IN THIS POLITICAL SEASON we might do very well to review some of the things we hear every day on all the media. Many of them are called,
Rhetorical Fallacies: Logical fallacies are those that stem from faulty reasoning; material fallacies are errors that are caused by flaws in the subject matter; psychological fallacies appeal to the biases and emotions of the audience. Argumentative fallacies include the ad hominem, which attempts to transfer the burden of the argument away from the issue in question to an attack on the person opposing the speaker or writer: "It's all very well for Newt Gingrich to espouse 'family values,' but wasn't he raised by a single mother? Didn't he divorce his wife when she became ill? And why does he deplore the Lesbian life style — is it not his sister's?" In the appeal to authority (a church authority proclaiming a doctrine does so ex cathedra, "from the pulpit"), the essayist cites a person with an impressive reputation in the field; ipse dixit is a forceful assertion that an authority has said a particular thing and that it is therefore so, without offering proof. The appeal to force threatens the audience with dire consequences. The appeal to humor is a diversionary tactic that directs the attention away from the question in hand. The appeal to ignorance avers that the argument must be true because the opponent cannot prove it is false. The appeal to pity attempts to enlist the sympathy of the audience at the expense of reason: "Yes, it is true that this young woman at the age of fourteen bludgeoned her mother to death with a hammer, but though she is still young, she has paid her debt to society and deserves an education. Why did Harvard revoke her application when it discovered she had committed matricide?"
The appeal to tradition plays to conservative feelings. The bandwagon fallacy is the argument that the audience ought to do as others have done. The either / or fallacy is a reductio ad absurdum, reducing a complicated thesis to only two choices: "Either all women are feeling creatures, or they are not. If they are not, they are not women." Equivocation utilizes the same term in two different ways: "Walter is the lover of Jennifer, but Jennifer is a lover of clothes."
The faulty cause is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy — “after this, therefore because of this”: “In the twelve years since Mario Cuomo took office as Governor of New York State the ability of students to read has plummeted throughout the nation." The faulty hidden generalization has a false missing premise in the enthymeme: "He displays the American flag, so he must be patriotic."
Name calling uses cues and stereotypes to impugn an opponent. A non sequitur is a conclusion that does not follow from the premise or proposition on which an argument is based, as in the catachretic syllogism discussed above. The red herring is a deliberate and irrelevant distraction from the true subject or argument. The rigged question is a a verbal trap that requires a conclusion of guilt no matter how it is answered: "Do you beat your wife, or do you merely abuse her by shouting at her?" A straw man is a setup, something erected so as to be easily destroyed, such as an argument so preposterous as to be refuted seemingly without effort: “My opponent believes that all people are created equal, which is an easy thing for a person born into wealth to argue. What about those of us who are born into poverty?”— from The Book of Literary Terms: The Genres of Fiction, Drama, Nonfiction, Literary Criticism and Scholarship, www.UPNE.com, 1999 ISBN 0874519551, quality paperback, $23.95, 224 pages. A Choice “Outstanding academic title” for 2000. A companion volume to The Book of Dialogue and The Book of Forms.
The pathetic fallacy is absurd or overstated personification (prosopopœia); that is, the endowment of objects or animals with human qualities (anthropomorphism), often through cues (“motherhood,” “Old Glory,” “apple pie”) which are meant to induce automatic sentimental responses in the reader. A distinction is to be made between the terms sentiment and sentimentality. The former is a feeling of tenderness whereas sentimentality is an excess of sentiment, overstated sympathy. For instance, in the phrase, “The little white cloud that cried,” little, cloud, and cried are cues.
Similarly, in Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees" which is a series of rhymed aphorisms rather than a poem, the uncritical reader will see the tree as, simultaneously, a mother-figure (“A nest of robins in her hair”), an infant-figure (“...whose mouth is pressed / Against the earth’s sweet-flowing breast”), and an orant; that is, a praying figure (“...that looks at God all day). A bit of thought, however, will combine the images and piece together a monster that has hair for leaves, eyes tangled in the hair, its mouth at the bottom of an elongated head whose mouth is buried in the earth, and so forth. — from The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Third edition, www.UPNE.com, 2000. ISBN 1584650222, quality paperback, $23.95, 337 pages. “The Poet’s Bible," A companion volume to The Book of Dialogue and The Book of Literary Terms.
TREES by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
For a current perfect example of the pathetic fallacy, hit this link:
Cartoons by Socrates Samson from Poetry: An Introduction through Writing by Lewis Turco, Reston VA: Reston Publishing Company, copyright 1973; all rights reserved.
Where does the abuse of lofty-sounding phrases like we're just arguing about semantics here fall? Ironically, I have argued with many people about just what that means as they use it to stop a discussion when they realize they've lost their way. I also recall a discussion on your blog about what the exception proves the rule really means after it was offered as a ham-handed way of getting out of an argumentative dead-end.
I'd be curious to see what others find as dismissive and hollow as those.
“Semantics,” Paul, means “the meanings of words.” Definitions. I guess you’d have to say that “we're just arguing about semantics here” would be a tautology: ending where you started. Or maybe we’ll have to invent a term such as a “deconstructionism” — this, too, is from The Book of Literary Terms:
Deconstruction, a term coined by the French critic Jacques Derrida (1930-2004 during the 1960s, is a theory of literary criticism, based upon the "difference" postulated by Saussure, that disputes the critical assumption that language can carry meaning in and of itself. Words have reference only to other words and not to objects or ideas: “In deconstruction, the critic claims there is no meaning to be found in the actual text, but only in the various, often mutually irreconcilable, ‘virtual texts’ constructed by readers in their search for meaning,” according to Rebecca Goldstein. One of the techniques used by such critics to prove that words undermine one another is the identification of binary oppositions within a text to show, first, that there is a hierarchy of terminology ("John saw the world in terms of black and white"); second, the inversion of the hierarchy in order to reverse the meaning of the original terms ("John saw the world in terms of white and black"), and, third, the neutralization of both terms nonhierarchically ("John saw the world in terms of whack"). In this case, the neutralization is a portmanteau word, q.v.
J. Douglas Kneale declares that "Reading is an act that critics perform vis-à-vis texts but also something that texts perform on themselves in those moments when they declare and at the same time dispute their status as language." But this statement — if one understands its meaning — is like Emerson's regarding the ability of the poem to choose its own form, for "texts" cannot perform anything "on" themselves because they are not sentient. Everything "in" a text occurs not in the text but in the mind of the reader. A mind duplicates, or attempts to duplicate, what occurred in the mind of a writer as it is reflected in a text. Furthermore, if a text deconstructs itself and therefore has no meaning, then there is no point in reading literature, or in writing criticism, for it is meaningless, like all other texts, like this text.
Very interesting, Lew, and clearly defined, with examples! But you omitted "Swift-boating," or maybe that's simply a category under "lying."
I thought the Dem. convention was splendid, especially last night. Will have to brace myself with a bourbon or two to watch the Rep. one, though.
If there is one, Rhina. Gustav appears to be getting ready to wipe out New Orleans again right in the middle of it.
As to the term "lying," I prefer the euphemism "prevarication" because it sounds more like a term that should appear in an academic handbook.
Thank you for including me in this email. I recall some of the fallacies from Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction (which I read for a 'Form and Theory of the Novel' class back in graduate school) and a useful reminder. I also enjoyed reading your review of Rhina's latest book as well as your spare tetrameter couplets on William Clinton (kudos for your rhyme for Bill's last name!).
McCain has just picked as his running mate the forty-four year old female first-time governor of Alaska who has been in office a year and a half. So much for his judgment. How does he argue, from now on, that Obama doesn't have enough experience to be Commander in Chief?
MC CAIN IS A COMPLETE IDIOT! THIS IS THE DAN QUAYLE THING ALL OVER AGAIN, DOUBLED!
I just read the announcement and I am near to being dumbfounded…. Double standards — what?
I suspect that McBlame thinks that Sarah P will insure that he gets all of the disaffected Hillary voters. He's going to be in for a big surprise (I hope and pray).
Yes, bad judgment, but you can see the reason he was told to pick her: a woman. He thinks he'll get the Hillary vote. It also tells the Hillary people that they are stupid and will just vote for a beauty queen with as much experience in politics as one of Michelle Obama's little girls. I think Republicans, and especially conservatives, are about as ready to move to Europe for good as we left winger socialists have been these past 7 1.2 years.
"...threw away the election"? Let's hope so! From your lips to God's ears! But nothing surprises me any more, after Al Gore lost to The Village Idiot in 2000. But why are you surprised?
I’m surprised because I’ve been hoping McCain would do this ever since I heard Palin was in the mix last night. I am astonished that I got my wish! I had no idea I had such telepathic power!
Egads, Lew...could it be he's trying to promote a Republican Hillary? I don't know anything about her except what I've just read — I'm not sure that just being "tenacious" will be enough — the man is 72 years old! is she really qualified to sit in the oval office should he not be able to? Looks like a May/December political courtship. It's scary all right. I hope she knows how to spell "potato" — or is it "potatoe"? — ask Dan Quayle, he knew — or did he?
Thanks for your note. It really energized me after five hospital visits since March 7 this year and with latest discharge on August 23. Even my daily RN visit didn't turn me on as much as you have.
Just as a leopard cannot change its spots, Most Elite Senator Obama (Obummer) and Joe (I'm just bidin' my time, cause that's the kind of guy I'm) Biden haven't lived long enough to know let alone solve America's problems, or have had no impact on foreign policy despite over thirty years in the Senate. Here is my racist remark: We do not need to allow the fallacy equal opportunity any role in the choice of president, which is the hidden message in everything Obama has ever said. Do you really believe that he is not an opportunist who will say or do anything to get elected? After we finally really get rid of the Jackson's and the Sharpton's how long will we have to put up with people passing for spokesmen of people of color who are not really "black" but only half there[?] I could vote for Cosby or Powell who are more mainstream American than Obummer can ever be.
I suspect that you will find that the major failing that Palin has is that she is a mother of many (right to life), a hockey Mom (who should stay at home), a foward-looking environmentalist (drill in Anwar), has high political ethics ("If we wanted a bridge to nowhere, we would build it ourselves"), a supporter of the Second Amendment (lifelong NRA member), and experienced in the vicissitudes of life (as any good wife certainly is). You are lucky that Obummer came along so that you would not be conflicted about Sen. Clinton's audacious run for president (18 million votes).
Really, I do not think that I am as out of touch with reality as you are. My advice: stick to poetry because you have been on the wrong side of America since JFK.
Although you’ve spent most of your life as an evangelical preacher, you went to college and used to be a journalist, so I’m surprised you don’t remember that there are no apostrophe’s in plural’s, not even in “its,” and especially not in “Jackson’s” and “Sharpton’s”.
Did you read my list of rhetorical fallacies? Quiz: What would you call “Obummer”?
I’m sorry you’ve spent so much recent time in the hospital, but I’m pleased, despite your health and religious problems, that you are lucid enough to recognize that you’re a racist. My dad was a preacher too, you’ll remember from high school, but he never managed to get anywhere near as far away from Christian charity as you. (In fact, to the best of my recollection, he never got away from it at all.)
As to my being “lucky that Obummer [sic] came along so that [I] would not be conflicted about Sen. Clinton's audacious run for president (18 million votes),” I have been for Senator Obama ever since he gave the keynote address at the last Democratic convention, so I have never been conflicted about Hillary’s run. Try to remember that Senator Obama announced his candidacy before Hillary did.
You say that I’ve been “out of touch with reality” and “on the wrong side of America since JFK”; since I turned twenty-one (the same year you did), besides John F. Kennedy I have voted for Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, so I guess you’ve been out of touch with America as much as I have, as you certainly are this year.
I’m happy I’ve managed to energize you, Ray,
Ever your friend,
P. S. I still have the Mossberg .22 caliber rifle I owned when you and I were on the Meriden High School rifle team and members of the N.R.A., before we joined the Navy together after our graduation.
But a comment on the great site
captures the upside: "She looks nice with her hair up, and those naughty librarian glasses."
I couldn't agree more.
I recognize these fallacies. Thanks for spelling them out so clearly. What do you think of McCain's running mate and his choice of running mate?
Take another look at my blog, Alice. Lots of stuff gone on there today.
Great remarks going there on your blog. In the future I will remember to keep scrolling down the blog.
Years ago I went to a chiropractor I didn't know who asked me, "Did you know that chiropractic can cure asthma?" I thought immediately of the "When did you stop beating your wife?" question and didn't attempt to answer. Now I know this kind of question is called a rigged question.
No new computer, yet. Mine is still limping along okay. I press the big button to start it up and it whirrs, but doesn't come up. Then I push the little restart button and it starts up just fine. Logic board is causing this, but it may limp along long enough for me to save $ towards a new one, instead of using a charge card. I'm going to get the MacBookPro just like yours.
The chiropractor’s question was a rhetorical question, the answer to which is known — in this case the known answer is, “No.” In Broadway terms, it is a “Known ‘No,’ Nanette” question.
The Governor's selection comes amidst the brewing Alaskan scandal (something like Teapot Dome?) wherein the Senator (Stevens), who amongst other great achievements engineered the "Bridge to Nowhere,” and his son (President of Alaska's state senate), and some other scalawag cronies, managed to get yet-to-be-determined large amounts of money from Veco (an oil company-serving corporation in Alaska) for "services rendered." Will the Governor-now-GOP-VP candidate escape? This may the best thing that has happened for Obama!