LSAT Kung Fu Blog / Anti-Logical Douchebag of the Year, Part 1

Anti-Logical Douchebag of the Year, Part 1

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This morning, we’re going to do three things together: First, take a look at real-world instances of two logical errors that occur regularly on the LSAT; Second, we’ll announce our first nominee for Anti-Logical Douchebag of the year, and; Third, I’ll enlist your help to come up with a better name for the award than that. Sounds fun, right? Let’s get started.

LSAT preparation is all around us! The world is just chock-a-block with opportunities to learn about logic and to exploit its violation by lesser arguers. We wanted to isolate some instances of logical fallacies as they occur in the wild, as illustrations of the kinds of flaws you see committed liberally within the Logical Reasoning sections of the LSAT, so we began in the most obvious place that any reasonable human being would expect to find copious instances of abuse of logic, terrible argumentation, and general douchebaggery.

But, then, the US House of Representatives seemed like a mountain too high - even for us - on this, our first foray into the breach, so we went instead with the second most obvious choice: The comments section of an online magazine article. And in a lovely bit of serendipity, it was a post about... the US House of Representatives.

But before we get to the meaty goodness of anti-logic on display there, let’s take a moment to soberly set the stage: The comments under discussion here are quoted from three posters (Rashabon, Edward McBragg, and gloeden31) responding to a comment from a fourth poster (Tragic Apostrophe) to an item at Gawker.com noting House Republicans’ pre-emptive rejection of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s debt ceiling proposal before it had been voted on in the Senate. Of course, in true anonymous commenter style, their comments have almost nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the piece under which they posted those comments. But that wasn’t the problem I wanted to talk about.

Here’s the exchange:

Tragic Apostrophe begins: And jobs bills from the Republican House still remains remains at zero. Screw you assholes.

Edward McBragg replies: Repealing Obama's health care bill is a jobs bill since there will be no hiring or investment by private industry until that heath care plan is toast.

Rashabon offers this rejoinder: You are a complete and utter moron.

To this, gloeden31 adds the following: It can't be true.
Because businesses don't make hiring decisions solely because of tax or public policy issues.
And, more to the point, your blanket statement would never be true in any case.
You simply cannot know what all private industry would or would not do in this case.
Nobody's that smart.

Edward McBragg rebuts: Don't believe me. Believe someone who has created tens of thousands of jobs, Steve Wynn [ed. note: Here, Edward McBragg gave a lengthy quote from Mr. Wynn, but since it isn’t strictly germane to our conversation, I’ve included only enough for you, dear reader, to get the drift]:

I'm saying it bluntly, that this administration is the greatest wet blanket to business and progress and job creation in my lifetime...

Rashabon counters with this: Yes or we could listen to someone whose job isn't literally "rip off poor people and idiots", like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet who are clamoring for tax raises.

Edward McBragg seems to want to change the subject: Oh, why don't you move to Cuba or Venezuela? They have just the sort of government that would be perfect for a woman of the people like yourself.

To which Rashabon tenders this close to the debate: Nice, misogyny and mentions of Cuba and Venezuela. You are a caricature.

So, um, did you spot any errors there? I want to concentrate on two of them: The Ad Hominem flaw and the Absence of Evidence fallacy.

We’re used to seeing the Ad Hominem error played out on the attack. Rashabon starts us off by countering Edward McBragg’s assertion about the health care bill with the “You are a complete and utter moron” line. Now, I don’t know Edward McBragg. He may be a moron. Or maybe he’s not at all a moron. He’s not too good at logic (as we’ll take note in a moment), but the thing is this: none of those things have anything at all to do with whether or not his claim - that killing the President’s health care plan is a job-builder - is true.

Inasmuch as Rashabon intended his/her reply as a refutation of Edwarrd McBragg’s central claim, Rashabon has failed. Bringing up points of your opponent’s character, or facts of his personal history, cannot ever succeed as a logical argument. Not even if you’re pointing out that your opponent is behaving hypocritically (which no one here has asserted). Just because a person is a hypocrite doesn’t mean she’s wrong. And, to the detriment of Rashabon’s rebuttal, even if a person is not only a complete, but also an utter moron, that, too, fails to mean he’s wrong.

What I thought was more interesting in this exchange, though, was Edward McBragg’s use of the Ad Hominem appeal. He says “Don't believe me. Believe someone who has created tens of thousands of jobs, Steve Wynn.”  And in this way, Edward McBragg seeks to make his point by another resort to Ad Hominem fallacious argument.

As we said above, bringing up points of your opponent’s character, or facts of his personal history cannot ever succeed as logical argumentation - not when you’re attacking by that means, nor either when you are supporting an argument by those means. Whether or not Steve Wynn has created tens of thousands of jobs does nothing whatever to show that he’s right that this administration is “the greatest wet blanket to business in [his] lifetime”.

That statement is a claim that can be evaluated by appeal to data. We could find out whether or not that’s true by determining some central facts. However, none of the facts useful to its evaluation involve the personal or professional history of Steve Wynn. And by basing his argument on the credentials of another sympathetic arguer, Edward McBragg has committed the same Ad Hominem fallacy as did Rashabon moments earlier, only in reverse.

To which Rashabon responds with his/her own Ad Hominem appeal, to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett! This precision back-and-forth between two grandmasters can’t possibly go on much longer, can it?

Then, in a breath-taking act of anti-logical brinksmanship, Edward McBragg finishes his time allotment with what appears to be an Ad Hominem attack of Rashabon (presuming that his prescription was intended sarcastically and pejoratively). Rather than counter Rashabon’s Ad Hominem appeal rebuttal of his own Ad Hominem appeal, he responds with an Ad Hominem attack as his finishing move!

Bitchin’, right?

But before we are carried away by the total douchebaggy awesomeness of the final words of the exchange, I want to back up to gloeden31’s offering just before Edward McBragg’s initial Ad Hominem appeal: “your blanket statement would never be true in any case.
You simply cannot know what all private industry would or would not do in this case.
Nobody's that smart.”

Well, Edward McBragg and Rashabon seem like they might not be, but someone might be. But that’s not my point. This is: gloeden31 has pointed out an error of Edward McBragg’s original argument about the health care bill; namely, that Edward McBragg failed to offer any evidence in support of the subsidiary claim that there would be “no hiring or investment by private industry until that heath care plan is toast”. That statement forms the core support for his assertion that killing the health care bill would be, in itself, a jobs bill. But as gloeden31 points out, Edward McBragg just asserted it was true, without providing documentation, a line of reasoning, or any evidence whatsoever. Edward McBragg has, it’s true, offered a poorly-supported argument, and gloeden31 was correct to point that out.

But here’s what’s interesting to me: In his/her rebuttal, gloeden31 has committed a logical fallacy of his/her own (good god, English needs a gender-neutral third-person pronoun!); the Absence of Evidence error.

In our usage, we will describe the Absence of Evidence flaw not as the act of making a conclusion without offering enough evidence, but more particularly as the act of creating or demonstrating an Absence of Evidence on your opponent’s part, and then basing your own argument on that absence, as though the lack of proof for a claim constituted proof of its denial. See, as gloeden31 has pointed out, Edward McBragg has not offered us convincing (or, indeed, any) evidence for the claim that business will never hire while the health care plan is law. However, the fact that there’s no evidence does not mean that Edward McBragg is wrong.

Consider this example: I have this total moron of a friend named Flenn Peck. Now, Flenn told me that he had been thinking heavily on the subject of feet, and had come to a conclusion. “See, Dave,” he intoned between mouth-breaths, “on the bottom, our feet are rounded! They’re curved, not flat, almost as if the product of design. And that got me thinking” - and here, he wheeled out a chalkboard and began feverishly to draw thereupon - “Why would we have round feet, Dave? Why? Could it be a coincidence? Yeah, right, Dave, it’s all so very convenient, isn’t it? Round feet, little curvature there, just by total accident? I. don’t. think. so.

"Oh, no, my friend, it can’t be just an accident. You trust me on this one. I’ve thought it through, and the presence of rounded feet can only mean one thing - a round Earth! Why else would our feet be curved, except to walk on a round planet? See? I’ve got it - I can prove that Earth is round, just by looking at the bottom of my own feet! I don’t need any fancy “scientists” with their fancy “facts” and “mathematical formulations” and “peer-reviewed research” to tell me the truth! No way - I’m walking all over the truth, every single day, my friend!”

Yes, he really kind of is, isn’t he?

And the idea is this - just because Flenn’s reason for believing that Earth is round was utter nonsense does not mean that his conclusion is false. The lack of evidence Flenn Peck provided for a round Earth does not indicate that there is not a round Earth.

In the same way, the absence of evidence cited by Edward McBragg in support of his claim about no hiring while health bill does not mean that his claim is false. His claim is one that can be verified by data - we can see whether or not any businesses do, in fact, ever hire anyone again and we can use that hiring - or the lack thereof - as evidence either against or for Edward McBragg’s claim, but we cannot use the absence of evidence on offer as evidence of anything at all. Gloeden31 did treat the absence as though it were evidence, and, therefore, has offered us a glimpse of an Absence of Evidence flaw. And for that, I am grateful. This really rounded out my set, you know?

And so, on the basis of this illuminating exchange, this illustrious meeting of the minds, I’d like to co-nominate Rashabon (for his/her commission of the Ad Hominem attack on Edward McBragg followed by the Ad Hominem appeal to Bill Gates), gloeden31 (for her/his Absence of Evidence error), and Edward McBragg (for his own Ad Hominem double-dip) for a triunal consideration for Anti-Logical Douchebag(s) of the Year.

Which brings me to our final subject. I’m not in love with that name. I mean, it rolls right off the tongue, so that’s cool, but it also seems too easily to conflate anti-logic with douchebagginess. And while the two certainly are in coincidence a startling amount of the time, it seems unfair to equate the two. People can be anti-logical without being douchebags, and people can also be great, giant douchebags while at the same time properly using logic.

So suggest a better name! The naming process will continue as long as I’m unhappy with the current name, so there’s no statute of limitations for your entries. Come up with something wonderful, and I’ll identify you by name every time we discuss a new nominee (or not, if you don’t want me to).

And, come on in - the water’s fine! Please check us out online or drop us a line at Info@VelocityLSAT.com, and visit The Forum (http://www.VelocityLSAT.com/Forum) to join the conversation, to share your thoughts on a better name for our Anti-Logical Douchebag of the Year award, or to suggest topics for future conversations.

Until next week, stay anti-douchebag, eh?

Comments

James Compton's picture

Dave, I have been following your threat at top law school.com and just wanted to let you know that your site is great and wish you the best success that life has to offer you! Keep up the good work!

majorgeneraldave's picture

Hey, James,

Thanks so much for the kind words! I'm glad you're enjoying the site. Tech Team Go! really did a great job on it, I think.