Fun with fallacies 9: Are you being shifty?

burden of proofShifting the burden of proof, is a fallacy so common that pointing it out is exhausting. The accepted decorum in debates and arguments is that the burden of proof is on the person making a claim. So, if I claim that there is a hobbit living in my television, I have to prove that claim, I cannot demand that it be treated as true until proven false.

This is also a very common argument that Atheists run into when debating believers, where they will run into a variant on

You are making the claim that God does not exist, therefore you have to prove that he does not

The reason why this is burden of proof shifting is that without a claim to there being a god, the Atheist position would not exist. The cause and effect cannot be:

There is no God! – > There is a God.

Where the negative claim comes before the positive claim. The positive claim always comes first and thus has the burden of proof. This is one of the funnier things to see in popular news programs or debate shows, where the people claiming that “X does not exist” are the ones that have to provide evidence.

Fun with Fallacies 8: Begging the question

Begging-the-question-animation1Begging the question is a straight-forward fallacy, that I was about a second away from making in my post on Kant. It happens when your conclusion is in essence provided in one of your premises.


Major premise: Women are discriminated against in the workplace.

Minor premise: Women earn less than men.

Conclusion: Women earn less because they are discriminated against.

In this case, the conclusion is contained fully in the major premise and is thus a case of begging the question. It is one of those fallacies that is very hard to catch in a debate simply because by the time you have had enough time to process it, the speaker will have moved on.

Why I enjoy breaking down ideologies

ideologyI’m naturally oriented towards systems-thinking and an ideology is a construct of ideas that in totality makes a system. An easy example would be religions that tend to consist of metaphysical ideas, ethics, aesthetic ideas and epistemology.


For instance in the Christian religion 

“God exists” is a metaphysical statement.

The ten commandments and the Golden Rule are ethical ideas, based on deontological ethics and objective ethics.

The design of the temple, the stone tables are aesthetic ideas.

Knowledge comes from divine revelation is epistemology.

There is a lot to be learned from deconstructing an ideology in this manner. For instance, you get to the bottom of what axioms are required in order for the ideology to be “true” and whether it is logical. You learn whether it is built like a house of cards or as a pyramid.

Some have taken to calling atheism an ideology, if Atheism is broken down into fundamental ideas there is really only 1 core statement in Atheism, which is the answer to the metaphysical question “Is there a god?”.

Atheism has no statement of ethics or of aesthetics. It does tend to view epistemology in the traditional western logical systems and scientific method. However, this is not a prerequisite. So, in this sense, Atheism isn’t an ideology, it is a conclusion.


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 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.



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