Thursday, February 7, 2013

'Love is a Fallacy' and other feats of logic

  “Love is a Fallacy”
from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis
By Max Shulman
(Amereon Ltd.)

From Dial B for Blog

   Logic is missing from much public discourse, including (or especially) politics. The problem is that we don’t have a curriculum requirement to teach logic and critical thinking. Emotional arguments are made, politicians appeal to the venal demons rather than “the better angels of our nature,” and little gets done.
      Since getting logic and critical thinking added as a curriculum requirement is unlikely, I suggest everyone read the story “Love is a Fallacy” by Max Shulman. It’s one of his Dobie Gillis stories, collected in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, but he’s not the same Dobie as seen on the popular TV show. Dobie was Shulman’s Everyman. In one story, he might be akin to the TV version, but he was just as often a Machiavellan college student looking to further his career prospects with the right course or the right woman.
     In “Love is a Fallacy,” Dobie thinks Polly will be the perfect future mate -- beautiful, outgoing, agreeable -- except for one thing: she's not very bright. As Dobie soon discovers, “I had gravely underestimated the size of my task. This girl’s lack of information was terrifying. Nor would it be enough merely to supply her with information. First she had to be taught to think.” So, over the course of a few dates, he teaches her the rudiments of logic and critical thinking with the following logical fallacies: 

     “Logic ... is the science of thinking. Before we can think correctly, we must first learn to recognize the common fallacies of logic.”
     “ ... Dicto Simpliciter means an argument based on an unqualified generalization. For example: Exercise is good. Therefore everybody should exercise. … The argument is a fallacy. Exercise is good is an unqualified generalization. For instance, if you have heart disease, exercise is bad, not good. Many people are ordered by their doctors not to exercise. You must qualify the generalization. You must say exercise is usually good, or exercise is good for most people. Otherwise you have committed a Dicto Simpliciter.”
     “ … Hasty Generalization. Listen carefully: You can’t speak French. Petey Bellows can’t speak French. I must therefore conclude that nobody at the University of Minnesota can speak French. … The generalization is reached too hastily. There are too few instances to support such a conclusion.”
      “… Post Hoc. Listen to this: Let’s not take Bill on our picnic. Every time we take him out with us, it rains. … “Eula Becker doesn’t cause the rain. She has no connection with the rain. You are guilty of Post Hoc if you blame Eula Becker.”
     “ … Contradictory Premises: If God can do anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He won’t be able to lift it? … When the premises of an argument contradict each other, there can be no argument. If there is an irresistible force, there can be no immovable object. If there is an immovable object, there can be no irresistible force.”
      “ … Ad Misericordiam. … A man applies for a job. When the boss asks him what his qualifications are, he replies that he has a wife and six children at home, the wife is a helpless cripple, the children have nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, no shoes on their feet, there are no beds in the house, no coal in the cellar, and winter is coming. … It’s no argument. The man never answered the boss’s question about his qualifications. Instead he appealed to the boss’s sympathy. He committed the fallacy of Ad Misericordiam.”
     “ … False Analogy. ... Students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during examinations. After all, surgeons have X-rays to guide them during an operation, lawyers have briefs to guide them during a trial, carpenters have blueprints to guide them when they are building a house. Why, then, shouldn’t students be allowed to look at their textbooks during an examination? … The argument is all wrong. Doctors, lawyers, and carpenters aren’t taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are altogether different, and you can’t make an analogy between them.”
     “ … Hypothesis Contrary to Fact. … If Madame Curie had not happened to leave a photographic plate in a drawer with a chunk of pitchblende, the world today would not know about radium. … That statement is a fallacy. Maybe Madame Curie would have discovered radium at some later date. Maybe somebody else would have discovered it. Maybe any number of things would have happened. You can’t start with a hypothesis that is not true and then draw any supportable conclusions from it.”
     “ … Poisoning the Well. … Two men are having a debate. The first one gets up and says, ‘My opponent is a notorious liar. You can’t believe a word that he is going to say.’ ”... “It’s not a bit fair. What chance has the second man got if the first man calls him a liar before he even begins talking?”
            By the story’s end, she learns these fallacies and, to Dobie’s chagrin, applies them to his arguments for why they should go steady.
     Maybe if everybody read the story and tried to apply these same logical principles to politics and other aspects of our lives, our arguments would at least get more honest and sensible, if no less heated.
     Maybe not, but I hope you'll read (and, I hope, enjoy) one of my favorite comic short stories.


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