Sophism : How to actually make logic abuse

sophistThose of you who have read my posts on logic, and particularly my posts on logical fallacies, should be familiar with how you can call someone out when they make fallacious or spurious arguments against you. This was my own motivation in immersing myself in the field of logic for years, the ability to become a human logic machine. This is its own reward, the ability to use reason as a rapier can be exhilarating and bring great intellectual satisfaction, however logos alone is not an effective tool for the rhetorician.

In ancient Greece there was a group of teachers that were called the sophists, they were teachers of many things but are perhaps most renowned for teaching the tools of convincing rhetoric. Depending on who you read on the topic of sophism, Plato for instance derided them for using their knowledge to their own ends rather than seeking justice and truth, you may have a different picture. The modern meaning of the term, has come to mean one who uses the tools of logic and rhetoric to deceive someone in a debate. The term “sophistry” has come to be defined as using sophisms for subtle and deceptive argumentation or reasoning.

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Fun with fallacies 19: You are like Hitler!

false analogyThe fallacy of a false analogy happens when someone is making an argument in the form of an analogy where the analogy is lacking in certain aspects that make up a good analogy.

The basic form of an argument from analogy tends to be similar to this:

P and Q are similar in A, B, and C

In P we have also observed X

Therefore Q also probably has X

An example of such an argument could be

Ivan and Boris both work out hard, eat right and get extreme results in body composition

We also see that Boris takes anabolic steroids.

Therefore, Ivan probably also takes anabolic steroids.

The factors that either add to or detract from an argument from analogy are:

A) Relevance (positive or negative) of known similarities of the two things to the similarity inferred in the conclusion.

B) Degree of relative similarity or dissimilarity of the two things.

C) The amount and variety of instances that form the basis of an analogy.

This is generally not the type of fallacy you end up evaluating on the fly. In verbal discourse analogies tend to be superficial at best, and used for humorous effect, rather than as a piece of complex reasoning. They serve a purpose in rhetoric by “short-circuiting” a persons mind, by triggering associations.

For instance, when I say that “My opponent is like Stalin” the audience’s minds start doing the X from the argument themselves. I don’t even have to do the A, B, and C for this to happen. This is why good analogies are central to becoming a great orator or manipulator. I remember hearing someone say that the worst way you can punish a child, is by telling them “Go to our room, I’ll be up to punish you in 10 minutes” because the child’s mind starts creating their worst case scenarios for what the punishment will be.

This is what a great orator does with the false analogy, he creates what appears to be an argument, that the audience then convince themselves of in their mind.

Speaker: Trump is like Hitler!

Audience: He said it, so in what ways is Trump like Hitler?

What happens in their mind is that they come up with the best reasons for why Trump is like Hitler, rather than evaluating and dismissing it as fiery rhetoric. This is also congruent with salesmanship tactics, where putting your client in the position where they are selling your product to themselves increases the chance of making a sale.


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?