Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam

The best class I took in college was a junior level writing course in which our instructor insisted that we study how to develop logical arguments, including how to recognize fallacies, or all the ways in which people argue things without real evidence to back up their positions. This also includes all the ways in which we are apt to fall for an argument if we aren't thinking clearly. It was a tough course, because we couldn't write about anything without finding evidence to support our positions, but it was eye-opening and mind-stretching, and I'm still grateful to my teacher for being such a hard-nose about it.

I'm a mature woman now, but I work with teenagers, and often remind myself that I had just as hard a time as many of them with the whole logical reasoning thing. We are not born with this skill. It does not come naturally to most of us. We are emotional creatures. We have to learn how to set our own desires and prejudices aside when seeking the truth of things.

I had forgotten about the argument from ignorance fallacy until I ran across mention of it recently.

Argument from ignorance
From Wikipedia
The argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam ("appeal to ignorance") or argument by lack of imagination, is a logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise is true only because it has not been proven false or is only false because it has not been proven true.

The argument from personal incredulity, also known as argument from personal belief or argument from personal conviction, refers to an assertion that because one personally finds a premise unlikely or unbelievable, the premise can be assumed not to be true, or alternately that another preferred but unproven premise is true instead.

Both arguments commonly share this structure: a person regards the lack of evidence for one view as constituting proof that another view is true.

You see this viewpoint held by some posters on forums and websites devoted to the paranormal, but not by everyone. I have to emphasize that. There are intelligent people out there who are interested in looking for evidence of the existence of ghosts, either due to personal experience or out of intellectual curiosity. They may be called skeptics, because they insist that there be reproducible impartial evidence that will stand up to independent scrutiny. It's a much tougher stance to take than that of some, who sadly believe that everything they see is evidence of ghosts.

Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk may have come to represent the opposites, emotion and reason, but to say they cannot exist in harmony would be . . . illogical. There is no rule that says turning on your heart means you have to turn off your brain, so it is likewise, not necessary to turn off the logic circuit in your mind to believe in the possibility that ghosts exist.

Here is a list of the fallacies . . . My, my it's quite a list. If you've never had the opportunity to become familiar with them, I suggest going to the website listed at the bottom of the list. On the website, you can click on each one and learn more. Just reading the titles, may elicit a nod of understanding. You don't have to be Mr. Spock to come to a logical conclusion, as Captain Kirk often "proved."

Ad Hominem
Ad Hominem Tu Quoque
Appeal to Authority
Appeal to Belief
Appeal to Common Practice
Appeal to Consequences of a Belief
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Fear
Appeal to Flattery
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Pity
Appeal to Popularity
Appeal to Ridicule
Appeal to Spite
Appeal to Tradition
Begging the Question
Biased Sample
Burden of Proof
Circumstantial Ad Hominem
Confusing Cause and Effect
False Dilemma
Gambler's Fallacy
Genetic Fallacy
Guilt By Association
Hasty Generalization
Ignoring A Common Cause
Middle Ground
Misleading Vividness
Personal Attack
Poisoning the Well
Post Hoc
Questionable Cause
Red Herring
Relativist Fallacy
Slippery Slope
Special Pleading
Straw Man
Two Wrongs Make A Right

The Nizkor Project

1 comment:

  1. Well, I'm embarrassed to say that was over my head. Interesting. I read the Wikipedia article and went to the Nizkor Project's educate myself. The information was fascinating, but I'm afraid I'm still lacking in the ways to have a proper argument. I'm more proficient with The Mama Method, just shaking my finger and saying, "Because I said so!" :>)