Chapter Nine.                                                          (Problems printing? Click here.)
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Empirical Analogy Arguments

Most speakers and writers use analogies merely as a communication tool. An analogy allows a speaker to clarify a new idea by invoking some similarity it has to some idea with which we are already familiar. Sometimes, however, people offer analogies in attempts to change minds. In such a case, the analogy is offered not just to explain, but also to persuade. It is thus then an argument by analogy.

Empirical arguments by analogy work the way that stereotyping works. We see something that, in all the ways we can see, is very much like something we've seen before, so we assume that it's like the thing we've seen before in other ways as well. Stereotyping exists because it's worked very well as a survival tool. A Neanderthal who'd never seen a sabretooth before might just stand there and be eaten. But if he notices that the sabretooth looks a lot like a weasel (only much bigger) he might assume that it will behave like a weasel, which is to say it will attack anything smaller than it is that looks tasty.

The main reason to use an empirical argument by analogy is that we can't look at the conclusion thingy (the thing the conclusion is about) directly. If we could examine the conclusion thingy all by itself to see if it had the property or not, or if we had any other kind of evidence, we wouldn't bother with an argument by analogy. Thus even the best argument by analogy is fairly weak, and we usually wouldn't use one unless we have no other kind of argument availible.

Empirical arguments by analogy generally have conclusions of the form "object O has property P" or, less formally, "ferrets are cunning," "pineapples are citrus fruits," "dolphins have gills" or "bats can't fly."

These arguments are inductive because their main premises are basically reports, or summaries of reports, of experiences various people have had. They compare one thing that is known to exist with another thing that is known to exist in an attempt to show that the one has some property that the other is known to have. They deal with physical similarities between objects and situations. They don't deal with imaginary situations. They don't deal with the issue of whether or not some state of a world is logically possible, and they are never deductively valid. Thus, at their very best, they can only give their conclusions a probability of being true, which is what makes them inductive arguments.

Analogy arguments only work when both sides of the analogy are things that are actually known to exist. Imaginary objects, and objects whose existance is in dispute won't work here. You can't ever make a successful empirical analogy argument comparing anything to an object that isn't known to exist. For instance, none of the following arguments could ever work:

A horse is like a hippogriff. Hippogriffs can fly, so horses can fly.

A unicorn is like a horse. Horses have no magical powers, so unicorns have no magical powers.

Goblins are like kobolds. Kobolds delve deep into the living rock under the great hall of the mountain king, so goblins delve too.


The reason is simple. when you're comparing two real things you're comparing things that are both subject to the laws of nature, like physics, chemistry, biology and so on. When an inductive argument works, (if any of them ever do), it works because the natural forces forming one object also formed the other one, and if they formed in similar circumstances, then they're likely to be similar in a lot of ways. (For instance, sharks are descended from fish, dolphins are descended from land-living quadrupeds, but the fact that both live by swimming fast means that both need to have the same streamlined, hydrodynamic shape.) When we're talking about things, (like basilisks, mermaids, angels, dragons and so on), whose existance hasn't been documented by science, and which are only really known as hypothetical entities, anlogies to existing physical objects aren't much use.

Unlike real entities, whose properties are known by primarily through observation, the properties of hypothetical entities are specified in their definitions. These definitions may specify an entity that is physically possible, like a unicorn. They may specify an entity that is physically unlikely, like a mermaid, or even an entity that is physically impossible, like the basilisk, which can kill you with a single glance. Again, analogies are not much use in such cases.

Standardizing Analogy Arguments

The basic motor of any analogy argument is a comparison, a claim that one thing is like another thing. (For convenience, and to serve my own bizarre sense of humor, I will refer to these two things as the "premise thingy" and the "conclusion thingy." The "conclusion thingy" is my name for the thing that is mentioned in the conclusion of the argument. The "premise thingy" is the thing that is not mentioned in the conclusion. I call it the "premise thingy" because it is only mentioned in the premises.) The way an analogy argument is supposed to work is that the two things are supposed to be so much alike that if one of them has a certain property (call it "the property,") then the other must have that property, um, the property.

Analogy arguments tend to have the following basic logical form:

1. The Premise Thingy is like The Conclusion Thingy
2. The Premise Thingy has The Property
C. The Conclusion Thingy has The Property


Example 1.

The war on drugs is like any war. We will not begin to win until we begin to shoot drug dealers on sight.

Since this argument is obviously intended to change our minds about the drug war, the drug war must be the conclusion thingy. The thing it's compared to is a real live shootin' war, so that's the premise thingy. The property is the thing that is known to belong to the premise thingy, and which the arguer wants to convince us also belongs to the conclusion thingy.

Premise Thingy:........Real live war
Conclusion Thingy....The "war" on drugs
Property ..................Can't be won without shooting at somebody

Why is the drug war the conclusion thingy? Because it's the thingy ... er, thing ... that the conclusion is about. another way to look at is, if there's two things being compared, and one of them most definitely has the property in question, then that one is the premise thingy. Real wars can only be one by blood, toil, tears ... I mean shooting. Lots of shooting. With really big guns! Here's how the argument looks when it's all put together.

1. The government campaign against illegal drug use is like a literal war with shooting and bombing and napalm and so on.
(2. You can't win a real war without shooting at the enemy.)
C. The government won't win the drug war without a "shoot on sight" order against drug dealers.


Notice the comparison is clarified in the first premise.

Here are some exercises. Click on the correct premise thingy, conclusion thingy and property

1. Dogpatch community college should not require a freshman writing course. For god's sake, Harvard doesn't require freshman writing!

Premise Thingy:       Dogpatch college....Needs freshman writing....Doesn't need freshman writing....Harvard
Conclusion Thingy: Dogpatch college....Needs freshman writing....Doesn't need freshman writing....Harvard
Property                    Dogpatch college....Needs freshman writing....Doesn't need freshman writing....Harvard

2. I cannot believe they teach socialism in the University. It's like teaching arson in a fireworks factory.

Premise Thingy:          Teaching socialism in university....Teaching arson around fireworks....Good idea....Bad idea
Conclusion Thingy:    Teaching socialism in university....Teaching arson around fireworks....Good idea....Bad idea
Property:                      Teaching socialism in university....Teaching arson around fireworks....Good idea....Bad idea

3. Drug use is a matter of behavior control. It's like overeating or gambling. It would be ridiculous to declare war on overeating, so it's ridiculous to declare war on drugs.

Premise Thingy:          Drug use....Overeating or gambling....Matter of behavior control....Ridiculous to declare war on it
Conclusion Thingy:    Drug use....Overeating or gambling....Matter of behavior control....Ridiculous to declare war on it
Property:                      Drug use....Overeating or gambling....Matter of behavior control....Ridiculous to declare war on it

4. Saddam Hussein was a lot like Stalin. Both were vicious dictators with their hands on weapons of mass destruction. Both were self-important megalomaniacs. Both were extremely cruel to anyone who comes in their power. Deterrence kept Stalin bottled up behind the iron curtain until he died. We have absolutely no reason to think that deterrence would not have kept Saddam similarly bottled up. Thus we had no reason to go to war when we did.

Premise Thingy:          Hussein....Stalin....Dictator....Had nasty weapons....Megalomaniac....Controllable by deterrence
Conclusion Thingy:    Hussein....Stalin....Dictator....Had nasty weapons....Megalomaniac....Controllable by deterrence
Property:                      Hussein....Stalin....Dictator....Had nasty weapons....Megalomaniac....Controllable by deterrence

5. Just as the state has the right to decide who may or may not drive a car, it has the right to decide who may or may not have a baby.

Premise Thingy:          Right to drive....Driving a car....Right to have children....Having children....State has the right to decide
Conclusion Thingy:    Right to drive....Driving a car....Right to have children....Having children....State has the right to decide
Property:                      Right to drive....Driving a car....Right to have children....Having children....State has the right to decide

6. Even though God is omniscient, he doesn't know who will repent and who will not because, for him, it's just like tossing a coin.

Premise Thingy:          God....God predicting repentance....Repentance....Predicting a coin toss....Can't be done
Conclusion Thingy:    God....God predicting repentance....Repentance....Predicting a coin toss....Can't be done
Property:                      God....God predicting repentance....Repentance....Predicting a coin toss....Can't be done


Good and Bad Empirical Analogy Arguments

What is special about empirical analogy arguments is that they only work if the similarity between the two objects being compared is extremely strong in areas that are relevant to the issue being settled. Irrelevant similarities don't count. Irrelevant differences don't count either. Relevant similarities make the argument stronger. Relevant differences make the argument weaker. So the thing to do when evaluating an analogy argument is to pay attention to relevant similarities and differences, and ignore irrelevant ones.

Unfortunately, analogies are also a powerful instrument of persuasion, even in instances where they actually carry no weight. Our beliefs about the premise thingy are often so strong that merely associating it with the conclusion thingy can be enough to convince us that the analogy is correct even if the two things actually have nothing to do with each other.

As I've said before, an argument only succeeds if it is clear to you, as a reasonable person, that it presents a clear and compelling logical reason for you to change your mind and agree with the conclusion. If it doesn't seem clear to you that the argument has presented such a reason, then the argument has failed. Since it is usually possible for two things to be very similar in a lot of ways and yet be different in precisely the right way to kill an analogy argument, empirical analogies usually don't present a logically compelling reason to change one's mind, and thus are usually not very good arguments.

To my mind, analogies nicely encapsulate the basic problem of cutting through rhetoric. They often have a powerful effect on our imaginations, but they are also usually complete rubbish. Usually, but not always. Once in a while, an analogy argument is actually convincing. So your problem, as a critical thinker, is to ignore the vividness of the image presented by the analogy, and concentrate on whether the facts presented actually comprise a good argument for the arguers conclusion. Unlike authority arguments, where the issue is often very cut and dried, analogy arguments usually require you to make judgment calls. Just like critical thinking in general, evaluating analogy arguments requires you to ignore the powerful effect that images can have on your emotions and imagination, and to carefully and impersonally trace out the implications of whatever facts are actually present.

Before you even get into the analogy part of the argument there are a couple of questions you should ask. (Remember that the premise thingy is the thing that is known to have the property, and the conclusion thingy is the thing that the arguer wants you to believe has the property.)

1. Does the premise thingy really have the property? If it doesn't, then no amount of similarity between the two things can make the conclusion thingy have the property.

2. Do we know of any facts that imply that the conclusion thingy can't have the property? If we have factual reasons to think that the conclusion thingy doesn't have the property, then we can completely ignore any similarities with the premise thingy.

If we're sure that the premise thingy really has the property, and that we don't have any factual reason to think that the conclusion thingy doesn't have the property, then we should next evaluate the strength of the analogy between the two things. The basic way to assess the strength of an analogy is to think about how the conclusion thingy is similar to the premise thingy. If the two things are only similar in a way that has nothing to do with the property, then the analogy is no good. If the two things are similar in a relevant way, but also have some important differences that are relevant to the property, then the analogy is no good. If the two things are relatively similar, and have no relevant differences, you still have to think about whether they are similar enough to make the analogy work. If they aren't, it doesn't. This kind of reasoning is basically a series of judgment calls, and the only way to get good at it is to practice.

Arguing Against An Analogy

The most direct response to an anlogy argument is to try to break the analogy. You succeed in doing so if you can show that the two things compared in the analogy are not similar enough to make the argument work. Here are some examples in which the second arguer offers an anlogy breaker. (Such attempts don't always work, of course, so I'd like you to think a little bit about whether these counter arguments succeed in breaking their respective analogies.)

1. You can't say that letting George W. Bush be commander in chief during a war is like letting a bum off the street coach a Super Bowl team. The U.S. commander in chief makes general policy decisions based on the advice of highly trained and experienced professionals. A Super Bowl coach has to make split-second tactical decisions based entirely on his own judgment.

2. Mountaineering is not like driving. You don't have to climb mountains to get to the grocery store.

False Analogy

The fallacy of false analogy occurs when an arguer offers an analogy in which the model and the analog are only similar in ways that are not relevant to the property, or in which the model and the analog are clearly different in a way that is very relevant to the property. It's not a particularly interesting fallacy. Basically, it's just a name for any anlogy argument that doesn't happen to work. Anyway, breaking an anlogy is pretty much the same as showing that the argument has committed false analogy, so I thought I'd mention the term here.

Analogical Tactics

Okay, let's say you've got to analyze a set of arguments in which at least one of them is an analogy argument. How do the opposing arguments stand to that analogy argument. The rule is simple. If the opposing argument tries to break the analogy, then it's a counter argument. If it doesn't offer any specific reasons to doubt the analogy, then it's a direct argument. To illustrate this, and to illustrate false analogy at the same time, here are some examples of false analogy, with opposing direct and counter arguments. The counter arguments give reasons why these are false analogies. The opposing direct arguments ignore the analogies.

I'm tired of those crazy drivers on the 405, so I got myself an old army tank! And I know it will get great gas mileage, because I got a blue one. My old Pacer got great gas mileage, and it was blue too.
Direct: Um, tanks are lots heavier than cars, so your tank will get lousy mileage!
Counter: Pshaw! As if color has anything to do with gas mileage!

The 40 hour week works very well in modern corporations, so we should use it in farms as well.
Direct: The 40 hour week means weekends off, and crops and animals don't do well when left alone.
Counter: Corporations usually deal with non-living things, like papers and widgets. Farms deal in living things, like plants and animals.

Iraq is a lot like Afghanistan, so the war there will be a cakewalk, just like Afghanistan.
Direct: The Iraqi resistance is highly motivated and well-funded. They're not going to allow a cakewalk!
Counter: Iraq and Afganistan both have muslim populations, but that's about it. Terrain, population distribution, social structure, form of government and military organization are all different. Since the course of war depends on things like these rather than religion, the analogy is terrible.

Just as rain wears down mountains, human problems always yield to perseverance.
Direct: Actually no, lots of human problems totally fail to get better, no matter how long and hard people try.
Counter: Mountains are made of rocks and minerals that have a strictly limited ability to resist water erosion, while human problems are made of things like death, anger, hatred, injury and disease.

We should have interventions for coffee drinkers, because they're just like alcoholics.
Direct: Are you crazy? Coffee drinkers need that black elixir, that steaming java, that jittering caffeine high!
Counter: Yeah, sure, coffee drinkers go on three week binges and wake up in stolen cars on the edge of the Vegas strip unable to remember their own names and the names of the oddly dressed farm animals who are currently singing Christmas carols in the back seat of the car. Yeah, coffee drinkers are juuuuuuuust like alcoholics.

Just as it is absurd to criminalize the removal of a tumor, it is absurd to criminalize abortion.
Direct: Abortion allows women to control their own bodies! We can't have that.
Counter: Tumors don't ever turn into people. Well, except for Trent Lott.

There's no point in adult literacy programs because there's no point in crying over spilled milk.
Direct: Adult illiteracy is a tragedy for millions of people who would like to read the articles in playboy, but can't.
Counter: Milk can't be unspilled, but illiterate adults can learn to read.

Coffee and cigarettes should not be illegal, so marijuana should not be illegal.
Direct: Marijuana makes people happy at low cost. Our corporate overlords cannot profit from that, so it should be illegal.
Counter: Coffee and cigarettes are way more addictive than marijuana. Neither of them is a serious intoxicant compared to marijuana.

The national debt is like a metastasizing cancer that threatens to destroy our economy from within.
Direct: Rubbish, debt is good for an economy. Debt is what makes this country great!
Counter: An economy can recover from just about any kind of "injury," while a living body can be killed by relatively small injuries. The deficit may indeed be dangerous to our economy, but our economy is not enough like an animal body to make the comparison meaningful.

If I've done this right, you'll be able to look at the examples above and see that the counter arguments all point out differences between the two objects being compared in the analogy argument, while the direct arguments all ignore the analogies.


Begging the Question in an Analogy Argument

Finally, attempts to make analogy arguments can beg the question also. This happens when an arguer offers an analogy in which the premise thingy has not been proved to have the property that is being ascribed to the conclusion thingy. If the arguer just assumes that the premise thingy has the property without good reason to think that it does, then he certainly begs the question, and therefore fails to even get his analogy argument started.

Marijuana is illegal, so coffee and cigarettes, which are at least as unhealthy and addictive, should also be illegal. (Wait a minute! Has anyone proved that marijuana should be illegal?)

Just like a business, government must first, last and always look to the bottom line. (Nobody has proved that businesses have a moral duty to increase profits above all else. All established moral theories agree that there are some things that businesses shouldn't do, no matter what the profit, so even if government was exactly like business, that analogy wouldn't be enough to prove that government should look to the bottom line.)



Here's example of how to scaefod an analogy argument.

William Bennett holds up an egg. "This is your brain," he says. He cracks the egg, dropping the contents into a hot skillet. The egg cooks. "This is your brain on drugs." Bennett turns to the Emmett, looking very grim. "Any questions?" He asks.
Emmett. Yes Bill, can I have my brain on drugs with bacon and toast?


William Bennett 1. An egg that is cracked open and dropped into a hot skillet will become coagulated and tasty.
                        (2. It is an extremely bad thing, from the egg's point of view, to become coagulated and tasty.)
                        (3. The human brain exposed to drugs is like an egg cracked and dropped in a hot skillet.)
                        C. All drugs are extremely bad.                                                                             DIRECT

Emmett.           No argument, just a sarcastic comment.


William Bennett bears the burden of proof here. Although many people believe drugs are bad, and some recreational drugs have been shown to have some bad effects under some circumstances, all the evidence so far shows that drugs are not seriously damaging for the majority of people who take them.

William Bennett Analogy Argument                           Emmett. No argument
                        Analog: brain on drugs
                        Model: egg on skillet
                        Property: becomes coagulated and tasty, (and is perhaps served with bacon and toast, and maybe coffee.)

William Bennett: Analogy between brain on drugs and egg on skillet
Most revevant similarities. None.
Most revevant differences. There is no known drug experience that is remotely like hitting oneself in the head with a hard heavy object and then laying one's exposed brain in a hot skillet.

Fist of Death: Based on the conversation between William and Emmett, drugs are not seriously dangerous. Emmett gives no argument, but since he defends the null hypothesis, he doesn't really have to. William gives the analogy between taking drugs and banging oneself in the head, cracking one's head open and dumping one's brains into a skillet. There is no known drug that has this effect, so William's analogy is completely false. Given that we have no anti-drug arguments left here, the proposition that drugs are not seriously damaging carries the day.

(Again, one's pre-existing beliefs about the level of danger attendant on taking illegal drugs cannot be relevant here.)

One last example before the exercises.

Shakira. Marijuana has been proved to cause at least some brain damage, so I think marijuana should be illegal, at least until we can establish exactly how dangerous it is.
Jameson. Rubbish, Red Bull and other "energy drinks" are not illegal, so marijuana should not be illegal.

Shakira.            1. Marijuana causes some brain damage.
                        2. We're not sure exactly how much.                                                
                        C. Marijuana should be illegal, at least for the present. DIRECT

Jameson.          1. Red Bull and other "energy drinks" are not illegal.
                        2. Marijuana is similar in its properties to these energy drinks.
                        C. Marijuana should not be illegal.                              DIRECT


Shakira makes a direct argument.
Jameson doesn't talk about the logic of Shakira's argument, so his is an opposing argument.

Shakira is the one arguing that something could be illegal, so she bears the burden of proof.

Shakira.     Explanation argument                                                Jameson. Analogy argument.
                 Based on harm caused by marijuana.                       Analog: marijuana.
                                                                                                Model: "energy drinks"
                                                                                                Property: should be legal

Jameson. Analogy between brain on drugs and egg on skillet
Most revevant similarities: Both marijuana and "energy drinks" contain naturally occurring psychoactive chemicals.
Most revevant differences: None that I can think of.

Fist of Death: By the reasoning given above, marijuana should be illegal. I don't think that Shakira's argument is particularly strong, but it doesn't commit any obvious fallacies. The analogy between marijuana and Red Bull-type drinks seems very strong, so if it is the case that these drinks should be legal, it follows that marijuana also should be legal. However, the fact that something is legal doesn't mean it should be legal, so even if marijuana was exactly like these currently legal "energy drinks," that analogy wouldn't be enough to prove that marijuana should be legal. Jameson commits the fallacy of begging the question, because his model, energy drinks, doesn't have the property he thinks it does. So Shakira's argument is the strongest out of these two, and if these arguments were all we had to go on, we would be led to conclude that marijuana should be illegal.


Here's an exercise involving two opposed analogy arguments.

Arguments
Carli. Drug use is a matter of addiction and behavior control. It's like overeating or gambling. It would be ridiculous to declare war on overeating, so it's ridiculous to declare war on drugs.
Syed. The war on drugs is like any war. We will not begin to win until we begin to shoot drug dealers on sight.


Thesis
Based on the discussion between Carli and Syed, it is ridiculous to declare war on drugs.

Support
As Carli says, drug use is like overeating or gambling. (At least, problem drug use is like problem overeating or problem gambling.) These three things are especially similar in terms of addiction, which we can define as the fact that they all involve cravings and involuntary impulses to indulge in the problem behavior. Thus it makes sense that they should be handled in terms of helping individuals gain greater control over their behavior. It would be ridiculous, or at least very counterproductive to try to combat overeating by declaring war on food, and so it is ridiculous to try to combat problem drug use by declaring war on drugs.

Opposition
Pick out the best description of Syed's stupid argument.

1. "Syed draws an analogy between the war on drugs and regular wars such as the War of 1812 and World War II. Such wars can only be won by undertaking offensive actions against the enemy, which includes shooting at the enemy on sight. Syed implicitly argues that, since fighting a regular war requires shooting the enemy on sight, fighting the war on drugs requires shooting drug dealers on sight." (Answer)

2. "Syed draws an analogy between the metaphorical "war" on drugs, and the literal meaning of the word "war." He claims that the "war" on drugs is exactly the same as wars such as the War of 1812 and World War II. Syed implicitly assumes that "wars" in the literal sense can only be won by undertaking offensive actions against the enemy, which obviously includes shooting at them whenever such shooting is to our advantage. He also implicitly identifies drug dealers as the "enemy" in the "war" on drugs. Since he says "shoot drug dealers on sight," he is literally advocating that police or anyone else should open fire as soon as they catch sight of anyone they believe to be a drug dealer." (Answer)

3. "Syed draws an analogy between the metaphorical "war" on drugs, and the literal meaning of the word "war." He claims that the "war" on drugs is exactly the same as wars such as the War of 1812 and World War II, at least in terms of how they can be won. Syed implicitly assumes that "wars" in the literal sense can only be won by undertaking offensive actions against the enemy, which obviously includes shooting at them whenever such shooting is to our advantage. He also implicitly identifies drug dealers as the "enemy" in the "war" on drugs. He is saying that the police should undertake offensive operations against drug dealers in the same way as a well-run army undertakes operations against an opposing army. This would presumably include intelligence efforts to correctly identify and locate genuine drug dealers, and careful consideration of when and how to open fire in order to minimize the probability that innocent people would be caught in the crossfire." (Answer)

4. "Syed draws an analogy between the metaphorical "war" on drugs, and the literal meaning of the word "war." He claims that the "war" on drugs is exactly the same as wars such as the War of 1812 and World War II, at least in terms of how they can be won. Syed implicitly assumes that "wars" in the literal sense can only be won by undertaking offensive actions against the enemy, which obviously includes shooting at them whenever such shooting is to our advantage. He also implicitly identifies drug dealers as the "enemy" in the "war" on drugs. Although he says "shoot drug dealers on sight," we don't need to read him as literally advocating that police or anyone else should open fire as soon as they catch sight of anyone they believe to be a drug dealer. Rather we can interpret him as saying that the police should undertake offensive operations against drug dealers in the same way as a well-run army undertakes operations against an opposing army. This would presumably include intelligence efforts to correctly identify and locate genuine drug dealers, and careful consideration of when and how to open fire in order to minimize the probability that innocent people would be caught in the crossfire." (Answer)

Possible Clinchers

1. "Syed's argument does not address the analogy offered by Carli. Since Syed fails to offer a counter argument to Carli's argument, Syed cannot defeat that argument, and it stands. Since Carli's argument stands uncontested, it carries the day, and Syed loses the argument." (Answer)

2. "Syed's argument commits two fallacies. First, he commits the fallacy of assuming that, if the war on drugs really is like a real war, it automatically follows that shooting the "enemy" would be justified. This is an illegitimate assumption because it is simply not the case that all wars are justified. Second, he commits the fallacy of false analogy in that the war on drugs and real warfare are not sufficiently similar to carry his argument. Enemy soldiers are dedicated to shooting us and blowing up our stuff. Drug dealers are dedicated to selling their stuff to people who want to buy it. They only shoot or blow up people who threaten them. Otherwise, they leave us alone. The only justification for shooting at enemy soldiers is that it can prevent them from shooting at us. When shooting them isn't needed to stop them shooting at us, like when they surrender, we stop shooting at them, eventually. Since this difference sits right on the point that Syed needs in order to make his argument work, it kills his argument stone dead." (Answer)

3. "The problem with Syed's argument is that it requires literal warfare against drug dealers. This means attacking them with the most effective weapons in our arsenals. Can you imagine the carnage if your local corner drug dealer suddenly found himself attacked by an armored division operating with air support. Sure, a single hit from the main gun of a modern main battle tank would vaporize the guy, but it would also bring down every nearby building. Cluster bombs and napalm would only make things worse. Undertaking modern warfare in an urban environment would cause untold destruction, so is ridiculous to apply modern warfare to drugs." (Answer)

4. "Syed's argument is a false analogy. There is no way that the war on drugs is anything like a regular war, so things that apply to a regular war do not necessarily apply to the war on drugs." (Answer)

An argument cannot be a bad argument merely because it fails to address some other argument. An arguer can fail because he fails to address some other argument, but that by itself doesn't make his own arguments bad. Taking an uncharitable interpretation of somebody's argument, and then refuting, or ridiculing, that uncharitable interpretation, always fails to refute an argument. In order to really defeat an argument you have to criticize it in its strongest form, and show that even its strongest form cannot stand. Finally, even if your judgment of an argument is exactly right, your clincher will still fail if you do not include the details necessary to allow your readers to understand exactly why the opposition argument fails.

More Exercises

Standardize, contextualize and evaluate all of the arguments found in each of the following dialogs. Say which side has the stronger argument(s) and which is weaker. Remember to evaluate the arguments based only on the facts given that relevant dialog. Write a proper clincher for each set.

A. Carli. Drug use is a matter of addiction and behavior control. It's like overeating or gambling. It would be ridiculous to declare war on overeating, so it's ridiculous to declare war on drugs.
Syed. The war on drugs is like any war. We will not begin to win until we begin to shoot drug dealers on sight. (Answer)


B.
Kory. I'm taking a political science class at the university. We just started studying socialism, and the professor says that socialism has actually worked in every country where it's been given a fair chance.
Noelia. I cannot believe they teach socialism in the University. It's like teaching arson in a fireworks factory. (Answer)


C . Clifton. I wish we could stop irresponsible people from having children. It would prevent an enormous amount of suffering, but control over one's own body is a basic human right, and that includes reproduction, so the state will never have the right to control who has children.
Annette. You've got all wrong. Just as the state has the right to decide who may or may not drive a car, it has the right to decide who may or may not have a baby. (Answer)

D. Grady. I just spent the last six months researching the Baha'i faith. The Baha'i faith preaches kindness, tolerance and nonviolent social action. I traveled all over the country visiting Baha'i congregations and seeing them in action. I found them all to be composed of gentle and kind people, all doing good work in their communities, and all getting along fabulously with anyone who was willing to get along with them. I think it would be great if we had a Baha'i society!
Kristine Promoting a Baha'i society is like promoting Communism. It sounds good until it's achieved, but then it turns into hell on earth. (Answer)

E. Dimitri. Here at Dogpatch community college we get a lot of incoming freshmen who don't know how to write college-level papers, so we need to have a freshman writing course, and we have to require incoming freshmen to take that course.
Maura. Dogpatch community college should not require a freshman writing course. For god's sake, Harvard doesn't require a freshman writing course! (Answer)


Homework 9.
Identify the weaker argument in each dialog and describe the problem with that argument, including the fallacy name if any. Make sure you include all necessary details, including the "crucial fact," and the precise way the argument goes wrong. You can do this exercise on your own lined paper, (if it doesn't have curly edges from ripping it out of a spiral notebook), or you can use Homework 9 Answer Sheet

1. Dexter. I think it's a bad sign when a country is continually starting wars. It's like having a guy in your neighborhood who you have to avoid because he's continually getting into fights with his neighbors.
Kelsi. You don't know what you're talking about. A great nation is like a well-developed human body. The strength and power of human body depends on regular exercise in the form of hard physical activity, so the strength and power of a great nation depends on regular exercise in the form of war.

2. Pangloss. No, I'm not going to assign The Ominous Parallels in my political science class. I've skimmed through the book and randomly read a few dozen pages. Every page I've looked at, every argument I've looked at, has been just plain silly. Based on this sample of his writing, I would say that the author of this book obviously does not understand political philosophy and obviously has little knowledge of political history. Certainly, I have not seen anything in the book that indicates it would be even the slightest use to a student of political science.
Lemming. Well, but you would happily use the book A Theory of Justice, wouldn't you?
Pangloss. Yes of course. A Theory of Justice is an extremely significant work of political philosophy.
Lemming. Aha, here's where I've got you. Both The Ominous Parallels and A Theory of Justice are hardbound in high-quality paper with rich leather covers. Both weigh about a pound, and both use a 12-point Helvetica typeface. A Theory of Justice is a significant work of political philosophy, so therefore The Ominous Parallels is also a significant work of political philosophy. So you have a very good reason to assign it in your political science class.

3. Jamari I think that the government should put more money into public transportation. A properly designed light rail system in Los Angeles would relieve large numbers of commuters of the necessity of driving to work. The vast majority of those commuters drive with just one person in the car, so putting 100,000 commuters onto trains would take nearly 100,000 cars off the road. We need to do something like that because right now the roads are clogged worse than Ronald McDonald's arteries! How does that guy stay alive on an all-hamburger diet anyway?
Sammy That's a very apt metaphor. Our freeways really are like clogged arteries right now. You know that clogged arteries can only be cured by surgery, so clogged highways require equally drastic measures. Public transportation isn't really a drastic measure, so obviously it's not going to be adequate.

Quiz Preparation (This ain't homework! Memorize the answers for next class, cuz there will be a quiz using similar questions.)

1. Be able to standardize analogy arguments. (You can practice on the arguments given above.)

2. Be able to remember, figure out, or pick out the correct general form for analogy arguments.

     1. The Premise Thingy is like The Conclusion Thingy
     2. The Premise Thingy has The Property
     C. The Conclusion Thingy has The Property

3. Be able to tell whether an argument is attacking an analogy or not. (A counter argument to an analogy argument will attack the analogy. If an anlogy argument is opposed by an argument that doesn't attack the analogy, then that opposing argument isn't a counter argument.)

Also think about the following:
i. Explain the fallacy of false analogy in your own words
ii. In your own words, explain how to argue against an analogy argument.
iii. What do you call an argument that tries to point out a logical problem with someone else's argument?
iv. Which kind of argument that doesn't refer to any logical problems in any other argument?
v. How good is an analogy argument in which the premise thingy bears no useful similarities to the conclusion thingy?
vi. It it's bad, what fallacy does it commit?
vii. How good is an analogy argument in which the premise thingy doesn't even have the property that the arguer is trying to attribute to the conclusion thingy?
viii. It it's bad, what fallacy does it commit?

Copyright 2006 by Martin C. Young

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