March 2, 2014

Fireside Science: Logical Fallacy vs. Logical Fallacy

This content is cross-posted to Fireside Science. To get the most out of this post, please review the following materials:

Alicea, B.   Informed Intuition > Pure Logic, Reason + No Information = Fallacy? Synthetic Daisies blog, January 4 (2014).

The peer-review committee for pure rationality. For more, please see [1].

Awhile back, I posted some critiques of and modifications to the conventional approach to logical fallacies [1] here on Synthetic Daisies. It seems as though every debate of the issues on the internet involves an accusation that one side is engaging in some sort of "fallacy". This is especially true of topics of broader societal relevance, where the notion of logical fallacies has become entangled with denialism [2] and epistemic closure [3].

Social Media argumentation, one person's take.

To recap (full version of the post here), I proposed that we replace six fallacies on the chart above and replace them with seven fallacies that are more inclusive of moral (e.g. emotional) and cultural biases. To me, the "Skeptic's Guide to the Universe" model feels like a 12-step program of rationality. It may help you think in a desirable way (e.g. pure rationality). However, pure rationality does not provide you with a means to place conditions on an objective argument. The triumph of logical rigor ultimately becomes a straight-jacket of the mind, reducing one's ability to think situationally.

Are the arbiters of deduction wrong on six counts?

Now it appears that I'm not alone in my concerns. Big Think now has a theme "The Fallacy Fallacy" on the fallacies of logical fallacies [4], with contributions from Alex Berezow, Julia Galef, Daniel Honan, and James Lawrence Powell

In this collection of essays and interviews, the overuse of logical fallacies itself is cited as a fallacy of composition, and provides better ways to construct arguments. These include several general observations related to the validity of reason itself. These transcend the popular "identify the fallacy" model.

One theme involves making the case for consensus through joint argumentation. Correct answers are not to be found via the most rigorous argument, but by exploring many complementary arguments, each with their own flaws.  

Another theme involves being mindful of cognitive biases such as confirmation bias or subconscious cultural preferences. Even when an argument is highly rigorous by the standards of logical consistency, they may still suffer from a lack of perspective. 

The third major theme involves the recognition that ignorance is a valid starting point [5] for many arguments. It is impossible to know everything about a topic, so any principled argument is bound to be incomplete. And the traditional fallacy model [6] is likely to make things worse.

[1] This is a list of 24 common logical fallacies, courtesy of (Jesse Richardson, Andy Smith, and Som Meadon). Also, most of these are individually found on Wikipedia with a more detailed explanation.

[2] Reinert, C.   Denialism vs. Skepticism. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies blog, February 23 (2014).

[3] Cohen, P.   "Epistemic Closure"? Those are fighting words. NY Times Books, April 27 (2010).

[4] This is not a tautology! But it's not the same thing as the formal version of the fallacy fallacy (a.k.a. argumentum ad logicam).

[5] Contrast with: Argument from Ignorance. RationalWiki.

[6] A nice resource for better understanding all possible logical fallacies: The Fallacy-a-Day-Podcast. A fallacy a day, in readable and podcast form.

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