Get ready for the debates; take this challenge!

Posted: October 16, 2012 in Politics

Since it is political season and debates time –and we want to be thoroughly prepared to make informed decisions, I would like to recommend a great read by a pastor, scholar, author and cousin: Matthew Everhard. In his article, Matt walks us through a series of practical recommendations based on Aristotelian logic, to better assess what may be true or fair in the political discourse surrounding us today. Click here for his article ‘As Debate Season Arrives, Don’t Lose Your Mind’

In the meantime, since you may be very busy, please allow me to share some of my favorite points -my summarized cliffsnotes not-so-stylished version with a personal twist.

Top informal fallacies (false arguments) likely to be present in most political debates:

(1) Ad Hominem Fallacy: “John is an atheist. We cannot trust his tax policy “ A man’s background, though important in other ways, is not logically relevant to validate his policies and ideas.

(2) Guilt by Association Fallacy: “John has been photographed with Hitler at a recent campaign rally; therefore we cannot trust his environmental protection policy”. Do you agree 100% in every idea and belief with those whom you have spent time, taken pictures had a meal or hung out with? Neither may they.

(3) Ad Populum Fallacy: “Most people accept homosexual marriage today; since John is in favor of traditional marriage, he is an extremist and should be regarded with skepticism”. Most people can often be wrong. An opposite idea to the majority doesn’t necessarily mean ‘extremism”.

(4) False Alternatives Fallacy: “We must either raise taxes or reduce our armed forces. So which is it, Joe? Are you for raising our tax burden, or weakening our national defense?” In most policy matters, there are more than two options to choose from –often a compromise or combination is the one most likely to be passed in legislation in bipartisan way. Bringing up the worst of one idea against the best of the opposite one is not a fair apples-to-apples comparison

(5) Straw Man Fallacy: “Since my opponent stands for lesser government, he probably won’t even fund a police or fire department to protect our homes! ” More than an absurd argument, I think this is an insult to the hearers; exaggerating the opponents point of view to a  non-sense presumed argument

(7) Circular Reasoning Fallacy: “This tax will be good for local business. We all want businesses to thrive in this economy. Therefore we must write tax laws that will promote economic growth, such as the one I am presenting”. Presenting a solution and using as a justification the assumption that it will in fact solve the problem –trying to trick the listeners J

(8) Tu Quoque (You too) Fallacy: “Jones says he is for reducing taxes. But he himself voted to increase taxes four years ago”. Of course, times and situations do change. If a man realizes the error of his ways and changes, this cannot be logically held against the cogency of current position now.

I would also add that often, bills are comprised of many sub-items and although, as a legislator, you may have voted yes for the bill in its entirety, it doesn’t mean you agreed with every single part. For instance, It is not uncommon that a legislator agrees and negotiates to approve 10  items, although he may really want 9 and hate the one. It is just negotiations.

Now your challenge is: watch the debates and identify when a candidate tries to use one of these fallacies, and be smart not to fall for them.

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