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Welcome to the latest diary in this series about logical argument! On Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays, I mention list of logic terms & describe what they mean in as plain terms as I can — hopefully resulting in a resource that will be useful for Daily Kos discussions. I encourage your comments & suggestions.

The 1st diary defined propositions & arguments...
Informal fallacies started with ambiguity...
& continued with personal attacks...
then various irrelevant appeals...
& the last one involved mistakes in generalization.

I will begin with one of the most media-misused terms in this entire family of fallacies...

(...just after I point out that a premise is a proposition that, in whatever way, is meant to lead to a conclusion in an argument. With that in mind...)

Begging The Question (Petitio Principii).
Basically this fallacy fails to advance an argument at all, instead simply restating a premise as a conclusion. Calvin Coolidge supposedly described unemployment as the result of people being out-of-work (in reality, of course, that's what unemployment means). The fallacy becomes obvious in cases where whoever commits it doesn't even bother restating it, as in the tantrum: "It IS because it IS!"

Question-begging arguments often appear in instances of circular reasoning, as in old jokes in which someone listens to sad music to forget about the depression he or she feels... from listening to sad music.

Complex Question.
In a complex question someone puts 2 premises together which may or may not belong together & tries arguing both at once. A religious apologist thus may argue for "God & values" whether or not his concept of god has anything to with the value system he assumes. One disentangles such a fallacy by dividing the question. If asked the question "Where's that ugly dog of yours?" you can answer with something like "My dog is not ugly, but he's in the yard right now."

(Also, note how that last example uses the word "ugly" as a question-begging epithet.)

Committing the "bifurcation" fallacy means denying more than 2 possibilities exist when the reality of the situation may be more complicated. Perhaps the most familiar recent example is George W. Bush declaring "You're either with us or against us", essentially dividing all of Washington — & given the scope of his rhetoric, all of the world — into "Bush Gang" & "Al Qaeda" factions. Obviously, plenty of people & political groups in the world actively opposed both, however inconvenient this fact may have been for the Bush Administration's political program.

As a more mundane example, someone who tells you "You're either the cream of the crop or a rotten apple" ignores the fact that you may be just "ripe" enough.

For that matter, that whole analogy ignores the fact that you probably don't compare to an apple anyway — but more about that later...

7:40 PM PT: Thanks again to the Rescue Rangers for my 2nd time ever in the Community Spotlight!

Originally posted to Brown Thrasher on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging, Systems Thinking, Logic and Rhetoric at Daily Kos, and Community Spotlight.


Logic Term Most Misused by Mass Media

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Comment Preferences

  •  You've one of my pet peeves. (20+ / 0-)

    People often say, "... that begs the question of ...", when they mean "that suggests the question" or some such. They do it all the time on radio and TV. The example I use for petitio principii is when you ask your kid, "why are you doing that ?" and he says "because I want to."

    The GOP ... Government of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

    by Azazello on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:30:25 PM PDT

  •  Thank You ... (5+ / 0-)

    re-published to Systems Thinking.


    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:34:59 PM PDT

  •  Begging The Question: a pet peeve of mine. (14+ / 0-)

    Often, you'll see people (even DKos members) who use "begging the question" in the sense of "requiring that the question be asked", which is NOT the canonical meaning of this phrase.

    You've captured it pretty well.  The more formal definition is what Wikipedia defines it as:

    Begging the question (Latin petitio principii, "assuming the initial point") is a type of logical fallacy in which a proposition is made that uses its own premise as proof of the proposition. In other words, it is a statement that refers to its own assertion to prove the assertion.

    "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions." - Thomas Jefferson

    by rfall on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:48:17 PM PDT

    •  An example may be in order (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gizmo59, rfall, TerryDarc, linkage, ebohlman

      To take one from the republican side of the ledger:

      We know that liberals are weak on defense, so we should not allow the military to be subject to oversight by Democrats.
      This, then, begs of question of whether liberals are, in fact, "weak on defense."

      Every day's another chance to stick it to the man. - dls

      by The Raven on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 08:02:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Excellent! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Raven, linkage

        This "begs the question" misuse is a pet peeve and examples bring light to the problem. Misuse, I think, is more common than proper usage.

        Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through & everything they gave their lives to flows down to me-Utah Phillips

        by TerryDarc on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 01:31:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  then it should be asked (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "what do you mean 'we'"?

        liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

        by RockyMtnLib on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 02:38:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, strictly speaking (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Raven, not2plato

        "begging the question" doesn't necessarily require that the conclusion be a restatement of one of the premises; it just requires that at least one of the premises be in at least as much need of demonstration as the conclusion. Thus it's the operating fallacy in most cases of "assuming facts not in evidence".

        Another variant happens when you formulate a hypothetical scenario (A will happen if B and C are true) and then magically slide to the assumption that all the conditions have been met, or, worse, take the elegance of your formulation (which may actually be sound) as evidence that the conditions have been met.

        If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse. --Mark Crislip

        by ebohlman on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 07:39:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Part of the problem (0+ / 0-)

          The confusion stems, I suspect, from the etymology of the word "beg" as used in the expression.

          The original petitio principii shows that the word in question (peto) is the stem for our word "petition," with its cognates "request" or "beseech." The person who is begging the question is really beseeching the listener to accept a given premise that has not been demonstrated.

          This is a staple of right-wing radio, where program hosts routinely launch jeremiads against environmentalism, claiming that "climate change is a hoax because liberals just want to control every aspect of your life."

          Every day's another chance to stick it to the man. - dls

          by The Raven on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 04:30:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Arguments vs Explanations (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brown Thrasher, linkage, Justus, bumbi, jhop7

    I like the series and hope you do more, even though I have never really been a big fan of the named fallacy approach to informal logic. I do have a quick nit-pick though.

    The distinction between an argument (providing evidence in support of a conclusion) and an explanation (a description of why something happened) is an important one. Things that are very good explanations can make very bad arguments and vice-versa.

    Your examples of question-begging strike me more as explanations. When someone talks about listening to blues music to get over the blues they are not offering a proof that someone was sad (or that they were listening to blues) but offering an explanation. Similarly with the tantrum: it is because it is. The "because" in this statement seems more like a (bad) explanatory use than an evidential one.

    A more straightforward, and nearly ubiquitous, example of a question-begging argument is the common anti-choicer screed: Abortion is murder, murder is morally wrong, so abortion is morally wrong. Since "murder" in the first premise is usually intended to mean something like "morally wrong killing" the premise assumes the conclusion and attempts to avoid having to address the very question at issue.

    Also, I had always heard the term false dilemma where you have bifurcation, but I don't think for a second that my knowledge of the terminology is exhaustive and I my curiosity about which is more common is significant, but not nearly as strong as my current laziness.

    •  That's not what's being said, though (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoasis, ozsea1, linkage
      When someone talks about listening to blues music to get over the blues they are not offering a proof that someone was sad (or that they were listening to blues) but offering an explanation.
      If that was all, it would indeed be a simple explanation; however, the circularity in the original joke...
      someone listens to sad music to forget about the depression he or she feels... from listening to sad music
      ...comes from the fact that someone does the same thing that brought him/her into his/her current situation, apparently expecting a different result.

      Of course, while one can imagine several ways to resolve the seeming paradox — for example, a 2nd piece of "sad music" actually turning out to be more uplifting than the 1st — the context-limited nature of "one-liner" humor rarely involves pursuing such thoughts to specific conclusions, but instead one usually keeps such contexts "absolute". So-called "non-jokes" can perhaps be considered an exception, but that's another story.

      As for "is because is", the distinct lack of context lets it admit many interpretations, & I never excluded an explanatory one — though I suppose you can argue that I emphasize an evidential one in this case. (Ultimately, since English lacks a simple verbal distinction between the 2, like the Spanish ser & estar, the be-verb will probably always remain inherently ambiguous in these sorts of contexts.)

      Meanwhile, your own example (the forced-birther canard) seems to center mostly on definition — though that in itself seems like a good theme for a stand-alone diary.

      Tell Congress: DON'T BREAK THE INTERNET! Fight CISPA!

      by Brown Thrasher on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 09:18:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  How about ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brown Thrasher

        a neurotic's worrying about not having any worries.


        "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

        by linkage on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:00:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Still not an argument (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        linkage, jhop7
        however, the circularity in the original joke...

            someone listens to sad music to forget about the depression he or she feels... from listening to sad music

        ...comes from the fact that someone does the same thing that brought him/her into his/her current situation, apparently expecting a different result.

        Yes, I simplified (and apparently overly so) in my summary of the joke, but even the full version is a circular explanation and not an argument. Why is he listening to blues? because he is sad. Why is he sad? because he listened to blues. Those are explanatory claims. For it to be an argument there would need to be an intended conclusion and premises intended as evidence in favor of that conclusion. Nobody is trying to convince anybody of anything (or even joking about trying to convince anybody of anything).

        The abortion argument is patently an argument. The idea is that anti-choicers think they can actually prove to someone that abortion is wrong by pointing out the claim that abortion is murder and and that murder is wrong. Definitions only enter into it to unpack the circularity since the argument at least attempts to obscure it by using a slightly different wording in the premise.

    •  The bifurcation fallacy (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ima Pseudonym, Brown Thrasher

      has a lot of names

      False Dilemma
      False Bifurcation
      False Disjunction
      Either/Or Fallacy
      Incomplete Enumeration
      Black and White Fallacy

      and there are others

      The robb'd that smiles steals something from the thief. -- Shakespeare

      by not2plato on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 07:30:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Begging Q: Most common in adverbials (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Justus, bumbi, Brown Thrasher, linkage

    I have been explaining this fallacy for a while, and it's one of the hardest ones to make clear, but, fortunately, the punditocracy and online writers have come to my rescue by illustrating it so well, so clearly, and so unequivocally, that I can now hit it in one:

    "Since we can never achieve victory in Afghanistan, the only real debate left is when and how to withdraw our troops."
    We cannot win? That is actually a major conclusion that demands proof. Any reasonable audience would begin demanding questions were answered.
    "Typically for the Left, Obama's budget redistributes wealth from the earners to the looters and loafers."
    What is "the Left?" Has this "type" been defined? Since the proposition is a grand preterite, it moves from begged question to allegation of fitting the begged question.

    I think these passim clauses are a pox on logic, and they're all over. It's easier to explain the concept, for me, with these than with the old fallacy of many questions ("Does your wife know you cheat on her?").

    Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

    by The Geogre on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 03:56:10 AM PDT

  •  In my mind, the question of ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brown Thrasher, linkage

    Whether the correct or the popular but false use of "Begging The Question" turns on whether (properly) the question is left begging for an answer or (improperly) the premise (or build up) begs that a further question be asked.

    Tautology (the blue sky is blue) is an obvious example of question begging, which has its own label. "The reason why I know Democrats are Communists is because they are Democrats" leaves the question begging for a real answer.

  •  Misuse of begging the question annoys me (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Justus, bumbi, Brown Thrasher, linkage

    There are so many lies and errors that are built into our political and religious thought that depend on that fallacy that I cynically speculate that there might have been an actual conspiracy to defuse the term so that people are less reminded of the technique by which people can pretend to prove an argument by obliquely asserting the conclusion.

  •  For more than 20 years now (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bumbi, Brown Thrasher, linkage

    I have been misusing the term "begging the question."  Now I won't anymore.

    This comes right after learning that I've been misspelling the word "lightning" for my entire life.  May I never become too old to correct a mistake.

    -5.13,-5.64; If you gave [Jerry Falwell] an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox. -- Christopher Hitchens

    by gizmo59 on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 09:05:43 AM PDT

  •  There are people whose entire worldviews... (4+ / 0-)

    ...are founded on various question-begging assumptions. I feel frustrated and agitated just thinking about it.

    Also, thanks again for the series. Duly rec'd. Not until yesterday did I learn that the "tip jar" recommendation is different from an actual recommendation, so I'm glad I have that straight now.

  •  I probably have more tolerance than (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bumbi, linkage, not2plato

    most for the misuse of "begging the question" for this reason:

    Its inaccurate colloquial usage makes intuitive sense. "Your point raises such an obvious question that it begs for someone to ask it."  

    On the other hand, the proper use of "beg" here is obscure -- you have to go at least as far into the dictionary definition to find it as you do Alanis' much-maligned definition of "irony." No one ever uses "beg" in that context for anything other than the fallacy.

    So I propose we cede the phrase to its colloquial use, and come up with a different moniker for the fallacy, like circuitum begginquirium or something. It's easier to change philosophy textbooks than the public zeitgeist.

    You are reading my signature line. #hashtag

    by cardinal on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 09:21:50 AM PDT

  •  Thanks, misuse of this is a pet peeve of mine (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brown Thrasher, linkage

    as well

  •  It's more socially unacceptable to point out (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    errors in grammar and logic than to commit them.

    My favorite example of question-begging, or circular logic is:

    "We know God exists."

    "How do we know?"

    "It says so in the Bible."

    "Why should I believe the Bible?"

    "Because the Bible is God's written word."

    liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

    by RockyMtnLib on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 06:10:39 PM PDT

    •  Depends on the social setting (0+ / 0-)

      ...though probably more true of grammar overall, particularly in a society like ours with a fair number of unique "sociolects" which may carry some degree of (real or perceived) social stigma.

      As for logic, I generally find that in most cases, plenty of polite ways to suggest the right way to approach something can suggest themselves that won't come off as judgmental or make someone "lose face" in public (& for that matter, situations where truly no such opportunity exists aren't the sort of situations in which I for one like to hang around long anyway...).

      Tell Congress: DON'T BREAK THE INTERNET! Fight CISPA!

      by Brown Thrasher on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 06:51:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Shouldn't we be..." (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brown Thrasher, not2plato

    I hate it when an official with an agenda mis-characterizes a legitimate problem to propose a specific, usually unhelpful, self-serving course of action.

  •  These were great! Thanks for writing them. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brown Thrasher

    I too enjoy this stuff greatly.  IMHO, your approach is simple and clean, easily digested.  Great job!

    Back when we had some rather ugly times going on, I took a slightly different approach; namely, to make lists of things appearing within a specific community.  Here's a couple for your entertainment:

    (instant "you lose" list)

    (strategy for when you are made the subject --often simply stating that isn't enough to derail it)

    (old one where avoiding acceptance was at issue --still effective when interacting with serious Republicans)

    Again, for your entertainment.  I like your diary series, more than these actually, because it's just a great education / tool kit for thinking through interactions we might have.  There needs to be a lot more of it.

    These were written specifically to address well identified instances of bullying, bullshit and failure to recognize points fairly taken, as well as to remind people on the difference between debate and advocacy.

    My experience is many people see themselves as debating, and "discourse" is so often framed that way; however, the reality is we do advocacy more often than not.

    Not a negative, just an observation.

    Advocacy operates on three core channels:  The character of the advocate, the self-consistency and / or logic of the advocacy, and the emotional resonance and / or consistency of the advocacy.

    The slippery thing about this is applying a tool, such as claiming personal attack as fallacy, doesn't work WHEN OTHERS THINK THE ADVOCATE DESERVES IT.  Thus, the need for some tools that operate emotionally and assertively.

    I don't like the idea of being the bully, but the reality is we've got a ton of "man child" type bullies out there, bullying all the damn time.  The most interesting thing happens when they get that treatment from a leftie, who is doing solid, aggressive, consistent, emotionally and logically sound advocacy:

    They go right for the character of the advocate, and they will do it every single time, as they've no outs otherwise.  One of the side effects of this, where Obama is concerned, is they HATE the guy, and they HATE him because his character is solid, family beautiful, etc... they have absolutely nothing on him at all.

    So what do they do?  Invent an Obama they can attack, because the alternative really is acceptance, and once that starts, their house of cards falls rather quickly.

    (and I've cracked a few over the last few years)

    IMHO, that should explain the three linked.

    Again, great job, I really enjoy this kind of stuff and look forward to reading what you put here!

    ***Be Excellent To One Another***

    by potatohead on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 10:52:42 PM PDT

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