Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fallacious Arguments Part 3

So, today’s example will be a court case example. Don Brown has been accused or murdering his wife and rather than focusing on the evidence, the prosecutor has decided to use his superior oratory skills to confuse the jury while summing up the case. First, he makes an Appeal to Ignorance, “Don Brown failed to prove he didn’t kill his wife, therefore he must have done so”. This is a fallacy because the assumption is based on something being true/false because it has not been proven otherwise.

This is a bit of a kangaroo court with the jury functioning as a simple formality so the prosecutor also makes an Appeal to the Stick and attempts to coerce or threaten the opposing party (the Defense Attorney) into giving a poorer defense. “Only a fool willing to endanger the lives of his family would be willing to defend this man.” Another example of this is when a teacher counters a student’s argument with a threat of detention.

The Prosecutor then makes an Appeal to the People by claiming: “Everyone in this town knows that Don Brown is guilty. How could this be if he were not guilty?” In other words, since it’s believed by the majority to be true, it must be true. He then makes an Appeal to Authority – “The Mayor himself has called Don Brown a guilty man” which he follows up with an Appeal to Accomplishment – “And we all know the Mayor is a just and kind man who has fairly overseen negotiations between factories and the union on many occasions.”

The prosecutor than figures that a bombardment of Appeals to Emotion is in order whereby he relies upon manipulating emotions to win an argument rather than using valid reasoning. He begins with an Appeal to Consequences “If Don Brown is declared innocent, then that would mean the Mayor, witnesses, and police would all be conspiring against an innocent man, and as that cannot be and should not be, Don Brown must be guilty.” He then adds an Appeal to Fear: “If Don Brown is guilty and freed, then he will set an example to other murderers, that they might murder with impunity, and who will be safe then?” An Appeal to Flattery: “But the just and righteous jury, with a mind to such details, will, in their wisdom, make the right decision. Of that I have no doubt.” An Appeal to Ridicule: “If there is a conspiracy against Don Brown, then I guess that means there is a conspiracy to use satellite technology to read people’s minds and we might as well all go cover ourselves in alfoil.” An appeal to pity or guilt: “If you pronounce him innocent while doubting his innocent, and you had to stand before his murdered wife, could you look her in the eye?”

They still look unconvinced but most of the jury are poor and multicultural and the man on trial is quite rich and white so an Appeal to Spite where he exploits their bitterness towards him could be in order. “Declaring him innocent will be just another example of letting the rich, white man do as he will to whomever he pleases.” This is also an Appeal to Poverty whereby the prosecutor tries to get the jury to think the conclusion (his guilt) is affected by the defendant’s financial situation. If the situation was reversed, it would be an Appeal to Wealth whereby poverty becomes a statement that someone is in the wrong. The prosecutor capitalizes on all of this by throwing in some Wishful Thinking by requesting they base their decision on something pleasing to imagine rather than according to evidence or reason: “Declare him guilty and you will prove that we live in a country where neither money nor race can protect anyone from the long arm of the law.”

Now they are in a warm and cozy space, an Appeal to Motive is made whereby the prosecutor calls into question the motives of the defendant’s alibi: “Yes, Mr. Hartley said he was with her at the time but he is a notorious chauvinist who is unlikely to care about the death of any mere woman.” An Argument from Silence attempts to draw a conclusion based on a lack of contrary evidence: “Some may say there is little evidence to convict this man but, in fact, there is even less evidence to suggest that the murderer was any other man.” Finally, he makes an Appeal to Tradition (the argument is said to be correct because there is a long-standing tradition behind it): “It is a fact that most victims of murder are murdered by their partners, thus, Don Brown’s wife was killed by none other than Don Brown! I rest my case.”

For two final appeals that I couldn’t slot under the last examples, you can have an Appeal to Nature: “Even eating worm wood and tree bark is better than eating lollies because it’s a natural product” and an Appeal to Novelty: “Of course this mobile phone is better than yours. Yeah, it has no added features but you bought yours a year ago and I bought this one yesterday. It’s superior because it’s newer.”

And that’s it for my Fallacious Arguments segment. And remember, there’s nothing to stop someone from either using these fallacies in a con game or, better yet, using these fallacies to justify their own way of thinking. I find fallacies really help me understand how a person can think something that contradicts all evidence to the contrary. Rationality need not always apply to arguments or even beliefs.


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