Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Assuming the Point That Must be Proven

Otherwise known as "begging the question" (commonly misinterpreted as "leading inevitably to the question" but in fact is from begetting the question, that is, starting with your conclusion and going from this, a classic logical fallacy. I found an example of this online which encapsulates this fallacy perfectly in the article "Liberalism and the two roads to nihilism" by Fred Hutchinson, on the right-wing Renew America site. The particular section I will be analyzing is found just over the header "the closed system fallacy" (humorous, a logical fallacy being made right before the accusation of another is leveled, but then humor seems lost on the writer of this article). 

"If the mind is a hybrid entity composed of material and spiritual elements, one would expect to find links between the mind and the brain. Starting from this expectation, the claim that brain-mind links prove that the mind is entirely material is obviously absurd. Like a magician who diverts attention with one hand so the audience does not notice what the other hand is doing, the materialist con man cleverly misdirects our attention so that we do not notice the absurd premise of the argument." 

Broken down, with my emphasis added: "If the mind is a hybrid entity composed of material and spiritual elements, one would expect to find links between the mind and the brain." Yes, but that is precisely what the author is trying to prove. Instead he leaps into "Starting from this expectation, the claim that mind-brain links prove that the mind is entirely material is obviously absurd." Materialism, of course, also "would expect to find links between the mind and the brain" assuming the term "mind" is meaningful. The author assumes a difference exists between mind and brain, that require "links." Even if there is a difference, it does not by itself disprove materialism, or prove his theory. Proof or disproof in this case are entirely lacking. And he has the audacity to accuse the materialists of being con men who "misdirect" us!

Of course, this constitutes a running theme in the entire article where many other logical fallacies are used, now much less subtle-ad hominem, by persistent attacks on the character of people the author disagrees with, and assails strawmen as he distorts their ideas beyond recognition in some cases. Some of the criticisms are valid, but these in fact agree with those of materialism, as when he tears dualism to shreds. His accusation of this "closed system fallacy" in materialism I am not in a position to answer, lacking knowledge of it, but the author may not be clear on what closed systems in fact are. In any case, it would only qualify as a fallacy if false, by definition.

 The author fails as well to explain why this material-immaterial fusion universe could not itself be a closed system fallacy. Questions like these are obviously not considered, let alone answered. The author also references both emergentism and reductionism while presenting materialism as one single amorphous blob of an idea, without disagreements (this is done for the other ideas referenced as well). Yet emergentism is the main rival of reductionism in consciousness theory, and vice versa. The author seems not to know of or in any case acknowledge that any such differences or disagreements exist in materialism as he attacks it, making a convenient strawman of both. 

Appropriately, the greatest strawman is in the analysis' title itself and continued in the body throughout, i.e., by claiming "liberalism" (a much broader philosophy than it has been deemed in the contemporary US both by opponents such as the author and self-described followers of it) leads to nihilism of all kinds, then going on to assert some mind-body fusion in contrast to both dualism and materialism under an umbrella of his particular Christian theology (without proof, of course). All in a day's work I guess. 

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