Tackling the Thermian argument

The Thermian argument so themed by its creator Dan Olsen, is an invention to shut down people who use in context defenses to in his words “shut down critics of fictional works”. The argument is that criticism of a fictional world, is in embryo the criticism of the decisions made by the creators of that world. (You can find his video here)

I’m inclined to accept the logic of the argument as it seems to be fairly valid, here is how I would structure it:

Major premise: All fiction is made by a creator.

Minor premise: The creator has full control over a work of fiction he or she produces.

Conclusion: All fiction is the result of the creators control. 

The argument that Mr. Olsen is making is to make the creator of fiction inseparable from that fiction. So, for instance “I’m not criticizing the amount of foul language in “Gran Torino” I’m criticizing the director, writer, actors, key grip, and anyone else involved for allowing that amount of foul language in the movie.” 

This eliminates the need to defend a criticism of a work from arguments about that work. Such as “This makes sense in context of the work”. However, it kind of doesn’t because the argument works both ways.

If criticism of a fictional work is the criticism of the decisions made by the creator of that work. Then criticisms of the criticism is criticism of the person who made the original criticism. Furthermore, the “thermian argument” is in reality a defense of the decisions made by the creator, anchored in the original work.

The reductio ad absurdum of Mr. Dan Olsen’s argument in this video is:

  • Criticism of the world is in fact criticism of God (if you believe in god)
  • Criticism of a culture is in fact criticism of the people within that culture.
  • Criticism of religion is in fact criticism of the people who support and maintain the religion.

Just to show how fallacious and ridiculous Mr. Olsen’s argument is, take a look at this painting by Jackson Pollock:

Thermian argument 2

I could say a lot of things about it, however, I’m going to play out an argument:

Person 1: My 7 year old could have painted that, it’s just paint splattered on a canvas, it looks like the floor after I painted my house last time and spilled paint all over the place.

Person 2: Well, actually the style is called abstract impressionism, it sprung out from surrealism and makes perfect sense when put in context of the development of painting focused on subconscious or automatic painting, based in creating art that is viewer dependent.

Person 1: You are just making a Thermian argument.

Of course, a rebuttal to the argument I’ve spent the last 400 or so words on is possible, in that a person could argue that I unfairly generalized and employed the argument outside of its intended sphere. That it’s only meant to deal with artistic expression in context of art, taken to mean writing, film or video-games. I suppose that is a fair criticism, however it misses the point, that art is an artist sharing their imitation with us, in good ways and in bad ways. Context matters, without Blofeld, you have no James Bond, without Mr. Hyde you don’t really have a decent novel, without the “first night” rule in “Braveheart”, you lose the characters motivation and without what I think was a very upsetting scene in “Law Abiding Citizen” you have no plot.

Rhetoric and Logic

rhetoricThis is inspired by a comment I got from Ontologicalrealist who asked me about the quote:

“for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” (Our discussion in the comments)

The quote is often attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi head of propaganda, and thus a brilliant rhetorician. The major difference between logic and rhetoric, is that the purpose of logic is to explore ideas, find new truths, remain rational and objective in your reasoning, and contributing to knowledge. The purpose of rhetoric is to communicate ideas, persuade and to “sell”.

I’m going to start by breaking down rhetoric in the same way I did logic in “The basics of logic 1” and “The basics of logic 2

Aristotle breaks rhetoric into 3 parts:

  • Logos – meaning “discourse” or “reasoned discourse”
  • Pathos – emotional appeals to the audience
  • Ethos – the character of the speaker

Rhetoric is a highly studied field, and has been broken down by many and there are many explanations and breakdowns that differ from the one I’ve used here, however my opinion is that this breakdown gives the clearest picture of what rhetoric is at it’s core.

Logos, or reasoned discourse, can be said to be logical and fact based. However, it doesn’t have to be. It can be valid but not sound, it can suffer from logical fallacies, or many other problems. It is therefore always important to apply critical thinking to any argument made.

Pathos, or the emotional appeals, very often make up the core of the rhetoricians overall communication. Emotional appeals in various forms, from anecdotes, appeals to emotion, identity plays, are effective because they add familiarity and makes the speaker likable to the audience. It is much easier to convince someone who likes you, and they are less likely to engage their critical thinking.

Ethos, or the character of the speaker, adds legitimacy to the pathos and logos. For instance, by having the title “Dr.” adds to credibility, so does having experience and/or education within the field that you are speaking within. However, “Ethos” to some extent has a transitive property. This is frequently seen when famous people take up causes outside of their field, such as Emma Watson for women, or Matt Damon for clean water. Their opinions and words are more credible because the person is famous, despite not having any qualifications and little experience on the topic.

Some key tips for telling rhetoric from logic:

  1. Look for qualifying words, rhetoric very rarely has qualifying words (some, maybe, opinion, etc) logic is full of them.
  2. Look for the emotional appeal, is the speaker actively trying to play on people’s emotions through voice use, loaded words, appealing to “romanticism” or identities.
  3. Would the speech be effective regardless of who speaks or is it effective because of who speaks?

Fun with fallacies 7: Oh well, fuck you!

calvin and suzie ad hominemFinally the argumentum ad hominem, the personal attack. The manipulative tool, the distraction, and the red herring. It means to the man, and it is when someone attacks the person who made an argument, rather than the argument. This can take many, and frequently inventive forms, it can be subtle, or it can be obvious, it can be forceful and understated, it can be overt and covert.

Here is an example:

Person A:  I don’t think feminism should be defined as being about “gender equality” due to the many ideological tenets that promote misandry, such as Andrea Dworkin and Valerie Solanas. Furthermore, the use of the term “rape culture”, and treating all men as potential rapists.

Person B: That’s because you’re a misogynistic, sexist, evil person.


Fun with fallacies 6: So, you’re totally wrong and I’m totally right, lets call it in the middle

british fallacyThe British fallacy as it is called sometimes, is the argument that the middle-ground between two debaters is most likely the accurate one.

I say there is no God, you say there is a God, so lets say there could possibly be a god. This is a fallacy in most cases, due to the fact that it argues a middle-ground without regard for the positions. The absurdity becomes clear when you put it in a mathematical perspective:

Person 1: 2 + 2 = 4

Person 2: 2 + 2 = 6

Conclusion: 2 + 2 = 5

I don’t have much to say on this fallacy, but it does tend to pop up where you have 1 party who has taken an extreme position vs a moderate opponent, who then tries to use the fallacy to “trick” their opponent over to their side.

You can see this in both American and European politics in different perspectives. Where in the US the “Left – Right” center line has been drawn very much in “moderate-right” and in Europe where the center line has been drawn in the “moderate left” perspective.


Objective vs Subjective


This is a topic that is close to my heart and a pain in my ass. The argument of what is subjective and what is objective.

This goes back to my post on Positivism vs Phenomenology and the different approaches to research. From a positivist perspective, if something cannot be quantified and measured it has no meaning.

This goes to what a fact actually is, it is something that can be said to be mind independent. 2 + 2 = 4 is a mathematical fact when the terms are defined without decimals.

That my height is 6 feet is something that can be verified by using a ruler or other form of measurement set up to the use the imperial system of measurement. Whether I’m tall enough, too short or too tall is a subjective judgement. Subjective statements can contain facts, but the nature of something subjective is that it is not mind independent. It represents the perspective of the person communicating to you.

In research, new facts are found through structured study of a topic, new theories are often developed through a mix of study and creative thinking, which is called theoretical research. You can also find new facts through observation, in what is called empirical research.

For instance, if I state that 4.2% of S&P 500 companies have female CEO[1], that is an objective statement.

If I were to state that 50% of CEOs of the S&P 500 companies need to be women, that is a subjective statement.

[1] http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-ceos-sp-500


Fun with fallacies 5: Stop repeating yourself

argument from repititionThe argument from repetition is when a discussion has been had so many times, or a participant in a discussion repeats the same point over and over again, neglecting that other participants have either proven the point wrong or have conceded the debate. This is a form of “beating them into submission” and reminds me of a quote by Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

The goal of this tactic, is to exhaust your opponent into conceding the argument, because they get sick of being told the same thing over and over. The danger here, is that a person will engage in it to make their definitions carry over into the main debate, when they are hotly contested.

Fun with fallacies 4: That feels wrong to me

argument from personal incredulityAn argument from personal incredulity, happens when a participant in a discussion rejects an argument or evidence based on the fact that they do not believe it. This is very common in discussions where topics with strong personal ties are up for debate. Typical examples are religious people rejecting logic and science, instead insisting on that one must “feel” or “believe” rather than critically analyze the arguments and evidence.

A typical example from a discussion I had with a feminist recently:

BLL: Well, the gender wage gap has been largely debunked by mainstream economics, Warren Farrell tackles it in the “Myth of male power”, Thomas Sowell does the same in “Economic facts and fallacies”. Furthermore, there is a methodological error happening when the question is reduced to two variables: earnings and gender.

Feminist: The wage gap is 73 cents on the dollar, the statistics from the department of labor shows it.