Category Archives: writing

What is a logical fallacy?

I often wonder if we need to revise the way we treat logical fallacies. Fallacy is reallly a matter of function more than content.

For example, the fallacy of redirection. It is not uncommon to see any given topic in Catholicism have the issue of sex abuse by priests come up. Depending upon *why* the issue is raised, it may be “redirection,” it may be “getting off topic,” or it may be a valid question to raise.

For example, if, in a discussion of some social issue, the issue is raised to question the credibility of the Church’s teachings, it *may* be very relevant, or if the issue is raised to illustrate a parallel error. On the other hand, the issue must be discussed only in that context in which it is raised, if that is the case.

One “fallacy” thats fallaciousness has always seemed suspect to me is “slippery slope.” If “slippery slope” is always a fallacy, then Humanae Vitae is fallacious.

Very often, however, slippery slope is exactly how things work. One man’s slippery slope is another man’s incrementalism.

Or ad hominem. When I teach critical thikning, I call on my students to carefully analyze who the writer is, who the publishers and sponsors are, and what ulterior motives they may have. If there’s researched involved, who paid for the research?

To examine such questions is not to engage in ad hominem but to examine the credibility of the source.

Also, when I teach writing, I tell my students to be careful about audience, to consider exactly who they are (indirectly) addressing their piece to. What are the needs of the audience? Their interests, agendas, existing knowledge, questions, etc.?

Mary has a friend who is now a professor at a Catholic college, who got banned from campus retreats when they were in college because of a discussion with a homosexual man.

Now, the conversation was, from the perpsective of Mary’s friend and his interlocutor, a mildly heated but fruitful intellectual dialogue. However, the interlocutor did not disclose that he, personally, was struggling with the sin of homosexuality. Mary’s friend, in retrospect, said that his argument would have been different if he’d known his audience was an actual homosexual, rather than thinking it was purely a discussion of principle.

In any case, some third party overheard the conversation and complained to the directors of the retreat ministry. So her friend was banned from leadership in that retreat ministry because of upholding the Church’s teachings.

In any case, the incident raises the question of self-explanation. If critical readers are to evaluate the writer’s possible motives and agendas, and if a good writer considers his audience’s motives and agendas, then shouldn’t writers be required in principle to offer some self-explanation?

The tradition of Western formal academic writing has grown that writers are not supposed to self-reference, but this is intellectually dishonest. It is really important that a writer express why the subject is important to him or her personally, what personal experience he or she has in that field, etc. What metaphorical axes is the writer trying to grind?

To do otherwise creates a huge impediment to actual dialogue.

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