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I wrote another diary -- all about how it's very human to be anti-Rationalist and how there is one form of anti-Rationalism that is actually healthful -- but that was so boring that even I decided that I'd rather grade papers than read it. I then thought that I could return to the "know a fallacy" series and do one of the hardest ones of all, "Begging the question," but, unfortunately, I have seen a great deal of arguing by analogy lately, and I think -- if only to avoid seeming to insult people -- I might help the community more by explaining this common but elusive tool/weapon.

First, I need to establish that analogy is not wrong.

Portrait of the pedant as concerned citizen.
We've all got to look like something.
Drawing an analogy is normal, necessary, and potentially useful, both for building language and concepts and for furthering propositions. John Locke, in chapter XI of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, explains the fundamental nature of "fancy""imagination""wit." Nearly every philosopher after would agree that humans know by using one innate ability to spot similarities and one to spot differences.

What's more, analogy is fundamental to language. Truly novel experiences are incommunicable. I'm sure you know Wittgenstein's famous, "That which we have no words for we must pass over in silence." How we get those words is by expanding and linking sounds and ideas by analogy and negation. In fact, humans might well be homo analogous for the quickness at spotting similarities.

Fellow bolo fur Wie it's a Fall lassie, two.

Argument by analogy is a fallacy because it employs analogy as proof.

An argument by analogy takes two or more persons, events, or things that legitimately share one or two qualities and then insists, upon that basis, that they share other qualities.

When I was between my M.A. and going up to the Southern Part of Heaven for my doctoral work, I read Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. He introduced me to the fallacy. If you haven't read the novel, you had better do so immediately.

I'll wait.

Ok, so, if you read it, you'll have seen how he notices that conspiracy theories rely on things like, "This Aztec carving has a man with curved tubes coming from his head, and his face has a strange texture. This photo of the Apollo astronauts shows air hoses and the 'Snoopy cap,' so what other explanation can there be than that ancient astronauts visited the Aztec?" Another is that "The ratio of the sides of the Great Pyramid at Chiops is the same as that of the Vatican's audience chamber, so obviously the Free Masons have been controlling the papacy." (Erich von Daniken's photo of the Aztec sculpture was cropped: those are snakes coming from the dude's head, and he's not wearing a Snoopy cap, but rather is being engulfed. The ratio of sides to height is this thing called 'load bearing walls' and how Mr. Gravity conspires against rooves.)

Small block houses on a religious college's land were all demolished so that the school could make the road pretty. The result was five homeless dogs and unknown homeless persons.
Underneath this mystical pyramid, razorblades are remaining sharp forever.
In the 1970's, "Pyramid Power" was everywhere. I'm glad that it's so forgotten that we don't even make jokes about it anymore. ("Put a pyramid under your bed for longer sex.")

You might think that no one with sense would ever make an argument by analogy, but you would be wrong. First, such arguments are made on a daily basis by people who aren't thinking at all. Each time someone goes up to a tall person and asks, "Do you play basketball," that person is making an argument by analogy (bball players are tall, and you're tall :: you are a basketball player). Every American who meets another in Europe and says, "Oh, you're from Texas? Do you know Bob Robertson? He lives in Texas," the person is doing it again.

Glenn Beck, who is allowed to live on his own without supervision, made a spectacular and televised argument by analogy. He examined the dime (that he has returned to hating on the dime is no surprise(Google "dimewars")) introduced by Woodrow Wilson, whom he hates for reasons only his imaginary pet hamster in a pneumatic tube of his mind could answer, and showed how Wilson was a fascist.

1. The dime had a fasce on the back
2. The Italian Fascists were named for the fasce
:: Woodrow Wilson was launching a Fascist project on America.
Go to Right-Wing Watch at People for the American Way, and then go to their roundup, and you'll see argument by analogy like mad (or not like it). (You'll also see begging the question, which may not be what you think it is, and it's much more common than it should be.)

For one example, Kevin Swanson, a small time fringe evangelical, argued that Mark Twain was possessed by demons:

Swanson argued that “his book is extremely, powerfully, cynically against the Christian faith” because Twain was possessed by demons.

“Mark Twain himself I believe turned out to be demon-possessed,” he said, citing Twain’s book Letters from the Earth, which he called “one of the most acidic, horrific, evil books I think ever, ever written by any human being in the history of mankind.”

This one is easy.
1. Those who hate God are in service to the Adversary (Satan)
1a. No well soul would hate God.
2. God is manifest and clear in Christianity and its churches
Minor premise: Mark Twain was an atheist who saw the churches as bloody handed.
Therefore: Mark Twain was not a well soul.
Demons hate the Christian church.
Twain hated the Christian church.
Twain was possessed by a demon.
Once you realize that all you need is a bit of likeness in order to take on full identity, argument by analogy gets right to the "You know Hitler was a vegetarian" level.

I wish I could say that the D. L. Foster argument on homosexuality being the #1 Satanic weapon was argument by analogy, but it's pretty much all question begging:

"If homosexuality is just an average sin on par with the others, then why is the whole world (literally) being seduced into accepting it as normal? Why has the most powerful man in the world (POTUS) made it his personal mission to advocate for it worldwide? Why does it strike such fear in the hearts of Christian preachers with thousands of followers, rendering them silent?"
He is responding, I suppose, to Christians who say, "Even if you believe that homosexual sex is a sin, why are you fixating on it?" The arguing by analogy is hidden in this case. He is supposing that the more his own viewpoint loses in popular support, the more this can be explained only by Satan, since there is no debating the proposition that people do not choose their sexual orientations. In fact, his analogy is private and coded. Only the anti-Christ can pass on a false message that "seduces" the world" this way, and his reasoning is:
1. The anti-Christ persuades people to the evil conclusion,
2. The President is "seducing" people to the conclusion,
1. In the End Times, true believers will be persecuted,
2. I'm getting lonely as a homophobe, so the other churches are being persecuted
::3. Barrack Obama is the anti-Christ.
See how fun it is?

Unfortunately, I've seen folks at DailyKos making arguments by analogy lately, too. The topic has been Syria, and the analog has been Iraq. I won't link to or call out any writer here, but I will tell you that there are valid ways of arguing the analogy and invalid ones.

We can suggest that there are likenesses in claims made, although they're weak likenesses. We can argue that there is a similarity in the AUMF. We can argue that there is a similarity of purpose, if you believe there is one.

For my part, I do not think there are many similarities. I think the similarities are greater to earlier engagements that were brief and punitive, such as Bill Clinton engaged in -- including the highly ambiguous case of Kosovo -- than George W. Bush's IraqIraqIraq. I think those are the military similarities, so far as they've been announced. As for the cause, it's something else, but an important something:
If we opposed Bush's unilateralism and applauded Obama's internationalism, then that means treaties with programmatic responses. Their objective is not "winning" or "teaching a lesson," but rather punishment under the law. What the criminal feels about the punishment is not the point.

I suspect that Syria is a crumbling wall, and what is on the other side is not nice for anyone. I am glad that our European allies and our President has taken a broad position rather than a narrow one: killing civilians is bad, but the people fighting to overthrow the government aren't necessarily right or good.

Let's draw our analogies, but let's also use judgment, the way Locke said we could, to know what's different as well as the same.

Originally posted to A Frayed Knot on Mon Sep 02, 2013 at 04:44 PM PDT.

Also republished by Logic and Rhetoric at Daily Kos and Community Spotlight.

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