Matter-of-Fact Analyses, Clear Thinking
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BEING reliable can be tough, especially if dealing with other than first-hand sources. In his book Speed Reading [Tor], Tony Buzan goes into seven major logical fallacies that easily distort conversation and even discussions. By understanding the fallacies, you may sharpen your conversation and analytical faculties, and gain good competence in debates and other presentations, such as term papers. Keeping aware of these argumentation fallacies and still others could help you throughout your life, even.
1. Appeal to Authority
Arguments in advertising find that appeal may sell well. Such arguments may sound stronger than they really are, however, because it is the arguments in themselves and not the persons that advocate them, that should be the basis for reaching conclusions. [Tor 88-89]
A wider look on authority-uses is in "Four Strands on a Rope" on this address. It goes into assertions by Fred Kerlinger. [Link]
Denigration suggests 'blackening', and hence 'belittling' or 'defaming'. This is quite the opposite of appeal to authority. It is called 'character assasination' by some, and is seen in the proverb "Give a dog a bad name and hang him". In denigration too the focus of the person may be totally irrelevant, as it is the argument itself that is to be considered. [Tor 89]
In other words, denigration is smearing or scapegoating people to escape the unwelcome tidings they stands up to. Denigration may be a neurotic defence and lead into well camouflaged insanity. Its milder variants can be like "attacking the player instead of aiming at the ball" in soccer (football). Those who do so, have to be penalised (in football).
3. Emotive Language
The use of emotionally loaded words - strong words - may subtly influence our judgements through our emotions. The question is whether (or how far) strong words are warranted in any case. It they can be substantiated, their use may be fair and also fit. However, some emotive language may play on strong words and attachments and even identifications with one's group, or peers, or leaders, and so on. Emotive language can mislead our perceptions too. Demagogues are among those who speculate in using emotive language. It is also found in propaganda. [Tor 89]
4. Undefined Source
Undefined sources include so-called 'otherwise reliable sources', 'people', 'it has been confirmed that', 'we all know', and further. One question to alert us is, "Do all know?" Another is, "Does everybody really agree?". Often they do not. [Tor 89-90]
Buzan maintains that extrapolating never leads to certainty, only to a probability. Moreover, there are degrees of certainty (degrees of statistical significance) in probability calculations. Extrapolation - and predictive utterances on top of that again - can often be useful, although the ground to tread on because of them, is somewhat slippery. One normally does well to sort solid facts from various propositions aligned to them; the latter include extrapolations. And also, it is much wanted to be able to discern between a fact (also: a text) on the one hand, and its interpretations and comments on the other, so as to make it very clear what is what. [Tor 90]
6. Argument by Analogy
"The analogy halts" is a useful point to bear in mind. It is so because an analogous presentation tells of something else that what is presented. In other words, analogies deal with resemblances among things that also are unlike. Analogies are insiduous forms of arguments to be well aware of. For example, it is easy to infer that if what is tentatively referred to by analogy and the analogy itself agree with one another in some respects they could agree in others too - that's often where one or more traps lie. [Tor 90-91]
7. Misuse of Statistics
If you are not aware of all the considerations and accommodations that go into statistics, you can be easily mislead by it. The 'average' is a tricky subject in this connection. There are no average individuals, and even the person is unique, it is held in third force psychology, for example. And being average is not the same as being healthy, if most of the population is neurotic and tactless, and so on. Abraham Maslow found that one has to look for model humans among those who deviate from the average: the "plus deviates". Statistics, on the other hand, levels out individual differences and thus makes many interesting phenomena quite difficult to ascertain, tackle and handle. As Buzan too mentions, there is no average person.
Aside from the possible misuse of averaging (the average), there is tendentious use of graphics and various logical fallacies involved.
Going through and sifting statistical information could be a real help, though. One has to know the limits and scope of an investigation, and tackle possible over-stretching of the proper standards and limits that could be involved.
For more delicacies, try Madsen Pirie, The Book of the Fallacy (1985). It talks of degrading analogies, showing off "by science", condemning good alternatives; denying set-up premises, appeal to feelings, shrinking, sham accuracy, onesidedness, and wishful thinking among many other fallacies.
IN ONE of his books, Norwegian Arne Naess has postulated six norms for being impartial (i.e., unprejudiced, objective, unbiased, fair, non-tendentious), and these norms can be substantial help [Lif 57]. Naess finds that 'stiff objectivity' is a good thing to foster if the term is understood as something like 'reasonably balanced', 'technically rewarding' or 'well to the point', along with 'impartiality' (see above).
Thus, if you want to give an objective account of something, the six handling norms of Dr. Naess are:
If these guidelines are well kept, discussions will not be tactless, and may even be entertaining.
Below is a list of "referring verbs", also called integration verbs. When you refer (state what someone else has written or said), one or more of these verbs can serve you well. Variation can "spice up" both sentences and the mentality. Choose the tense that suits you.
Hds: Pirie, Madsen. Har du sagt A, har du sagt A: Slik avslører du språklig manipulering (The Book of the Fallacy). Oslo: Cappelen, 2005.
Keo: Kerlinger, Fred. Foundations of Behavioral Research. 2nd ed. London: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973.
Lif: Næss, Arne med Per Ingvar Haukeland: Livsfilosofi. Sandvika: De norske Bokklubbene, 2000.
Tor: Buzan, Tony: Speed Reading. Rev. ed. London: David and Charles, 1988.
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