“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Monday, March 16, 2009

blinded with science

Debate on the Internet has certainly contributed to many people's awareness of the existence of rhetoric and logical fallacies. It has certainly not, however, universally contributed to understanding.

In fact, much like Godwin's Law, there now seems to be a mechanism at work that causes all arguments to devolve into an accusation of a logical fallacy1. Witness.

See, logical fallacies are a useful device for highlighting a poorly constructed argument. They are not rubber stamps that prove the opposition wrong.

Mr. Gunter calls the idea that Bush's tax cuts failed a "Post Hoc Fallacy." He is referring to the Latin phrase post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this), which refers to the erroneous notion that all things that happened before something else surely influenced it. All second somethings are caused by all first somethings. Obviously, this is absurb.

But, Mr. Gunter, like many who rubber-stamp arguments as fallacies misses the nuances. I shouldn't have to point this out, but sometimes past events actually do effect the present and future.

E.g., Friday night I drank half a bottle of wine, a couple of beers, and a couple of rum and cokes at Saffron Mediterraean Restaurant and then at Le Chateau downtown as I danced to music from the 1980s. The next morning, the sun rose. The rising of the sun was not caused by my over-imbibing nor by my dancing. But my pain-filled reaction to the sun surely was.

Bush's tax cuts were advertised as a panacea that would help all sectors of the economy. The fact that they didn't, well, surely that is relevant.

Surely someone can put it into better Latin, but perhaps we can call this bizarro-world notion that simply calling discussion of the ramifications of a past event a Post Hoc fallacy means that said event had no effect (or an indeterminable effect) on the future a Post Hoc Nil Propter Hoc fallacy.


1 I am not immune to this mechanism. So you can comb our archives if you want, Curious Texan; you will only prove my point.