Argumentation and Fallacies

From [Marc Abrams (2005.02.07.1322)]

I hate leaving on a sour note so I would like to thank you all for providing me with a fertile ground of study.

Not only did I learn about control theory from this list but more importantly I learned what I really need to know in order to get where I want to go.

I would like to leave some of that behind so others might benefit as well.

In argumentation, like mathematical reasoning, inferential reasoning has a set of rules that people abide by. The rules of law and the presentation of claims and evidence are one instance of this.

There are also a bunch of fallacies that make any argument moot and non-productive and CSGnet has been especially useful in helping me learn all about these suckers.

So in parting I would like to institute an annual award ceremony here on CSGnet for the most prolific fallacy generators in dialogue on CSGnet.

Of course this unfairly restricts the awards to the most prolific posters, but you’ll get the idea., and these represent my limited views as well.

Favorite Inferential Fallacies of CSGnet ( I love the CSGnet archives) These are my ‘favorites’ listed in the order I believe they appear on CSGnet.

  1. Straw Person: Distorting your opponent’s point of view so that it is easy to attack; thus we attack a point of view that does not truly exist.

This is a big favorite of Bill Powers and Rick Marken, with Bruce Gregory a very strong third and Martin Taylor with a fine showing

Bill Powers;

[From Bill Powers (2005.02.06.1111 MST)]

Marc Abrams (2005.02.04.2345)–

So fortunately for us, evolution came to the rescue and provided us with a way for us to reduce the variability of input into our control systems.

It’s called consciousness, and it provides us with the ability to ANTICIPATE, or ‘predict’. what we might expect from the future, in various environments

I part company from you here. I think that prediction or anticipation is simply one way we can use the systems that deal with rule-driven symbol manipulation, coupled with imagination. We can anticipate unconsciously as well as consciously, so consciousness is not required to make predictions.


In this example Bill Powers talks about unconscious as well as conscious ‘anticipation’. I on the other hand just talked about ‘conscious’ anticipation.

The ‘straw person’ is in this argument is that by not mentioning unconscious ‘anticipation’, Bill made my statement somehow seem either wrong or misleading and this was not the case. My statement might have been incomplete as far as Bill was concerned, but I was not wrong in what I said. So please tell me how Bill ‘parted’ company from me since he does not know my views on unconscious anticipation?

Rick Marken and Bruce Gregory;

Examples too numerous to mention here. Just look at the archives on CSGnet for a boat load of examples

  1. Red Herring: An irrelevant topic is presented to divert attention from the original issue and help win an argument by shifting attention away from the argument and to another issue. The fallacy sequence in this instance is as follows: (a) Topic A is being discussed; (b) Topic B is introduced as though it is relevant to Topic A, but it is not; Topic (A) is abandoned

The winner of the CSGnet Red Herring award goes to Bruce Gregory, hands down. He has made an art of this, and perfected it to a tee. The very best I have ever seen at it. In second place is Rick Marken, for his hard work in avoiding all the tough questions and ultimately blaming someone else for all of the problems that exist. Preferring either George Bush or Religion

Again, examples simply too numerous too mention and the CSGnet archives is a minefield of useful examples to see and take note of.

  1. Ad hominem: An attack, or insult, on the person, rather than directly addressing the person’s reasons.

This was a close #3, and a favorite of just about everyone on CSGnet save Bruce Nevin, and I include myself in the use of this fallacy.

From Bill Powers earlier today;

[From Bill Powers (2005.02.07.0855 MST)]

Marc Abrams (2005.02.0835)–

I suppose it was simply to good to be true.

Bill, is our conversation over?

Yes, I think so. You’re so much smarter than everyone else, there really isn’t any point in my exposing my ignorance any further. [AD HOMINEN]

If I am asking too much from you, or you have no real interest in where I am going please be forthright enough to let me know. Throwing mud balls at me will not deter me and makes you look rather small.

Since I haven’t thrown any mud-balls, you should not feel deterred. You are asking too much of me. I’m simply not equipped to deal with you.

Bill finally admitted in the last sentence what the real problem is.

  1. Begging the question: An argument in which the conclusion is assumed in the reasoning.

This was a tight race between Bill Powers and Martin Taylor. A toss-up, with both Gregory and Marken very close behind.

  1. Wishful Thinking: Making the faulty assumption that because we wish ‘x’ were true or false, then ‘x’ is indeed true or false.

The winner in this category, hands down, is Rick Marken and his outstanding work in economics and PCT.

BTW Rick, how is your collaboration going with the economists?

With your advanced skills in model building, economics and PCT, you should be up for a Nobel Prize in Economics in short order. Maybe even a position in the government on an economic committee.

The next three reasoning fallacies I believe Bill Powers holds very dearly and I believe are largely responsible for the reason so many people are ultimately turned off to PCT.

  1. False Dilemma: Assuming only two alternatives exist (such as right and wrong) when it is possible that there are more then two.

This notion that you are either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is a clear sign of deductive reasoning in an inferential, probabilistic, behavioral, NOT certain world.

Trying to fit square reasoning into round objects just won’t cut it, and people know it, even if they can’t express it.

  1. Slippery Slope: Making the assumption that a proposed step will set off an uncontrollable chain of undesirable events, when procedures exist to prevent such a chain of events.

In this one Bill believes that exposing folks to the holes in PCT will make them not want to spend the time learning it, so that justifies the obfuscation, Red Herring’s and Straw People arguments that proliferate on CSGnet. What a shame.

  1. Equivocation: A key word is used with two or more meanings in an argument such that the argument fails to make sense once the shifts in meaning are recognized

Bruce Nevin noted this a long time ago and Bill Williams made it his mantra in his rants and rails against PCT and Bill. PCT and CSGnet is riddled with it.

And finally, I saved Bill’s largest and what I believe to be the most detrimental fallacy to CSGnet on my list;

  1. Explaining by Naming: Falsely assuming that because you have provided a name for some event or behavior that you have also adequately explained the event.

This for most of us describes PCT in a nutshell.

The notion that everyone must take the perspective of an engineer in order to gain any value from PCT is ABSURD, but that is exactly what Bill and Rick demand of others.

When the folks on CSGnet figure out a way of communicating PCT in a way that makes sense to the people who need to think about it, utilize it, and benefit from it, PCT will take hold and not before. You can take this one to the bank.

Now you may all scoff at all this, but if I didn’t care I would not have bothered. You might want to think about this for any future discussions you might have, and especially for any new people who may wander onto this list. PCT is important, but CSGnet is only part of the answer. there is a whole big wonderful world out there just teeming with ideas and notions.

Panning for gold requires patience, and although there might be a whole lot of junk mixed in, if you throw out everything in haste you will never ever find the nuggets. You have to sieve through a whole lot of material in order to make it work

The sooner everyone realizes this the better off everyone will be.

Have a great day everyone,