ones that cannot.  Inter-race marriages can, gay marriages cannot.  That is the difference the opponent of gay marriage sees as the relevant difference, and the issue is whether this is sufficient to prohibit the institution. 

What's nice about Saletan's argument is that he's willing to hear the other side out, willing to see how the opponents of gay marriage aren't by necessity bigoted idiots, but may have reasons on their side.  One can't decide the other side is irrational or beyond talking to without trying out their arguments and hearing their replies to yours.  In this respect, Saletan's case is a true good-faith deliberative contribution. (And one that overtly avoids the No Reasonable Opposition fallacy.)

A further thing to note is that even if an argument is a false analogy or a bad slippery slope or even an irrelevant consideration, if it's posed in the right way, it still can contribute to a properly run discussion.  The gay marriage opponent may have worries that gay marriage may set a bad precedent, one that may yield someone marrying one's sister or their pets.  Or even if it's not an actual worry, it's still worthwhile to make it explicit whether the change of policy would or would not yield those results.  So even if it's a bad slippery slope argument that if we allow gays to marry, what prevents us from saying that a guy can marry his turtle?, it's still worthwhile for us to have the challenge posed and answered.  That's a good, productive discussion.  As a consequence, we have motive to identify a kind of argumentative move that, even if not after the truth, is after clarity.  These, we might call them, are dialectical arguments by analogy -- even if they are false analogies, they still may help the dialogue. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Beware of slopes that slip

Slippery slope arguments are those that posit some series of events that, once set into motion, eventuate some terrible or ridiculous consequence.  They then, given the series, are deployed to counsel that one not set them into motion.  And so: since marijuana is a gateway drug... to very hard drugs, one shouldn't smoke pot; or if you tell even one lie, you make yourself a liar; and once you're a liar, you'll be a deceiver, a thief, a hater of human kind.  The difference between good and bad arguments of this form is whether the series is really made more likely by the first step and whether the ultimate consequence is all that terrible.  And so, arguments against gay marriage that hold that it would yield bestality fail the former, and arguments against gay marriage that run that it would eventuate broader tolerance for gays and lesbians fail the latter.

John Casey, over at the NonSequitur, takes note of the fact that very few people give the textbook version of fallacious slippery slopes.  The obvious textbook fallacy forms are not, one might say, "fallacies in the wild."  But Casey's found one, and one that has a weird rider.  The argument is that if we allow abortion, we have no in principle reason to cut off the boundary line between a human life begins and can be killed and when they cannot be killed.  Consequently, abortion puts us on the slippery slope to infanticide.  Here:

Well how far will [it] go? Last year, February 29, 2012, the Journal of Ethics in Australia, they debated that. They said we already know abortion is fine, why stop in the womb? Why not three months after. Why should we end the responsibility at that point? It could happen in America. Florida’s trying to do it right now and so is Georgia. Planned Parenthood. Because we allowed that slippery slope. Every human being deserves life, liberty, and property.

The weird thing is what things are supposed to be inviolable.  Life, liberty and property.   To this, Casey runs a parallel slippery slope.

How much property?  If we allow that slippery slope, everyone will demand to be like Donald Trump.  (last part a joke).
 He's right to say the last part's a joke, but, really, it's another ad ridiculum, isn't it?  If we have the inviolable right to property, why aren't we on the slope to Trump? 

Perhaps a useful way to think of this is to identify a sub-class of uses of the slippery slope fallacy that is less demonstrative and more dialectical.  One runs a slippery slope argument on the opposition less to refute the view, but more to problematize or ask for clarification of how the view works.  It's as if to say:  Surely you don't think this crazy consequence is eventuated by your view... so what do you think prevents this? As a consequence, even if the line is answerable, it's been a useful contribution to the dialogue, because it helps clarify and direct the discussion.