Category Archives: Sense the nonsense

Sense the nonsense

Irrelevance: Passing the buck 

Another example of an irrelevant answer is when the attention is shifted back at the first person. Instead of solving an issue and tackling it with a sound valid argument one tries to escape his duty by simply redirecting his opponents attention and focus on something else. There are at least two ways of doing this.

Today we’ll look at the first one which is based on a notification. A common example is “Tu Quoque” which in latin means “you too“. I am sure that you have experienced it a dozen times, when you saw people around doing something inappropriate, if not utterly wrong, and you tried to approach them in an attempt to correct their behavior, when suddenly out of nowhere someone pulled out a long-forgotten memory of you engaging in a similar activity. The feeling of being perfectly disarmed fell upon you after which, you muttered a few more remarks about the consequences it had in your life and then went back to what you were doing before, since the power of your admonishion now appeared to be completely scattered.

Yet, while this is often a sad reality it is very illogical. Just imagine a father telling his son not to play with matches as he could burn down the house. After this his son replies: “But grandma said that when you where small you always played with matches.” While this might be true it in no way justifies small boys behavior for the argument namely that he could burn down the house, is still valid.

Another illustration is of a judge at a court who is passing a judgment over a proven thief and at that very moment his lawyer finds out judges secret criminal record where it stands that many years ago he had committed a similar crime for which he went to jail. First, it would be foolish to bring that up as judges crime would in no way alleviate his clients situation, but in contrary would confirm the righteousness of judges sentence for which he has good, even personal, comprehension; specifically, that for such a misconduct, there are these consequences. Two wrongs do not make a right. Secondly, thieves advocate would not take this way because criminal records of those in a court room are not essentialy relevant to this particular case. It is the robbers crime that is now assessed, not against the judges crimes, or against crimes of those in the room, city, state or the entire Earth. It is a statue-book that is used in which all the laws of a particular country are collected and more or less based on the moral code within us. This type of fallacy is also called shifting the blame.

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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Ethics, Sense the nonsense


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Sense the nonsense

Emotional Language: Appeal to the bandwagon

Very similar to the appeal to status is appeal to the bandwagon, however now it is not about our uniqueness but on the contrary, its about our need to belong.

Different groups of people hold various biases both positive and negative towards certain brands, products, behavior and altogether certain lifestyle. We can find these groups in all sizes. It can start already in an elementary school, when your mom adds to your lunch bag raw vegetables like broccoli or carrot, which was at least in my days highly “not cool”. But there are certain trends also on municipal or national levels. For instance in Denmark you can find a variety of groceries stores. Names (some of which you may recognize) like Rema1000, Netto, Coop, Føtex, Fakta, SuperBrugsen, SuperSpar or Kiwi fill the danish market with food for everyday and while surely you’d be able to find some diversity over these as well, majority of Danes consider two particular stores – ALDI and LIDL – to appear on the very bottom of this chart. Yet dozens of other things come into picture as well, like what you wear, what you listen to, what books do you read, what phone or computer do you own, what restaurants do you go eat to (I guess you would not invite your CEO to McDonald’s unless you have an excessively familiar working environment)  or whether you travel enough (as that is what all the people of quality do…).

If we again want to recognize this appeal in commercial slogans this time we’re looking for words like “4 out of 5 doctors recommend X” or “ten million housewives are using Y”.

Whether there is a strong aversion or popularity towards something it is not yet a proof of it’s worth or value per se and while these commercials, public opinions and biases of our friends can carry some truth, until this point we haven’t heard a single good reason why should we use X or Y, or not go shopping to ALDI or LIDL, besides keeping up with others. (I personally shopped in ALDI and LIDL and I was more than satisfied with both prices and quality of their products)

As usually I would again like to point out that bandwagons are not wrong in themselves. They can point to a large number of customers truly satisfied with a high-quality product (or vice versa), but they can also be just an outcome of a mere good advertising, publicity and salesmanship of a merchandise that is perfectly average, while there is something else out there that is way better and cheaper.

As long as people are on the Earth so will be the need to belong and we should be wise in determining when is the right time to be fully reasonable, use our logic and determine what is the best possible solution regardless of what others may think; and on the other hand, when should we intentionally overlook the smart way in order to achieve something greater or avoid unnecessary troubles. (I am thankful for the healthy upbringing I got, yet at times I wonder whether those few extra nutrition were worth some of the painful comments I received from my classmates)

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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Sense the nonsense


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Sense the nonsense

Irrelevance: Poisoning The Well (argumentum ad hominem)

When enemy poisons water of its opponent no matter how pure and clean it was before it cannot be used for anything, thus the opponent is handicapped or completely paralyzed and the enemy has a solid advantage.

This technique is often used to discredit speakers personality even before any real arguments are presented and thus it is rather pointed at an audience than at a speaker. For when listeners adopt negative attitude towards the speaker they often are more likely to rule out his answer as being the right one.

Let me attach also some other definitions:

This sort of “reasoning” involves trying to discredit what a person might later claim by presenting unfavorable information (be it true or false) about the person. This “argument” has the following form:

  1. Unfavorable information (be it true or false) about person A is presented.
  2. Therefore any claims person A makes will be false.

This sort of “reasoning” is obviously Nizkor Project

Anyone bold enough to enter a debate which begins with a well-poisoning either steps into an insult, or an attack upon one’s personal integrity. As with standard ad hominems, the debate is likely to cease to be about its nominal topic and become a debate about the arguer. However, what sets Poisoning the Well apart from the standard Ad Hominem is the fact that the poisoning is done before the opponent has a chance to make a case. Poisoning the Well is not, strictly speaking, a logical fallacy since it is not a type of argument. Rather, it is a logical boobytrap set by the poisoner to tempt the unwary audience into committing an ad hominem FALLACY FILES

Poisoning the well (or attempting to poison the well) is a rhetorical device where adverse information about a target is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say. Poisoning the well can be a special case of argumentum ad hominem, and the term was first used with this sense by John Henry Newman in his work Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864).by Wikipedia

Example: “CITY COUNCILMAN: The Mayor is a very good talker. Yes, talk he can do … and do very well. But when it comes time for action, that is a different matter.”

Now the mayor is in a very difficult position for if he remains silent it might seem he accepts council-mans criticism, on the other side if he starts talking and defending himself, then more he talks, more he appears to confirm the accusations.

This time I was again inspired to write this article from a real life (Internet) situation by a blogger called Francois Tremblay who insists, besides others, that all the anti-abortionists (pro-life 🙂 ) that want to comment under his “pro-abortion series” must first answer this question under somewhat strict conditions (see here):

What maximum number of women dead from botched back alley abortions per year under an anti-abortion scheme do you consider a fair and just tradeoff to prevent all abortions that would happen under a pro-abortion scheme?

If this question remains unanswered or the response does not meet Francois’ requirements he says clearly, that you will be banned and ergo your comment won’t go through (which I could also experience on my own). Because this is not a completely classic form of well poisoning it must be said that Mr. Tremblay did a good job making it subtle and hidden, for in fact if someone wishes to enter the debate, he must poison his own well.

After my comment was banned I tried to show Mr. Tremblay the nature of his approach. At this point, I will leave it up to you to be the judge and decide how it went.

I wish you a pleasant reading. 🙂 Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Ethics, Sense the nonsense, Series


Sense the nonsense

Emotional Language: Appeal to status

Some kind of respectable status is one of those things nearly everyone strives for. However there are different ways people take to get to this desired position.

In some cases uniqueness is the primary goal and thus anything that can bring it, is highly welcomed. Big names, labels and brands is surely one of the most common ways of doing it. Often people buy special products from largely advertised expensive companies in the warm outlook that this will bring them some sort of similar distinction as it brought to those faces that in fact stand behind them. It is almost staggering how one ball point pen for $150 can make someone feel more important, confident, secure or special. Still, it is gloomy when these feelings are based merely on the type of physical things that these people are surrounded with.

This appeal is well known by above mentioned type of companies which deliberately use slogans that speak about status, such as:”Think different” or “Because you’re worth it“. And out of the experience we can say that it surely works just fine.

At last, I would like to say again that there is nothing wrong with these things alone, for I believe it is positively wonderful to be able to afford not only to pay the regular, but also to choose from the variety of fascinating products market offers us. Yet, there is probably something erroneous if a person refuses to eat your baked chicken with rice and goes afterwards to order – arroz con pollo.

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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Mission, Sense the nonsense


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Sense the nonsense

Emotional Language: Appeal to love/appeal to trust (argumentum ad amicitiam)

When interacting with people around we often have to face one specific formulation of a demand or request. Especially some of those in relationships and marriages have to deal with this almost regularly. While conflict is nearly inevitable situation which we sooner or later have to deal with, bringing up relationship or trust into it is only rarely a good way to do it.

When your partner disagrees with you and says something like this: “If you do not agree with me, you don’t love me” or “If you really trusted me, then you’d go along with me.” After this kind of request or statement you are put into a very bad position in which you are forced to choose between the two, but obviously there are other solutions. I can deeply love someone without agreeing with what he just said, can’t I? I can also have a general trust in my friend, while not following his lead for some other reasons. Moreover just because of our relationship I can disagree with my friend who is about to take his fourth drink, which would at this point be clearly too much for him.

Therefore it is not right to make demands based solely on a ground of feelings, for they are not by themselves based on a reasonable foundation. However we can surely decide to consent to them anyway, even if they are unreasonable,… but that is a completely different story :). What is important, is that we are aware of this and our own decisions are not merely manipulated by these unfair emotional appeals.

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Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Mission, Sense the nonsense


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Sense the nonsense

Some time ago I was browsing web and I found this short comic on the topic of atheism.

While I was slightly amused by an awkward position to which this christian couple was put to, knockout that author intended to show is however certainly not as sharp as it appears.

One of the roots of the problem around the question “Who is an atheist?” is it’s very definition. We should not continue to solve this issue without first defining the word atheist.

According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary atheist is: “one who believes that there is no deity.

Thesaurus: “someone who denies the existence of god.”

American Atheists (self-definition): “Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, which implies that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own.

Other: “the doctrine or belief that there is no God.

This meaning of the word “atheist” is in its root of origin very similar to the word “atypical”. For in both cases we only added letter “a” in front of the original word. a-theist / a-typical, which changed the value of the word to its opposite meaning.

Reading the comic with these definitions in mind, we are one step closer in seeing why is it just a nonsense, rather than a witty blow to Christians.

Mathematically speaking: If Jeremy says that he believes, that 349*825 is 287925 then you have three basic options to choose from.

  • Check his claim whether what he is saying is true. After doing your math you can either come to the same conclusion and agree with him. (Christian – theist)
  • or come to a different one and disagree with him while having or at least assuming a different result. (Muslim – theist)
  • Disagree with him while saying that a result does not exist (dividing by zero is impossible) (Atheist)

We see that in the example above, not everyone can be right, we can all be wrong, but we can’t all be right. Here all three options represent position, standpoint, belief or opinion which has or ought to have a value in for one who is seeking the truth.

Therefore when a Theist says that an Atheist has a belief (faith) that there is no God, he holds a valid standpoint. However when an Atheist is trying to do the same, by pointing at the fact that a Christian (Theist 1) does not share the same view (does not have a belief in the same God) as Muslim (Theist 2) therefore he has 2 beliefs or holds 2 opinions, he is simply committing the usual “non sequitur” fallacy (conclusion does not follow from the premises).

Surely it logically follows, when a person believes that 2+2=4 he believes not that 2+2=5. Yet the second is not a belief by itself, but only a logical necessity following from the primary belief. This cannot be said about a belief that 2+2 has no true result, for this is the primary belief in itself and all the other (2+2=4 or 2+2=5) “disbeliefs” are thus logically necessary.

 Other Definitions

However, today we can find other, new definitions of the word atheist such as “the absence of belief in any gods.” or “disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.” This position is also called a “weak atheism” and is often called also agnostic atheism. For it is very similar (if not the same) to a view called agnosticism that holds no commitment to any opinion whatsoever, perhaps only that the ultimate reality is unknown and probably unknowable (Merriam Webster).

Now, having this definition in mind I guess we in fact do have a fourth option and that is to say: “I do not know and probably I don’t even care.” This is surely a position, however at this point it seems that any further discussion is unnecessary. At least until one truly opens himself to the sort of questions, which has been sought to be answered by the many generations before us, namely: “How did it all start? What is our purpose? Where are we heading?…” To find the best possible explanation is one way to do it, which does not commit anyone to the inevitable verity of his conclusions only proposes rationality behind them over the reasonableness of its rival hypothesis.


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Sense the nonsense

Emotional Language: Suggestion: Phraseology

While having the exact same situation we can always see it from different perspectives. Often this perspective can be seen in our own language. For instance the famous half full/half empty glass perfectly portrays such situation. While the object might still be the same and objectively nothing is changing, our own perception of the situation, our attitude will determine whether the cup is half full or empty, which logically speaking ought to have no value for our following reasoning.

To take another example, I will now ask you to read following statements one by one.

  1. There are 2 girls.
  2. First one is called Jessica and the second Julia.
  3. Jessica is fatter than Julia.

Now what did you imagine? Usually people would picture two somewhat wider girls if not then at least Jessica would be perceived as slightly obese. Yet, this assumption like the one with the glass is not completely reasonable, because the statement number 3 did not say anything about either of girls being fat. Thus the 3rd statement could have been changed, so it would go like this: Julia is thiner then Jessica. I guess that at the moment our fantasy takes us naturally somewhere completely elsewhere, still again there is no reason to believe that we are dealing with two slenderly women, for the only thing it says is that one is thinner than the other.

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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Sense the nonsense


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