Thursday, July 12, 2012

Argument from analogy

First, let me tell you a story of someone, a conservative, (unsurprising, I know) on an internet forum. After my grievous mistake of actually trying to educate them, pointing out each logical fallacy, explaining how logical mistakes in an argument are akin to arithmetic mistakes in solving an equation, the end result is you must accept the fact what you did was wrong, period, because any problem you attempt to solve with 7+2 = 72 is not going to work out too well in your favor. Their retort was, "I don't want to be logical about everything, people aren't supposed to be  computers." Of course, this is like saying, "I don't want to correctly do arithmetic,  people aren't supposed to be  calculators."  What you notice, other than the depressing fact that someone living in the modern age could possibly say something so ignorant, is that I made an analogy, and since math and logic are fundamentally analogous, it works as an argument from analogy. 

Arguments from analogy are always particularly interesting, because in truth they're extremely difficult to actually make properly. The fact is, arguments from analogy need to be, (and I eagerly await the gasps of shock) analogous. Unfortunately, given the average person doesn't know the difference between Modus pollens and  Modus tollens, (Which, as far as logic is concerned, in effect is not knowing the difference between addition and subtraction) the possibility they can make a proper logical analogy, even on extremely simple topics, is unlikely. Given that dolts look at complicated topics, don't understand the most fundamental concepts of the topic, and attempt to make analogies, well... we can say that it's more than a little obvious that there will be shortcomings. 

Arguments from analogy can be extremely useful, however, even if they're not complete analogies. In my analogy in the first paragraph I use math as an analogue for logic to point out to someone with no understanding of logic, that, like with math, there is doing it right, or doing it wrong, period. There is no wiggle room on what "7+2" equals. Like with math advanced logic doesn't preclude debate, however. Theoretical physicists can properly do math and argue for different hypothesis, much like philosophers can use proper logic and argue for different hypothesis. Another analogy, this one may in fact be flawed under scrutiny, but still reasonably accurate, I feel. 

While the analogy may not be, strictly speaking, perfect, the differences in them don't seem to factor in to change the argument. The reason is simple: despite the fact P.T. and philosophers are both vastly different professions, both are using analogues, math and logic, to argue plausible hypothesis that are not flawed by virtue of the math or logic behind them, at least not at face value. Most people, however, when attempting to make an analogy will not go into that level of depth to understand where the analogy does and does not work. I pride myself on often being able to tell the level of ability for someone to 'think' by reading a few paragraphs of personal opinion they happen to write. Any opinion or argument uses logic, just like solving any equation uses mathematics. Someone who is an expert in mathematics can easily look at a few attempts to solve problems and can then estimate the level of competence the person has. The same goes with logic, each sentence someone uses with logical content I get to peer at and then can estimate their competence. Arguments from analogy are actually often even more telling than other attempts at an argument because they vary in accuracy so much.  Not only do I get to see their lack of ability to see the logical analogues between the two concepts, I get to see how little they understand about each concept in their attempt to equate them. In short: The greatest way for the a person to make a mockery of themselves to anyone who knows what they're doing is to simply attempt an argument from analogy.

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