Chapter Ten.                                                                      (Problems printing? Click here.)
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Relevance (and Language) Fallacies

Relevance is the issue of whether or not the truth or falsity of a premise has anything to do with the truth or falsity of a conclusion. If a particular premise is irrelevant to the truth or falsity of a conclusion, then that premise might as well not be in the argument. If the other premises, by themselves, are not enough to make the conclusion true, then the argument is no good. Relevance fallacies are common mistakes in reasoning in which some fool makes a big deal about something that doesn't really matter.

Relevance is one of the most basic concepts in logic. The rest of this course will be taken up with discussing various ways of determining whether or not some set of premises is relevant to the conclusion being offered. Often, relevance is very, very hard to determine. Sometimes, however, it's easy to determine. Sometimes an arguer will attempt to convince us by saying something which has nothing to do with whether or not his claim is true. If we aren't even remotely impressed, then it's just a silly argument. However, if it looks like it makes the conclusion more plausible, or makes us want to believe the conclusion, then it's a fallacy of relevance.

Red Herring

"Red herring" is the most general term use to describe relevance fallacies. Basically, if someone is making an argument on the basis of something that isn't relevant to the issue, you can say that they're following a red herring. After reading, this chapter, if you know some argument commits a relevance fallacy, but you can't think of a more precise name for it, you can call it a red herring. Here's an example:

Maverick. James Beard provides statistical and documentary evidence showing that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention created a constitution that protected the interests of America's ruling class.
April. But that's silly, because we know that none of those delegates personally profited from the new constitution in any significant way.

If the facts given in this dialog are correct, then the convention did create a constitution that favored the ruling class. As a general rule, that's what constitutions do. After all, who makes those things up in the first place? On the other hand, everyone in America makes a big hoo-hah about America's constitution being different so, since I don't want to get beat up, I'm going to say that Maverick has to come up with some proof here and that, if he can't, then we maybe can assume that America's constitution doesn't play favorites. If this Beard guy really did come up with statistical and documentary evidence, then that would be just the proof Maverick needs. April comes back with the fact that the delegates, the rich white guys who wrote the constitution, didn't personally make any kind of profit on the deal. This is what they call a "red herring," because it's irrelevant to the issue. Securing an advantage for one's class doesn't imply that one is after any kind of personal profit. Heck, it doesn't even require an explicit intention to favor one's class. They could have set the constitution up to favor the ruling class simply because they didn't understand that everyone else's needs are different. (They could even have all intended to make a profit, but, for various reasons, simply been unable to capitalize on the new constitution.)

The Role of Emotion in Argument

I have heard it said that any argument that appeals to emotion is fallacious, but the people who say this are all morons. All human motivations, and hence all arguments used by humans are fundamentally based on emotion at their deepest level. So some appeals to emotion are perfectly legitimate, like the following two arguments.

The Armenian genocide imposed great suffering on innocent people.
The Armenian genocide was a horrible thing.

The people who comitted the Armenian genocide unjustifiably imposed great suffering on innocent people.
The Armenian genocide was morally wrong.

Candidate principles
1. Anything that imposes great suffering on innocent people is a horrible thing.
1. Anything that unjustifiably imposes great suffering on innocent people is morally wrong.

An emotionally healthy person who studied the Armenian genocide would respond to the facts of that event with such emotions as pity, horror, anger and so on. And the verbalization of these emotions would be logically legitimate expressions of judgments flowing out from the facts of that event. If you regard judgements of moral wrongness as at least partly emotional judgements, then the same logic applies. To claim that those judgments were not logically legitimate merely because they were based on emotion would be to erroneously discount the important role emotions play in our lives. Feelings that are appropriate to events are always legitimate. An emotion could only be logically illegitimate if it was inappropriate to the facts of the event. In fact, people who avoid making emotional judgments by offering specious excuses ("it's a long way away," "times were different then," "their holy book said they could do it") or avoiding the facts entirely ("I'm sick of hearing about it," "if I thought about those things I'd go crazy") are engaging in self-deception, which is certainly not logically legitimate. This is not to say that all appeals to emotion are legitimate. Here's an example.

You keep talking about this so-called "Armenian Genocide," telling me stories of people doing horrible, horrible things to these Armenians. Well those atrocities are just too horrible to contemplate, so obviously this "Armenian Genocide" thing couldn't have happened.

Candidate principle: "If something is too horrible for me to contemplate, then it didn't happen."

Fundamentally, anyone who accepts or rejects factual claims primarily on the basis of how those claims make him feel is being irrational. Anyone who tries to get you to accept a factual claim on the basis of your feelings about that claim is committing what I call a "manipulation" fallacy.


Manipulation fallacies happen when someone tries to get us to believe something based on whether or not we (or they) want it to be true. This is a very common and insidious kind of fallacy, since it relies on the widespread and often very powerful tendency for people to deceive themselves in order to gain good feelings or to avoid bad ones. So watch out for this one. (Mob appeal is a version of this fallacy in which the speaker tries to manipulate a lot of people all at once. Otherwise known as political speechmaking.)

Look, neither of us likes George. Well, he believes that fallen knights in armor could get up on their own, so if we believe that their armor was too heavy that will really annoy him! So knights' armor was too heavy to get up in!

Thinking of John James Audubon as a preservationist makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, so he was a preservationist

Don't you think that our leader is basically trying to do the right thing? (Translated from the German.)

Your cousin would be devastated if you proved to him that birds aren't really stupid. So birds are all stupid, and that's it

Candidate principles (you match the principle to the argument.)
1. If a fact would hurt someone's feelings, then that fact isn't true.
2. If believing a claim makes you feel good, then that claim is true.
3. If a claim would annoy someone you don't like, then that claim is true.
4. If disagreeing with someone would hurt his feelings, then what he says is true.

A common version of this fallacy is the "our boys are over there!" comment that is often yelled at people who object to some war or other. For instance, imagine that some Iraqis objected to the 1991 invasion of Kuwait on the grounds that Kuwait hadn't done anything to Iraq. Further imagine that these Iraqis gather outside an upscale casbah and wave crudely lettered signs at passing motorists. Finally, imagine that an Iraqi woman in a SUC (Sports Utility Camel) screams "our boys are over there" at the protestors. Her argument could be standardized as.

(Iraqis have an obligation to support Iraqi soldiers who are willing to risk their lives to preserve the health and safety of Iraqi civilians.)
Iraqi troops are invading Kuwait.
(Waving anti-war signs amounts to not supporting the troops as they invade Kuwait.)
(Iraqi people should not object to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.)

Notice that each of the three premises given here was true at the time of the Kuwait invasion. But that doesn't matter, because the mere fact that the troops are in a foreign country risking their lives by fighting that country's soldiers does not, by itself, justify going to that country and fighting that country's soldiers. This argument is analogous to.

Mafia hit-men risk their lives trying to assasinate innocent witnesses protected by the US government. 
Hit-men's families have an obligation to support family members who risk their lives for the good of the family.
Hit-men's families have an obligation to support the assasination of innocent witnesses protected by the US government.

And anyone who argues that you should not question some course of action because that course of action is placing people in danger is commiting the same fallacy.

Here's a more complicated example

Keshawn. I really don't think that our leaders presented anything like a compelling case for invading that country. In fact, all the available evidence contradicts our leader's story in every respect.
Maritza. You're deliberately suppressing some very important evidence. Brave young men and women in our armed forces died in the invasion, many more died in the occupation that followed. Everyone of those casualties has left behind parents, or a spouse, or someone else to mourn them. Those poor bereaved relatives would be absolutely devastated if they heard you say that those who died, died for a lie. Just think about how you would feel if your son lost his life serving his country and I turned around and said, "oh and by the way, your kid died for nothing."
Keshawn. Of course I sympathize with the people who lost family members in the invasion, but that still doesn't mean that Chancellor Hitler should have ordered the invasion of Poland.

Maitza accuses Keshawn of suppressing evidence, so let's look at that first. She's saying two things: that those Germans who lost family members in the invasion of Poland (in 1939) would be emotionally devastated if they heard that the invasion wasn't justified, and that the likelihood of this emotional devastation is relevant to the issue of whether or not that invasion was justified. Lets assume that those Germans would be devastated if they were told the invasion wasn't justified. Is that relevant to the basic issue here? Think about the general rule that would have to be true if it was relevant. This would mean that everytime it would hurt someone to hear that an action was unjustified, that action is in fact justified. So a Mafia killer would only be committing justified homicides if it was the case that his mother would be hurt to hear that he was a murderer. Killings by those with no loved ones, or whose loved ones don't care, wouldn't be justified by this rule. Does this make sense? Of course not. So Maritza isn't bringing in evidence that Keshawn has ignored. What is she doing? Well, remember your emotions when you read about how those poor people would feel to find out their Blitzkriegin' relatives died for Nazi imperialism. That feeling was what Maritza was going for. She's trying to get you to agree with her based on how you feel about the alternative. That's the fallacy of manipulation.

Scare Tactics

A common form of manipulation is to get people scared of something. Politicians scare us to win votes, and media moguls scare us to get us to pay attention to them so we'll be exposed to their advertisers. The best commentary I ever saw on the ability of media scares to get people to act irrationally was the South Park episode on child abduction. All hail South Park!

Ad Nauseum

Closely related to manipulation is the fallacy ad nauseum, in which a claim is repeated so frequently and by so many people that the public gets used to hearing it and begins to take it as "common knowledge." Josef Goebbels was a master of this tactic, and in recent times it is responsible for such myths as the belief that Al Gore said that he invented the internet, and so on. Of course, the number of times someone repeats a claim has nothing to do with whether or not a claim is true.

Genetic Fallacy

The genetic fallacy, (another relevance fallacy), occurs when someone confuses the origin of something with its nature. It uses the candidate principle "If a present activity originated from some past activity, all things that were true of that past activity will be true of this present activity." For instance.

Astrology came from mythology. All the original ideas of astrology were originally based on old ideas about the ancient Gods of Greece and Rome that astrologers associated with the planets. So obviously astrology must be false.

Why is this a bad argument? It's bad because there's no way to guarantee that things will continue to go on the same way they started.

If you still think that astrology must be false because it came from mythology, consider the following.

Astronomy came from astrology.
The original ideas of astronomy were based on ideas about the ancient Gods that astrologers associated with the planets.
So obviously astronomy must be false.

Since it's a fact that astronomy got it's start from astrology, and hence from mythology, any claim that astrology's start with mythogy invalidates it would also imply that astronomy was invalid.

Here's another example.

The Mafia was founded as an organization of freedom fighters.
The name "Mafia" is an Italian acronym for something like "Freedom and Independance for Italy."
The Mafia is not a criminal organization.

Another way to state the candidate principle for the genetic fallacy is to say "the way something started out is the way it will always be."

Straw Man

An arguer commits the straw man fallacy when she pretends to refute someone else's argument by holding up a different argument and refuting that other argument instead of the real one.  

Example. Those anti-war protestors say American military intervention is bad because our soldiers love to hurt people. That's ridiculous! Everyone knows we hate doing the terrible things we have to do.

Here the arguer misrepresents the other side in two distinct ways. First, he ignores the fact that, while many protestors are pacifists, the majority of anti-war protestors generally protest specific wars. They're not necessarily opposed to American military intervention in principle, just in cases where they believe it to be unjustified. Second, he invents an imaginary premise, "American military intervention is bad because our soldiers love to hurt people," that he falsely represents as the main premise of the anti-war argument. Thus he represents the main anti-war argument as

American soldiers love to hurt people.
All American military intervention is bad.

Where it should be something like.

Country X is not threatening it's neighbors.
Country X is not abusing the people in its power nearly as much as other countries that the US supports.
Country X is not threatening the US.
American military intervention against country X is wrong.

As you can see, the first version is far easier to refute than the second.

Example. Those feminists and civil rights people should just shut up. Why should we give special rights to women and minorities?

Here the arguer writes as if the feminist/civil rights argument is.

Women, people of color and homosexuals want rights that other people don't have. 
Women, people of color and homosexuals should have rights that other people don't have. 

When the real argument is more like.

It is immoral to give opportunities and decent treatment to some groups but not others
There is no morally relevant reason to withhold opportunities and decent treatment from women, people of color and homosexuals. 
Women, people of color and homosexuals aren't given some of the opportunities and decent treatment that other people get routinely. 
Women, people of color and homosexuals have a right to the same opportunities and decent treatment that other people have. 

Again, the first argument is easy to refute, but the second is much harder.

As you might guess, this is a very popular fallacy, particularly with politicians and political commentators of all kinds. One of the reasons I don't listen to AM radio is I get tired of hearing this fallacy used over and over and over again. It's an easy fallacy to commit. No-one wants to take the time to understand an argument he thinks is wrong, so people often simply misunderstand the other side's position. But if you don't understand the other side's position, you can't possibly refute it. Committing the straw man fallacy is like knocking down a picture of Arnold Schwartzenegger and then claiming you've defeated the real Arnold! It doesn't work.

Finally, consider the following exchange.

Elmer. William Shirer has produced documentary evidence that the German High Command invaded Poland to get land for people of their own nationality.
Vivian. But that's silly, because we know that no members of the German High Command got land in Poland.

Vivian thinks that she has refuted Urg's argument by showing that the people he mentions did not profit in the way he mentions. But did Urg say that any members of the German High Command got land in Poland? Did he say that they were trying to get land for themselves? Vivian speaks as though Urg's argument is.

Members of the German High Command got land in Poland.
The German High Command invaded Poland to get land for people of their own nationality.

or perhaps

Members of the German High Command got land in Poland.
The German High Command invaded Poland to get land for themselves. 

(which can both be easily refuted by pointing out that the premise isn't true), when in fact Urg's argument is.

There is documentary evidence that the German High Command invaded Poland to get land for people of their own nationality.
The German High Command invaded Poland to get land for people of their own nationality.

Which cannot be refuted by what Vivian says.

Language Fallacies

Some words have more than one meaning. Sentences that use such words thus will also have more than one possible meaning. Sentences can also be phrased in ways that their grammatical structure makes them capable of having more than one meaning. (Such words and such sentences are sometimes called "ambiguous.") Ambiguous sentences thus can be taken more than one way. A sentence that is perfectly true when taken one way can be ludicrously false when taken another way. An arguer who relies on the false interpretation of an otherwise true sentence commits what is called a "language fallacy." (Language fallacies are really their own little group, but they turn out to be comparatively unimportant, so I'm covering them, well, two of them, under relevance.)


Equivocation, which is the most common language fallacy, is what happens when an argument uses a word in two or more different senses, but treats those different senses as though they were the same. Another way to look at it is to say equivocation occurs when different premises use different meanings of the same word, but the arguer treats them as though they were the same meaning. Here is an example.

            God is love.
            Love is blind.
            Ray Charles is blind.
            Ray Charles is god.

What is the candidate principle here? Well, maybe it is something like "words that sound the same must always mean the same thing," which, of course, we know is not true.

Equivocal arguments can often be exposed merely by paraphrasining them. Grinding away any vestige of humor that might cling to this argument, I will standardize it again.

            The Christian god is conceived of as having nothing but love in its nature.
            A person in love is often unable to notice the faults of his or her beloved.
            Ray Charles lacks the power of vision.
            Ray Charles is the Christian god.

As well as no longer being funny, this argument no longer even has the appearance of making logical sense. Here's a harder example.

Madyson. In science, no theory is ever accepted unless it has stood up to rigorous testing. Whenever a theory is being seriously considered, dozens of brilliant scientists devote a lot of energy to trying to find genuine logical or observational problems with it. Mainly, they figure out all the things that the theory predicts, and the carry out experiments to see if those predictions don't turn out wrong. Only when we find ourselves with a theory that the best efforts of our best minds are unable to prove wrong we start to say that the theory is probably "true," or that something is a scientific "fact." The opposite applies in politics and popular literature. People come up with ideas they like a lot, and simply avoid testing them. Instead of honestly looking for logical flaws and counterexamples, non-scientific writers spend their efforts on finding ways to deride their opponants and making excuses for the problems with their own views. This stands in stark contrast to science, where scientists generally tend to revise or abandon theories in light of contradictory data. This is why, although science can never give absolute certainty, it gives us what might be called "reasonable certainty," which is a confidence that our accepted theories are far, far, far more likely to be right than any of their competitors. This is why scientifically based claims are enormously more reliable than claims made on any other basis.
Janae. And of course, this is where religion has the edge over science. My faith in Vuntag gives me absolute certainty that he exists, and that his word is the absolute truth. This is how I know absolutely that left-handed people are evil, that underwear should be pink, that pleasant-tasting food is an abomination, that people like you should be shouted into silence, that everyone should watch all of Steven Segal's movies, no matter how peurile and wankathonic they are, drunkenness is holy, that no-one should wear hats, that we should all fear monkeys, that I do a holy thing by wearing this honey in my ears, that it is good to whisper during overtures, that cigarette smoking is a sacrament, that it is evil to have a sense of humor, and that the smiley-face tattoos all over my body make me a much better person than you!

The fact that science doesn't give absolute certainty is certainly relevant to the issue of whether or not science is our most reliable source of positive information about the world. (Deductive logic can give certainty, but it can only prove negative claims, such as "no bachelors are married" and "squircles do not exist.") But Madyson is using the term "certain" in the sense of "rationally proved," so that "absolute certainty" in her speech means "rationally proved beyond even the slightest shadow of doubt," while Janae uses it in the sense of "feels strongly," so that "absolute certainty" in her speech means "an infinite unwillingness to entertain any shadow of doubt," which is a very, very, very different thing. Janae tries to imply that her feelings about the existance of Vuntag give her a rational reasons to believe that are superior to those that can be offered by science. In fact, were we to apply scientific standards to her claim for the existance of Vuntag, we would find that Vuntag is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY unlikely to exist.


The fallacy of weaseling, another language fallacy, is sort-of another form of equivocation. Where the usual form of equivocation keeps a word but substitutes in a different meaning for that word, weaseling pretends that something should be called by a different word than the one that is really appropriate. This is done where the right word would reveal something that the speaker does not want revealed. (I suppose that it's possible for someone to weasel unintentionally, but generally speaking people who weasel should properly be referred to as lying bags of scum.)

One of my friends recently came up with an absolutely classic example of weaseling. We were talking about whether or not using the power of the state to create peer pressure on children to reverently utter the words "one nation under God" constituted a state effort to establish religion, and he came up with "Well, you know, the meaning of the word 'God' has changed in our society." This was an effort to imply that the words "one nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance didn't mean "one nation under God" when they were said out loud, or that reverently saying a phrase that clearly implied that his god existed and had authority over Americans was somehow not an affirmation of his god's existance and authority.

There's actually two ways to think about weaseling. The first is to treat it as a form of magical thinking regarding language, with the candidate principle of "if something can be given a positive-sounding or inoffensive name or description, then it has to be a positive thing." The second way is to treat it as another form of suppressed evidence, with the candidate principle of "facts I can ignore don't count."

Okay, there are other language fallacies, but they occur so rarely I'm not going to mention their names. The only thing you really need to know about them right now is that there are other ways to go wrong with language. People can mess with the definitions of words, either by writing their own definition of the word in an attempt to distort the way someone else uses the word, or by citing a dictionary definition in a case where some other definition was clearly intended by the speaker. You can call these "equivocation" or "weaseling" depending on whether you think the speaker is confusing two legitimate usages of a word (equivication), or trying to distort the single, basic, meaning of a word (weaseling).


Here are some exercises with links. You can click on the link. It might lead to something helpful. Or it might not.

A. Ebony. I don't think the goverment should divulge information about the security measures that are being taken to protect American citizens abroad. giving out that kind of information would make those measures less effective, wouldn't it?
Dayton. The government is obligated to serve the public interest. There is a great deal of public interest in the details of those security measures. So it is obvious that the government is obligated to make full disclosure of these security measures to any member of the public who is interested. (Answer)

B. Maverick. James Beard provides statistical and documentary evidence showing that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention created a constitution that protected the interests of America's ruling class.
April. But that's silly, because we know that none of those delegates personally profited from the new constitution in any significant way. (Answer)

C. Ezequiel. That Morticia de Ath is a bloody murderer! You know she picked up a loaded gun at that gun show and just blasted away at random people, killing seven of them.
She's not a murderer. "Murder" is defined in the dictionary as unjustifiably killing a person with malice aforethought. Morticia de Ath acted completely without malice, and she certainly didn't have any forethought of any kind, so what she did couldn't possibly be murder. (Answer)

D. Drew. The practice of making clothes from animal products involves unimaginable cruelty towards the animals involved. This is deeply immoral, and so we should abandon this practice.
Angela. Drew's argument is completely irrelevant to the issue, because the making of clothes from animal skins is mentioned in the Bible, it has been practiced since the beginning of time, and was in fact practiced by God himself. (Answer)

E. Kolby. I don't think there can be life on the moons of Jupiter. Our biological theories state that life needs free water and a certain amount of energy. The moons of Jupiter don't appear to have free water, and they have nowhere near enough energy. No free water, no energy, no life. It's that simple.
Well, I happen to know that you once cheated on your wife. And you cheated on your taxes. And you once teased an innocent puppy! A person like you is no good, and you certainly haven't proved there's no life on the moons of Jupiter. (Answer)

F. Rene. When I think of my body, I think of something that has bulk, but which does not think. When I think of my mind, I think of something that thinks, but which cannot have bulk. From this we can plainly see that the soul is immortal!
Thalia. Well, when I think of the body, I think of it containing an organ that thinks, thereby making the mind. When the body dies, the mind stops and ceases to exist. So the soul ain't immortal. (Answer)

G. Trevor. The animals who are slaughtered for their skins endure horrible conditions in their factory farms. They are overcrowded, deprived of air and sunlight, branded, de-horned, de-tailed and castrated, all without anesthesia. And at the end of their suffering, they are stunned, skinned alive and hung upside down to bleed to death. Help stop this horror by refusing to purchase clothing made from animal products.
Chris. Trevor 's argument depends on nothing else than an attempt to evoke feelings of horror, pity and disgust, and so it is nothing but a naked appeal to emotion. Emotions are irrelevant to logic, and so Trevor's argument is irrelevant to this issue. (Answer)

H. Kirstin. I think that we should rethink our blanket opposition to the presence of artificial pesticides in foods. There's no functional difference between an artificial pesticide produced by man and a natural pesticide produced by a plant. And the amount of natural pesticides in any given piece of plant matter is usually much much greater than the amount of artificial pesticide. So if we eliminate all artificial pesticides from our food we will only do away with a small fraction of the pesticides we eat. Therefore, worrying about artificial pesticides is a waste of time, and complaining about them will only make natural foods more expensive.
Leanne. What are you, crazy? Pesticides are dangerous! They kill insects and small animals because they are basically poisons. It doesn't make sense to keep eating a poison with every meal, so we have to eliminate pesticides as soon as possible. (Hint)

I. Sheridan: The Republican Party supports numerous policies that negatively impact black people. They promote welfare rules that make it virtually impossible for people of any color to get off welfare, and a disproportionate number of black people are stuck in depressed areas and so have to go on welfare. They support drug laws that have higher penalties for the drugs favored by black drug users. Most importantly, they have consistently supported the inequities in the legal system that allow those police and court officials who are racist to pursue racist policies without let or hinderance. All-in-all, I can only conclude that the Republican Party, despite it's protestations to the contrary, is basically an anti-black party.
Heath: But don't you remember that the Republican Party was founded in part as an anti-slavery party? Since all the slaves were black, and opposing slavery carried enormous dangers back then, it follows that the Republican party cannot be an anti-black party. (Answer)

J. Raven. I think that Mount Sausage must be a very safe town. There's lots of police around, but they are always friendly and helpful. In fact, the cops are perfectly relaxed in even the poorest neighborhoods. People are friendly wherever I go, and whenever I say I'm thinking of buying a house in Mount Sausage, people always say that I'll love it. I always ask if there's any neighborhood I should stay away from, and people always say "no, there isn't."
Sandy. You're living in a dream world. Mount Sausage is one of the most crime-ridden towns in Kumquat County. I have here the complete crime statistics for Kumquat County for 1992. The entry for Mount Sausage says that it had 90 murders and over 400 residential burglaries, which is over 20 times the crime rate for other towns the same size. They had ten times as many muggings per capita in that year than any other town in Kumquat County. And the number of showings of Steven Segal movies in 1992 was over 50 times higher than the state average! You must be out of your mind to even think of moving to Mount Sausage. (Hint)

K. Snertle. If Fnorbert exists, she exists outside the system of time and space. Only things that participate in time and space can be empirically tested, so Fnorbert's existence cannot be empirically tested by any method open to science. This means that no argument based on science can disprove Fnorbert's existence.
Kiarra. If Fnorbert's existence is by definition outside the system of time and space, then Fnorbert cannot exist at all. The word "exists" only has meaning when it is used to refer to things that can be encountered in time and space. If something cannot be experienced in any way, then it simply does not exist in any meaningful way. You might as well say that Fnorbert "schmesists" rather than "exists" because, while existence matters to us, things that schmesist don't affect us in any way whatsoever. Because there is no empirical experience of Fnorbert, it follows that Fnorbert does not exist, although his schmesistance may or may not be in doubt.

Homework 10.
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 10 Answer Sheet

1. Jumbo. You strike me as a sensible person. And I know that you do not think that your life is meaningless. So surely it would be easy for you to realize that the meaningfulness of your life proves that Fnorbert exists. Your life could only have meaning if it was part of Fnorbert's great eternal plan, so the fact that your life does have meaning proves that Fnorbert exists.
Fanta. But my life has meaning only because I, and the people I care about, have plans and desires for what we do with our lives. As you describe it, Fnorbert's great eternal plan is for me to do totally different things with my life, and to totally change the way I treat the people I care about. This would absolutely destroy all the actual meaning in my life, as well as being a great waste of time and effort. So, if anything, the fact that I have meaning in my life proves that either Fnorbert doesn't exist, or he is totally irrelevant.

2. Jeffrey: I just heard some disturbing news about psychoanalysis. It seems that Freud based all his conclusions on anecdotal evidence that he interpreted himself. He did not entertain a null hypothesis, and he did not check his theories with experiments. In fact, we have no evidence to support Freud's theories, there's no scientific evidence that psychoanalysis works, and all the evidence we do have implies that he's wrong. Clara: There are thousands of Freudian therapists working today, and they have seen millions of clients. Those clients went to those psychoanalysts in the full expectation that they would receive effective treatment. Over a typical course of treatment, a patient has dozens of sessions at about a hundred dollars per session. That adds up to thousands of dollars spent per patient on the assumption that the treatment will be effective. But if Freud's wrong, all that money, and all the time spent in treatment, are completely wasted! Just think about what a terrible thing it would be if all those people were wasting all that time and money, and you'll see that Freud had to be right!

3. Mohamed. I've decided to go into a career in chemistry. I enjoy working in a lab, and I hear that chemists can make a lot of money.
Jordon. Modern chemistry is a discipline that is in serious trouble. It has been conclusively proved that chemistry historically developed out of alchemy, the futile search for the "philosopher's stone" that would turn lead to gold and confer immortality. So chemistry is futile, since it developed from something futile.

4. Brennen. There's been a lot of talk about the Hollywood Blacklist. A lot of people have reported that they or people they knew were blacklisted in Hollywood, so I think there might have been a blacklist after all.
Aimee. It's ridiculous to say that there was a blacklist. Has anyone ever come up with single copy of this list? No, because nobody ever wrote down a complete list of people to be kept out of work by the Hollywood establishment, so there was no blacklist.

5. Massacre. One of the things that intrigues people about Mormonism is that it gives a very different picture of Jesus from the other Christian churches. Many people say to me after a long discussion something like "wow, you folks have a whole different Jesus than I'm used to." This shows that Mormonism might have something valuable to say to the other Christian churches.
Woococ. If anyone needs further evidence that Mormonism is not a Christian religion, they only have to listen to Massacre's admission that their "Jesus" is wholly different from the Jesus of Christianity.

6. Sasha. I think that that so-called "Saint" Augustine was a rotten son-of-a-bitch. Did you know that he once sent soldiers into a bunch of Christian churches to force people out of their own chosen faith and into his church. That's religious persecution, plain and simple, and I don't think people should be taught to venerate a person like that.
Jarred. What you have to understand is that, like any priest, he had an obligation to spread the word of his faith, and that's what he was doing when he sent troops in to force people out of their chosen faith at spearpoint. You can't fault a preacher for trying to spread his faith, can you? Of course not, because that would be denying him his freedom of speech. So you can surely see that we can't condemn Augustine for this, because that would be condemning him for exercising his freedom of speech.

Practice for Quiz 10

Do these questions closed book, and then test yourself by looking up the answers in this chapter. Repeat until you can answer every question correctly off the top of your head.

1. Is the fact that something would be a tragedy if it was true relevant to the issue of whether or not it is true?

2. Is the fact that a rule doesn't work for every case where it applies relevant to the issue of whether or not it works in the case where I want it to work?

3. Is the fact that you can't imagine how something could have happened naturally relevant to the issue of whether or not it could have happened naturally?

4. Is the fact that you can make an action sound like it was okay relevant to the issue of whether or not it really was okay?

5. Is the fact that people naturally tend to feel a certain way about a particular event relevant to the issue of whether or not that event really happened?

6. Is the fact that people naturally tend to feel a certain way about a particular event relevant to the issue of whether that event was a good or bad thing?

7. Is the fact that a certain word has two or more different meanings relevant to figuring out if that word has been used correctly in an argument?

8. Is the fact that you think that what you're doing will achieve a particular effect relevant to figuring out whether or not it will have that particular effect?

9. Is the fact that you can describe the situation as containing only two choices relevant to figuring out whether or not it really does have only two choices?

10. Is the fact that you can't imagine how something could have been done by people relevant to figuring out whether or not it really could be done by people?

11. Is the fact that you can hurt people who believe a certain thing relevant to figuring out whether or not we have a rational reason not to believe that thing?

12. Can a good argument be based on an inappropriate description of a person, action, or event?

If you're still not confident, you can also use critical10pretest.rtf.

Copyright © 2006 by Martin C. Young

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