Subject of a Straw Man

When engaged in a dialogue, it’s important to avoid the use of logical fallacies. It can be easy to rely on a logical fallacy as a shortcut for arriving at a seemingly well-reasoned conclusion, especially if your opponent doesn’t realize what you’re trying to pull.

However, proper Philosophy—the practice of argumentation with style—does not permit such sophistry. Flagrant and intentional use of logical fallacies is a key indication of a disregard for normative discourse ethics, which are paramount to the success of any dialogue worth your participation.

Always remember that an argument is valid if and only if (iff) it is impossible for the premises to be true while the conclusion is false.

One common logical fallacy is the straw man. According to Wikipedia, the Fountainhead of Knowledge:

straw man, also known in the UK as an Aunt Sally, is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

In other words, a straw man can be used to “win” arguments by arguing against something other than the actual position an opponent is progressing. You may be interested to read more about the structure of a straw man argument here.

Do yourself and those you hold in high rhetorical regard a favor: avoid the straw man. Work hard to craft robust and original arguments of your own that are true to both the positions of you and of your opponents. That way, when you win an argument it will be through sound logic and impeccable style, not through slight of hand or smoke and mirrors.

Discourse Communities

it’s your choice, what you believe.
it’s my choice, what i believe.
we don’t have a right to each other’s choices or beliefs.

decolonization iii, nayyirah waheed (via nayyirahwaheed)


Except if we’re part of an epistemic community. In an epistemic community we might not share most of our beliefs, or even acknowledge the same methods, but we have a common goal, such as truth (it doesn’t have to be true, a substitute goal —such as rational assertability— will do) and we want to pursue it together. Since we both share this goal, I want to hear your critical opinion, especially when you think I might be going astray (since I don’t want to believe false things, or to acquire beliefs using unreliable methods). In order for this community to work we have to act upon certain duties. If I say a statement, and somebody doubts it, I (ordinarily) have a duty to answer her questions.

However, I’m not saying any two (or more) persons have to be part of an epistemic community. Two persons that are part of the same country or even the same village need not be part of the same epistemic community (liars, opresors, etc, do not share my epistemic goals, or even if they do, they do not want to pursue them with me, they only want to exploit me).

However, for the rest of cases, even if we don’t have a right to each other beliefs, whenever we are part of a community of inquirers we do have a duty.

(via fuckyeahlogical)

The idea of epistemic communities is interesting, but I think discourse communities are more useful. They’re similar concepts, but rather than sharing epistemic methodologies they share a set of discourse ethics.

This means that although we may come to different conclusions about any number of things, we share a common way of expressing our beliefs and in engaging others through that expression. We have shared values about what’s on the table for criticism, and what’s not, as well as how to best go about expressing that criticism. We agree to a shared communicative method, that when practiced, honors intellectual diversity as long as it’s authentically and respectfully expressed.

In other words, members of a discourse community attempt to progress sound logos via the expression of shared ethos. It is literally the practice of argumentation with style.

Members of an epistemic community share a methodology for discovering truth or creating knowledge. Members of a discourse community share a methodology for engaging in a dialogue that includes valuing the use of disparate epistemic methods.

Making Time for Nonsense

I recently posted a sentence to my personal tumblr which said nothing more than “I do not have time for that Christian nonsense.” This post caused quite the unexpected fervor, and although I do not believe I need to explain myself, I do believe there to be value in expounding a bit, and so I have prepared some remarks.

There seems to be a general understanding among self-appointed experts in social media that the topic of religion should be off limits. That the issue is too volatile and that viewers or listeners are too easily alienated. Personally, I don’t think this does justice to the audience’s ability to appreciate an honest and frank discussion. Nonetheless, the cardinal rule for many appears to be that above all one’s job is to never offend anyone. Indeed, there is a time and place for all things, but there are some topics that I simply cannot choose to not talk about. Religions, primarily being modalities of understanding based on faulty metaphysical principles, fall within this category.Read More »