Categories
Logic

Either-Or

Classic lines like “If you don’t agree, unfriend me now” and “Not voting for [preferred politician] is a vote for [opposing politician]” are very much in style these days due to tribalism on social media and within political circles. These statements contain an implied “you’re either with me or against me”.

Only the Sith deal in absolutes, but by saying this I just made an absolute statement. Hmmm…

While research, observation, and careful interpretation can increase the probability of finding the truth of the matter, logic creates helpful “guardrails” to pursue the truth with validity.

That being said, logic is not the end-all. You can tell the truth in an logically invalid manner, and you can spread a lie in a logically valid manner.

Rather than exploring these issues on the basis of the positions that people declare to be true these days, this article will approach these statements on the basis of their validity.

Simply put, the argument by itself is invalid in most cases.

Just because there are two options does not mean they are the only ones. For example, someone may disagree with your views on immigration, but that does not mean they shouldn’t be your friend anymore. They may have a more-informed opinion (or a less-informed opinion) and still want to be your friend. Demanding that they no longer be your friend is invalid at best, and, if you were misinformed in the process, you risk losing friendships on the basis of a lie.

By design, the Either-Or dogmatism is intolerant. While select issues are definitely worth being intolerant about, it is being abused. However, there are exceptions where Either-Or should be considered valid. Either-Or dogmatism must be limited in scope to whatever you believe to be the ultimate source of truth. For me, that would be both the Old and New Testaments of the Scriptures. If your Either-Or dogma comes from a separate religious source, I would consider it to be untrue, but I would not accuse you of an invalid proposition.

As a cautionary note, I am not saying that this means that all logically-valid opinions are appropriate. A parting thought I would like to share is a quote I memorized from my philosophy professor:

“An economy of the dogmatic is a mark of a mature mind, however a sweeping acceptance [of all ideas] is… a modern cosmopolitan sophistication.”

Dr. Ron Horton

Categories
Logic

Bulverism

Assume that your opponent is wrong, and explain his error, and the world will be at your feet.

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.

In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism”. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father—who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third—”Oh you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment”, E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

– from “Undeceptions”, by C.S. Lewis

Last Friday, my coworker reads a news announcement about Netflix claiming that they will be pushing back against sharing passwords. However, they don’t say how they would do it. My co-worker openly speculates that they might be bluffing. While this is a pure speculation on her part, the response catches my attention. Another coworker immediately says she is “projecting” because she doesn’t have a Netflix account.

In other words, since my coworker has no Netflix account, my other coworker assumes that my first coworker is wrong, and proceeds to say why she is wrong on the basis of my co-worker’s personal preference.

This all being said, I will admit that in this context the response is possibly meant in good humor. However, this logical fallacy is commonly used in contexts that are no laughing matter.

Bulverism is a variation of Ad Hominem, which dismisses arguments by discriminating on basis of the person making the argument. Ad Hominem tends to focus on who the person is (or was), Bulverism focuses on an attribute of the person.

Bulverism is often spotted when someone says something like “you just say that because you…”

A known political example is to say that men can’t have or voice an opinion on abortion. It presupposes the opinion to be already wrong (or wrong to express) on basis of sex.

The best way to avoid Bulverism is to consider the argument on its own merits, even if the person giving the argument is someone you dislike or disagree with.