Is there a name for this bad argument? [entries|reading|network|archive]

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Mon 2016-10-10 16:46
Is there a name for this bad argument?

There's a particular annoying pattern I notice in debate, in which one person criticises another's choice of argument on the basis of a sort of misapplication of pragmatics.

Here's a concrete (if slightly melodramatic) example. Imagine we're drinking together, and you demand, suspiciously, ‘Wait, how do I know you haven't poisoned this bottle of wine?’. To which I respond, ‘I'm drinking from it too, so that would be a really bad idea!’ Now if you were to think, or say, ‘Oh, so you would have poisoned it if we hadn't been drinking from the same bottle?’, you'd be committing this fallacy.

Because in fact, of course, the main reason I haven't tried to poison you is some combination of because I don't want to and because I'm too moral to do such a wrong thing, and both of those reasons would still apply regardless of any detail of who was drinking what.

But you can't check those statements, because they're about stuff entirely inside my own head. So if I'd tried to use either one as a defence, then you'd be no more convinced of my non-murderousness than you are now, because if you can believe I might try to poison you in the first place, then you'd have no trouble also believing that I'd lie about my motives in the course of the attempt. Whereas you can easily verify for yourself that I am indeed drinking from the same bottle, and perhaps you might find it harder to believe I was self-sacrificingly murderous than merely self-interestedly murderous.

(Since this is a silly hypothetical example, let's assume we can disregard all the even more improbable edge cases beloved of fiction, like the poison being in the ice cubes, or smeared on your particular glass in advance, or that I took the antidote beforehand, or have spent ten years building up resistance to iocane powder, etc…)

Anyway. That's why I chose that particular reason as the one to mention: not because it was my core reason or my only reason, but because it was one you'd be more likely to believe, because you could check it yourself.

I think the general pattern of which this is an example is: it's a fallacy to assume that someone who has mentioned one good or bad property of a thing (or reason to do it or not do it, or whatever) must have chosen that particular property because it's the most important or the only one, rather than choosing the property most appropriate to what particular goal the utterance as a whole is trying to achieve.

In this silly example, my goal is to try to convince you that you're safe; so I have to pick a reason that will actually manage to do that job, rather than one that is more important to me but likely to be less effective. In other kinds of debate, one might similarly choose the argument that appeals most to the particular audience one is trying to convince, not the one that is most fundamental in the arguer's own mind. Or you might avoid particular arguments because you know they'll cause some enormous derailing sidetrack. Any number of reasons, really.

So. Does this fallacy have a well-known name?

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[personal profile] gerald_duckMon 2016-10-10 16:05

I'm not sure, but this XKCD What-If visits some fairly similar places with its multiple proofs of the same perhaps-surprising result.

I'm particularly struck by footnote [3].

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[personal profile] jackMon 2016-10-10 16:40

I'm not sure. I think it's a specific case of too-much-tunnel-vision -- of automatically replying to the most recent thing the person you're talking to said, rather than thinking, did they say that as part of support for a larger statement, is there any point arguing about the details of the supporting statement if you agree with its applicability to the larger statement, etc.[1]

But that's too general to be this specific thing.

[1] The annoying thing is, I think it's always ok to say, "oh, hey, that made me think..." and jump into an interesting digression from any point. But I find unbearably aggravating a common argument pattern of:

Them: Sweeping false generalisation.
Me: But that can't be true because X and Y.
Them: Oh! But you didn't take that far enough, couldn't you have said XXX? Or Z?
Me: ...uh, I guess I COULD have done, but would that have you more likely to connect your previous sentence to the one before?


Them: offensive statement.
Me: Hey, isn't that quite harmful?
Them: QUITE? It's incredibly unforgiveably harmful, why are you giving it a pass?
Me: ...I don't know, I thought maybe you had some reason for saying it I would found out if I disagreed politely?

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[personal profile] hilaritaMon 2016-10-10 17:07

I suggest that we now call it the 'specific stoat fallacy'. ;)

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[personal profile] feanelwaMon 2016-10-10 19:14

Oh you're alive! Jolly good. How are you?

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[personal profile] simontMon 2016-10-10 19:44

Very well, thank you! Good to hear from you too. How're you?

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[personal profile] feanelwaMon 2016-10-10 19:53

Oh good! Last time I saw you, you were really ill.

I am doing pretty well! I seem to be going from one six-month job to another except they are the same job with the same boss at the same desk and nothing changes except every six months I wonder whether I'll get the next six months, but I have got used to it and am pretty happy. Lots of canoeing happening, lots of fun science.

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[personal profile] simontMon 2016-10-10 20:00

Oh yes, I'd forgotten you last saw me in early 2015 when I was ill. Sorry – I probably should have remembered that, and posted something sooner!

Yes, I made a full recovery from that illness – though I still don't know what it actually was, because the medical profession spent three months doing tests that only turned up things it wasn't, and then they ran out of time because it got better on its own. Bodies, eh, who'd have 'em.

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[identity profile] drswirly.livejournal.comTue 2016-10-11 07:13

Given your example, surely this is the Sicilian Defence?

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[personal profile] hairyearsTue 2016-10-11 08:19

It's a false dichotomy, and it's derailing; but I don't have a term for the deliberate invention of an argument you didn't make - 'straw man' doesn't quite fit. Do you have any synonyms for argument from opposites?

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[personal profile] ptc24Wed 2016-10-12 16:56

I have a feeling that fallacyology and pragmatics clash hard.

Fallacyology tends to be concerned with what can be known with certainty. For example, among your list of fallacies is Affirming the consequent (ATC). If A implies B, and B, then ATC fallaciously says A. Of course, ATC looks a lot like Bayesian reasoning: P(A|B) = P(B|A)P(A)/P(B) - if A => B then P(B|A) = 1, which means that if P(A) < 1 and P(B) < 1 then P(A|B) > P(A), which is a "soft" version of A=>B and B gives A.

Pragmatics is pretty much all about this style of reasoning, and as you say it is often done badly. Possibly a line to follow is Jumping to conclusions which isn't on Wikipedia's fallacy list but which nevertheless is associated with Wikipedia's fallacyology. Following a link there I get to Fallacy of the single cause which might be what you're looking for... or might not be quite right. They seem to be talking about various conditions being only jointly sufficient for something, whereas here we have several things which are independently sufficient. Possibly though the FOTSC covers a multitude of sins, and one of these may be the thing you're thinking of.

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[identity profile] aiwendel.livejournal.comMon 2016-10-10 19:47

Hmm I don't know about your one, but here's a good list of common fallacies in argument:
It might be a black /white one - suggesting would definitely rather than could have, perhaps? Or exclusion of the middle.

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[identity profile] atreic.livejournal.comTue 2016-10-11 09:20

Have you seen the cognative biases diagram where they put everything in a pretty circle? I really like it

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[identity profile] geekette8.livejournal.comMon 2016-10-10 19:57

It's fairly close to a straw man argument.

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