Fun With Fallacies 1: I feel sorry for Angus

No true ScotsmanPoor Groundskeeper Willie, not only is he forced to live in a shed, he can’t put sugar on his porridge either. The “No true Scotsman” fallacy is a classic and it gets the name from the following “discussion”:

Player 1: No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge

Player 2: My friend Angus is from Scotland and puts sugar on his porridge

Player 1: Well, no TRUE Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge

Usually, this fallacy happens when someone is trying to distance themselves from facts that undermine their argument or position. As I’m sure you remember from my post on basic logic, if premises are proven not to be true, then the conclusions are invalid. This goes to both soundness and validity in that, if premises are proven untrue, then the argument is invalid, and if empirical observation contradicts the argument, then it is also not sound; in short, it is a poor argument.

The fun version:

Player 1: Feminism is about equality of the sexes

Player 2: Valerie Solanas is a feminist and she wants to kill men.

Player 1: Then she’s obviously not a real feminist.

5 minutes of research philosophy


Cartoon from

When engaging in research, the research paradigm is one of the more critical choices a researcher will make.This is due to each research paradigm being more suited to different types of research, questions, hypotheses, and methodologies. While there are many methodologies that may be chosen from, each paradigm tends to be focused more towards certain methods and approaches.

One of the reasons for why a person should know this, is that when a journalist or media personality cites research, being able to analyze that research in the

There are many ways to do research, many topics to approach, many ways of approaching those topics. The two branches of research I’m going to look at today are phenomenology (also called interpretivism) and Positivism.


Throughout history, most research has been done using the Positivist perspective and it is a method very much suited for the pure sciences. It tends to be highly quantitative, based on empirical evidence, replicability, validation and hypothesis testing plays a major part, in pretty much all research done using positivism.

Due to its roots in pure science and engineering, the methodology tends to concern itself with “how” rather than “why“. We know that Newton’s laws exist, the boiling temperature of water and how a human body tends to react to various infections. Positvist research thus has a tendency to be good at predicting “What will happen if” but can say very little about why something happens.

One of the major benefits of positivist research done well, is that it can be used to predict what will happen through having a knowledge of how the variables interact. This serves as a major source of credit for this type of research. When compared to phenomenology, it also tends to utilize much larger sample sizes, and therefore the knowledge obtained from the research is more likely to be generally applicable to a larger population.

A common example of positivism in action is demographics research and research conducted by most governmental bodies. For instance the DOJ crime research, FBI crime research and the Office for National Statistics (UK) are all examples of positivist research using large sample sizes, concerned with what is happening, with little concern for why this is happening.


To address the inherent weaknesses of positivism, phenomenology was invented. This method is frequently used in the social sciences, and often forms the backbone of social science research. The main reasoning being that the rigid, variable oriented, and hypothesis focused approach of positivism is not suited to investigate situations involving humans, because there are too many complex variables involved in a lot of the cases.

This comes from the fact that in social sciences especially, the question of “why” becomes more central to the thinking of the researcher. Rather than attempting to establish the earning differential between men and women as a positivist would do, the interpretivist wants to know why it exists.

The weaknesses of phenomenology can include a high degree of the researcher interfering with the sample, for instance by interacting with the people who are being observed. Frequently this is by design as the researcher embeds him or herself with the sample. Unlike positivism that tends to produce “mind-independent” information, research done using phenomenology may frequently be influenced by the subjective mind of the reseacher. Due to common research methods such as structured interviews or case studies, the sample will be quite small, and data may not be applicable to the general population.

Also, unlike positivism that to a lesser degree may be influenced by the “wants” of the researcher, positivist research has a major issue with researcher influence, but also from research being designed in a manner that it would confirm the researchers initial perspective. If a chemist had an initial perspective that if you mix copper and arsenic you get an explosive, this would rapidly be proven as wrong by simple experiment. However, if a positivist has an initial perspective that sexism is rampant within the western world, it would be easy to manipulate the research to show just that. Picking biased samples, limiting the data sets, influencing the sample, and so on.

Summary and Conclusions

So, to summarize, the main risk with positivism is that the research done using it as a philosophical framework in social sciences research is that it may miss relevant variables, due to the impersonal nature. A somewhat reductionist view is that for a positivist, that which cannot be observed and quantified does not exist.

However, when applied properly and for suitable research, the conclusions made by a positivist research project are generally applicable to the general population, leads to the discovery of new facts and can allow the construction of a framework for predicting events.

The main risk with phenomenology is that the research may include the wrong variables, it may seek to come up with conclusions based on faulty data or small sample sizes. It may be highly subjective and, is less replicable. The main risk with phenomenology, is that in the worst cases, it becomes a case of “Cecilia down in accounting told me that Todd from shipping has been sleeping with Joanne in billing, it’s a fact I promise, I’ve done my research”

Thus, a research based in phenomenology, is generally less applicable, may suffer from subjective or other forms of bias, and is very prone to affirming the consequent.

Basics of logic part 2


In the first post, I dealt with deductive arguments, which is the “classical” form of arguments. They are such that if their premises are true the conclusions are true. Deductive reasoning forms the core of the scientific method, is what most people regard as being logic. Deduction is most famously cited by Sherlock Holmes as his method of inquiry, the process of deduction is reasoning from one or more premises to reach a logically certain conclusion. In the application of the scientific method, the premises are often data regarding observations.

Inductive arguments on the other hand, are such that the truth of their premises, makes the conclusion more or less probable. Inductive arguments are either strong or weak. The premises within an inductive argument are viewed as supplying strong evidence for the truth of a conclusion, unlike the deductive where the premises are viewed as being true. In colloquial use, inductive reasoning is often defined as progression from particular/individual instances to broader generalization. While the philosophical definition is more nuanced, it is sufficive for this article to outline that an inductive argument indicates some degree of support for the conclusion, but does not entail it.

Abductive reasoning, is a form of inference which goes from observation to a theory that accounts for the observation. As with inductive reasoning, the premises do not guarantee the conclusion, and a colloquial way of understanding it would be “inference to the best explanation“. Continue reading

The basics of logic part 1

Portrait of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Logic is the scientific method of thought, occasionally also referred to as “The theory of formal truth and validity”. In Europe logic was first developed by Aristotle, and was the dominant system of logic in the Western World until the 19th century. The works of Aristotle introduced terms such as hypothetical syllogisms, temporal modal logic and inductive logic, in addition to terms like propositions, syllogisms and predicables.  One can contrast formal and informal logic, where the former is the study of natural language argument, of which the study of fallacies is of high importance. Formal logic on the other hand is the study of inference with pure formal content. Symbolic logic is the study of symbolic abstractions that capture the formal features of logical inference and mathematical logic is an extension of symbolic logic into other areas. For this article, I will be focusing mainly on formal logic and information logic.

Where the scientific method exists in order to ensure that the scientist(s) remain as objective as possible, logic exists to structure thoughts, and to ensure they remain as objective as possible. The goal of the system of thought that is logic, is to make reasoning “mind-independent” and clear, through the use of a rule set. A logician is expected to make his terms clear, be they numbers or words. For instance, if one were to use a word that has multiple, different definitions, out of which more than one could be reasonably assumed to apply, one must make it clear which definition one is using. If one uses a common word, yet deviates from the commonly accepted definition of the word, one is expected to define the word prior to its first use.

In order to do this, certain concepts are introduced. In Aristotelian logic the major way to structure arguments are in syllogisms. This uses premises (minor and major), conclusions drawn from the premises and sets of syllogisms, which are sets of premises, where if the premises are true, the conclusion must also be true. This formalizes an argument in such a manner that it can be fully explored and critiqued.

Syllogisms, Soundness and Validity

As mentioned, syllogisms are ways to structure arguments formally, in such a manner that the truth of the premises guarantee the conclusion. The primary benefit of structuring your core arguments into syllogisms is to structure them in such a manner that they become clear to you and to others. It also has the benefit of offering a clear set of rules for how to structure premises, which in turn reduces the emotional content of an argument, in effect it removes the ethos, and pathos.

An example of a syllogism would be:

Major premise: All men are mortal

Minor premise: Socrates is a man

Conclusion: Therefore Socrates is mortal. 

An argument can exist in 2 basic states: valid or invalid. The argument above is an example of a valid argument, because if both premises are true, the conclusion follows. There are a lot of reasons why an argument would be invalid, logical fallacies are the more often cited culprit.

Then there is the question of soundness and validity. An argument can be sound without being valid and valid without being sound. Soundness in a deductive argument brings empirical observation into the mix. This means that it questions whether the premises are true, and if it finds that a premise is not true, then the argument is unsound.

Major premise: All millionaires are against tax hikes. 

Minor premise: Warren Buffet is a millionaire.

Conclusion: Therefore, Warren Buffet is against tax hikes.

This is a valid argument. However, empirical observation of what Warren Buffet has actually said, indicates that the minor and major premises are untrue. [1][2] Thus, the argument is valid and sound. Often the distinction between validity and soundless are blurred in actual discourse, with the unfortunate side-effect that it enables propaganda. For instance, the “fact check” squad, in political debates, are “soundness checkers“, yet they are rarely validity checkers.

One of the issues that I frequently run into, when debating, arguing and writing, is a question of what is axiomatic or not. An axiom in logic, is a self-evident truth, that is so well established that it is accepted without controversy. This is a sword that cuts both ways unfortunately, in that debates about loaded issues such as religion, genders, race, immigration, taxation and so on, tend to rely on different axioms between debaters. What is a self-evident truth for one party, is not so for the other party. In that case, it is perfectly reasonable to challenge the other part.

The same is true for definitions. Those of us who frequently read research reports and philosophical texts notice how much time is spent on defining simple concepts. This is because definitions can have big impacts on research and arguments.

An example could be “For this argument, “reality” is defined as that which can be observed and measured.” In this case, the definition is there, to limit the scope of the argument and to establish the boundaries of what is addressed by it. It is perfectly OK to define words however you like in your argument, it is also perfectly fine to present the argument, but it can be meaningless.

Major premise: Disagreeing with me on the internet is abuse

Minor premise: [Insert person] disagreed with me on the internet. 

Conclusion: Therefore [Insert person] is abusing me. 

In this case, the major premise defines disagreement as abuse. The minor premise states that an event happened, the conclusion follows. In this case [Insert person] would be right to challenge the definition of abuse.

Axioms and Maxims

An axiom as mentioned earlier is a statement that is taken as true a priori. The existence of “The Ideological Bubble” largely stems from the acceptable of different, and often mutually exclusive axioms by different groups. An example that is quite in the times, is the axiom that all minorities are oppressed and all majorities are the oppressors. This is accepted by most social justice warriors as an a priori truth, which then helps inform their world view. However, for most non-SJWs, this is not accepted as an a priori truth, but rather an assertion or a proposition. Thus, when the two face off in a debate, their arguments cannot possibly lead to a conclusion as their axioms are mutually exclusive.

A simple example from the “equality” battlefield of feminism, is that feminism is defined as the “The theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” [3], in this case, one must ask what the definition of equality is in this case. For instance, one can measure if women and men have the same opportunities in terms of politics, economics and society, through access. If both genders are free to enjoy the same opportunities within these spheres, then it follows that they are equal. However, if equality is in terms of outcome, then such equality cannot ever be measured. This is because, the former measures access, while the latter measures what is done with that access.

If one party is using the axiom of equality of outcome, while the other is using equality of opportunity, this colors the argument to a point where no reconciliation or productive outcome can arise. In the case of the former, equality cannot be achieved unless the sexes are perfectly demographically balanced within every sphere of a society. Whereas in the case of the latter, the sexes are by definition equal if they have access to the same opportunities.

A maxim is a ground rule or subjective principle of action, defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy as

Generally any simple and memorable rule or guide for living; for example, ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’. Tennyson speaks of ‘a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter’s heart (Locksley Hall), and maxims have generally been associated with a ‘folksy’ or ‘copy-book’ approach to morality

For instance the proposed approach of “Listen and Believe” when a woman speaks of her experience, is a maxim, that seeks to avoid what is often called “victim blaming“, which is deemed a morally reprehensible act. The major difference between a maxim and an axiom, is that the latter is often viewed as being objectively true, while the latter is a subjective preference. One of the often experienced challenges comes when maxims are viewed as objective truth, as this leads to moral dogmatism, put in another way, it makes a moral interpretation an objective fact. The moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant and deontological ethics in general, maxims are viewed as subjective principles of action.

Summary and Conclusions

The goal of logic is to structure your thoughts and arguments so that they become as mind-independent as possible. This makes critical evaluation of your argument possible, because it takes both a form ,which is easy to evaluate and while being rigorously defined. In the various branches of philosophy, logic is utilized as a tool to communicate ideas between participants, to arrive at the “most logical” outcome, that which is the most true. Philosophy as a field is focused on finding truth, within the various sub-fields including epistemology, ethics, politics and esthetics. Science in itself used to be a branch of philosophy, entitled natural philosophy.

The challenge that philosophy attempts to overcome is the effect of the subject on thought. Which, is why I find it interesting that some sub-fields, for instance continental philosophy, and ethics are so excessively steeped in the subjective. For instance the dichotomy that Nietzsche attempted to overcome in “Beyond Good and Evil” is the one that moral philosophers have been quarreling about since the invention of the field.

As outline with maxims, they are by nature subjective and when maxims are treated as axioms, then the outcome will ultimately be subjective. When axioms are not generally regarded as true, but only regarded as generally true within one group, this creates issues of communication, but also very different perceptions of the world.

More reading

The Organon by Aristotle

Critique of Practical Reason by Immanuel Kant