Logic and rhetoric

My cosigner (it’s kind of like the Declaration of Independence – we are Signers) Richard Dawkins has been tweeting about the logic of saying X is not as bad as Y. The logic is that saying X is not as bad as Y is not the same thing as saying X is good. Quite right; it’s not. A mouthful of curdled milk is not as bad as a mouthful of shit, but that doesn’t mean a mouthful of curdled milk is good.

X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.

Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.

There was some back and forth, then more stand-alone tweets.

Whether X or Y is worse is a matter of opinion. But it is a matter of LOGIC that to express that opinion doesn’t mean you approve of either.

“Stealing £1 is bad. Stealing an old lady’s life savings is worse.” How DARE you rank them? Stealing is stealing. You’re vile, appalling.

That’s all true. He’s right. But there’s more to it than that. I offered three replies myself.

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson · 33m

@RichardDawkins But Richard there is rhetoric as well as logic. The 2 have differnt rules. Sometimes “Y is worse!” means “shut up about X.”

@RichardDawkins It of course doesn’t mean that as a matter of *logic*. But used rhetorically, it does.

@RichardDawkins To put it another way, there’s the matter of implication, which can work differently from the way logic works.

I have more room here, enough room so that I don’t have to spell “different” as “differnt” in order to finish my sentences.

It’s true that “X is less bad” ≠ “X is good” or “I approve of X.” I think Richard had in mind the passage about the molestation he experienced at school compared with other, less tolerable forms. I don’t think he had in mind “Dear Muslima” – which of course is a mere comment on a blog, not a passage in a best-selling much-translated much-discussed book. But “Dear Muslima” does a good job of illustrating what I mean about rhetoric and implication. The whole point of “Dear Muslima” was very plainly to say that women face horrendous forms of abuse and denial of rights in places where Islamic laws and/or customs have authority, and therefore women who face much milder forms of abuse in secular democracies should…talk less about it, or talk about it more temperately, or something along those lines. It’s hard to spell out the implication exactly, because it is an implication, but it’s something along those lines. That much is not ambiguous. You’d have to be a very primitive bit of AI to miss that.

So, in fact, even though Richard is right about the logic, he seems to be forgetting about rhetoric, and we know he understands that kind of rhetoric because in “Dear Muslima” he used it himself.

So it’s not that he’s wrong about the logic, it’s just that that’s not all there is to it.

Note to commenters: please keep in mind The Statement, and word your comments accordingly. Seriously. Reasoned argument only. I know people get heated about this; I know I get heated almost every time I hit the keyboard, no matter what the subject; Not On This Thread.


  1. catof many faces says

    My biggest problem with his statement about rape is that i suspect it is a deeply personal thing how traumatic any given rape is.

    For some it could be more traumatizing that someone you trusted is violating you instead of a complete stranger.

    Ultimately I am really worried by someone telling someone else how to feel and how to ‘rank’ trauma.

  2. deepak shetty says

    I think Richard missed motivation – Why does someone say X is bad , Y is worse? See for e.g. Israel/Palestine – Atleast 3 blog posts by prominent atheists detailing why Palestine is worse , along with the requisite and Israel is bad too – just not as bad as Palestine.

  3. qwints says

    I think the disconnect with Richard’s statements is missing is that most people make relevant statements, rather than randomly spouting logically correct but irrelevant statements. There are times when it makes sense to compare the severity of crimes, for example, when you’re discussing how much resources should be spent addressing a particular crime or what the punishment for the crime should be.

    The point that seems most relevant when talking about how one crime is less severe than another is that we should care less than we currently do. It’s similar to saying that a particular setback is not the end of the world. That’s logically correct, but the only reason to say it is if you think the current reaction is too heated.

  4. Onamission5 says

    What concerns me the most is that it has the potential to pit rape victims against each other ala oppression olympics rather than focusing our efforts on reducing and eliminating rape altogether. It’s an unhelpful, potentially divisive distraction. Divide and conquer is a very effective strategy whether that is what was intended or not. Get people who have been raped to accept (or argue over) a ratings system, get them to participate in invalidating each other’s pain and telling each other how to feel, and any combined efforts to combat rape culture effectively grind to a halt. Ta-da.

  5. Michael D says

    I agree with the simple logic but I disagree with his rape example. Date rape might be considered worse than being raped by a complete stranger, as it involves a betrayal of trust that might permanently impair future relationships. Calls into question the utitlity of this exercise, perhaps he should stay away from ranking rape trauma.

  6. deepak shetty says

    The other thing that bugs me about Dawkins statement is that he cant possibly have experienced these situations – how exactly is he ranking this ? Where is the evidence on which his logic is based? He gives an example of Date Rape is bad , rape at gunpoint is worse – but date rape by many people v/s gunpoint? or with social media pictures thrown in? Whats the point of the comparison and how in the world does someone compare this?

  7. A Hermit says

    I’d like to know who Dawkins thinks is pushing the idea that “X is not as bad as Y” is an endorsement of X? I can’t think of anyone who actually makes that argument…

    It pretty clearly could be seen as minimizing or being dismissive of X, but an actual endorsement? Not so much.

  8. Onamission5 says

    Minimizing, dismissing, or pitting survivors of X and Y against each other, yes. Endorsement, no, and I haven’t seen anyone critical of Dawkins make that accusation.

  9. says

    That’s a good point about date rape’s being possibly worse. Also the one about motivation for ranking such things. Oh well they’re all good.

    When it’s a general conversation, that’s one thing. When it’s a personal distress, that’s another. It wouldn’t be very friend-like to greet a story about being attacked in the street with “people are being slaughtered in the Central African Republic!!” So, yeah, that’s part of it too.

    Thank you all for heeding my request. (Ok it was an order really, but no need to say so.)

  10. Pen says

    I think the main problem isn’t so much the logic/rhetoric thing as the fact that lots of people strongly disagree with his assumption. And disagreement over something that seems self-evident to him is right there at the heart of our deep rifts. And maybe it boils down to identification. Maybe he’s thinking from the point of view of the rapist: it takes less evil intent to commit a date rape? I don’t know if this is the case or not. I automatically considered the viewpoint of the victim. Getting date raped doesn’t strike me as one bit less awful than getting stranger raped.

    This is one definition of feminism – seeing things from the point of view a woman is likeliest to occupy. Feminism also believes that our viewpoint should prevail in this case and that it’s imperative to us that society/men learn to treat date rape as being as bad as stranger rape.

  11. jenBPhillips says

    Looks like he covered that (date rape being worse) in subsequent tweets, to wit “whatever, that’s not the point–if you think Y is worse than X, just switch them around in the statement.”

    Most definitely not getting it.

  12. jenBPhillips says

    aaaand…end quotation after ‘statement’
    Also, please note that was me paraphrasing his tweet.

  13. Kev McVeigh says

    All of these X is worse than Y statements share a bizarre assumption that there is a linear scale of Bad and that it can be applied universally.
    X doesn’t happen in isolation, context may make it easier for some to handle than Y, or harder. So the only logically valid statement is that X is different to Y.

  14. says

    An additional point about the logic / rhetoric distinction is that the logic part can be just plausible deniability. Can be and often is. I see that a lot with Identity-Skeptics.

  15. ronixis says

    I used to have problems with parsing the rhetorical implications of these statements myself, but I found that reading about Gricean maxims was helpful to me. It’s an attempt at outlining and codifying the rhetorical rules at work, and it might be helpful to others. I don’t really have a link, though, since my reading was in not-publicly-available academic papers.

  16. Onamission5 says

    I have Opinions and Feelings on this because of all the years of my life spent in denial of and shouldering the blame (and subsequent abuse) for my own rape because it wasn’t like X and all the times in my life after that spent trying to help other victims/friends of mine who confided in me to come to terms with the fact that just because it wasn’t X doesn’t mean their pain is invalid or less than. Then someone who could choose to effect positive change in attitudes toward rape and rape victims decides to engage in publicly ranking rape as an intellectual exercise without, apparently, considering the damage they could cause or the good work undone. Dawkins occupies a position which allows him the ability to influence droves of other human beings with just a few carefully chosen words and this is his decision? To carelessly look rape victims in the face and grade the effects of their trauma; your rape is bad, yours is less bad: discuss. For funsies. Not, you know, in any seriousness. Wut.

  17. Goodbye Enemy Janine says

    As most of the regulars here know, there is one person who comments a lot at Pharynugula who survived a rape and attempted murder by a serial rapist-murderer. Want to know what she never does? She never tells people who have been through a date rape that it was not as bad as what she went through.

    I am sorry but I am done expecting decency from Richard Dawkins. Fine, he is “civil”. But that form of civility is a false front. He is best left in the dust. And the same for all of the people who have called themselves part of “Team Dawkins” during the last three years.

  18. says

    Aha, Richard has actually made the same point himself – date rape can easily be worse. He posted about this an hour or so ago.


    “Actually, it’s rather plausible that some people might find date rape WORSE than being raped by a stranger (let’s leave the “at knifepoint” out of it). Think of the disillusionment, the betrayal of trust in someone you thought was a friend. But my logical point remains unchanged. It applies to any hypothetical X and Y, which could be reversed.”

  19. Tessa says

    But what’s the purpose of this fill in the blank game? You never ever in real life just make a statement that X is worse than Y and that’s the end of it. There’s always context. In what context can you express the ranking of “mild pedophilia”(?) with “violent pedophilia” without dismissing or lowering the significance of the lower ranked one? In what context can you use rankings of bad things that doesn’t have a purpose of diminishing the lower or enhancing the higher?

    Also, I find using “endorsing” in the fill in the blank game is completely dishonest.

  20. jenBPhillips says

    The clarifying statement is even stranger. I understand the ‘logic’ he’s trying to illustrate, but not the reason for it. Why? Why does he feel the need to use this particular comparison of “rape quality” [*shudder*] when there are thousands of other hypothetical Xs and Ys that would make the point just as well?

  21. soogeeoh says


    What … do you mean?

    What do you think were likely implicatures of those statements?

  22. says

    Reminds me of the PTSD storm, get it via bombs or being in a war zone fine, get it via years of harassment not fine. Ranking victims and discerning the “true” one is as logical as the Monty Python witch finding sketch in Holy Grail. Not his exact point, but many will interpret it that way.

  23. Donnie says

    Cannot he just tweet, “All rape is bad. Period.”

    Ophelia, per your request. I left the snark directed solely at Dawkins after the “…Period.” It was hard to leave the snark out, but I will try. However, I agree with #17 Goodbye Enemy Janine. I, personally, do not want Dawkin’s type of civility within my atheism community, if it means pissing on other’s experiences via ‘thought experiments’.

  24. brucegorton says

    I think Dawkins’ history is playing into this. I suspect that he was more impacted by that childhood groping than he realises.

    Look, I was violently abused by an older sibling, and it was severe. In a way I think I had it better than Dawkins, because you know, getting choked unconscious, or regularly beaten so badly I ended up limping to and from school for a few days is something you can’t really say “yeah well, it is just icky” or whatever.

    There is a degree of permission to feel angry about it in cases like mine – with Dawkins, I think he grew up with a social sense that it wasn’t supposed to be serious.

    I disagree with the basic idea behind what Dawkins is saying, because it is never that simple, there is always the emotional and social side of the equation that doesn’t divide quite so neatly.

    Maybe I am looking at it oddly though, I am a bit of a strange person.

  25. hoary puccoon says

    One “date rape” described on an FtB thread (sorry, I forget where) was the case of a woman who was, in fact, raped at knife point by a former boyfriend– and who then had her case dismissed by the police because she had, in the past, slept with him.

    So one result of date rape which often makes it worse than stranger rape is that it may be treated as not “real” rape by the legal authorities– and even by one’s usual support group of friends and family.

    On the other hand, I knew a woman who was raped by a burglar who broke into her locked home– a complete stranger. It almost wrecked her marriage, because her husband simply could not get over his anger at the thought of a stranger touching his wife.

    Those are two examples of why ranking categories of rape just doesn’t, and cannot, work. In both cases the reactions of others after the crime made the situation for the woman even worse.

    Ranking rapes by category on some neat, numerical scale of awfulness–the way stealing can be ranked as grand or petty larceny according to how much money was involved — simply won’t work. They’re not neat numerical situations.

  26. dogfightwithdogma says

    @20 jenBPhillips

    “Why does he feel the need to use this particular comparison of “rape quality”…”

    I don’t know what motivated Dawkins to choose these particular examples. Neither does anyone else for sure except Dawkins himself. Perhaps it is something as simple as the fact that rape is a topic of considerable discussion within our community. If you are attempting to decipher his motives I suggest not doing so without first asking Dawkins himself. These attempts to read the mind of people from what they have written and determine their motive is, I think, part of what has led to much of the acrimony and misunderstanding these past several years.

  27. jenBPhillips says

    @27 dogfightwithdogma:

    If you are attempting to decipher his motives I suggest not doing so without first asking Dawkins himself. These attempts to read the mind of people from what they have written and determine their motive is, I think, part of what has led to much of the acrimony and misunderstanding these past several years.

    Yes indeed. You may note from the abundance of question marks in my #20 that I did not, in fact, attempt to “read his mind” or draw any conclusions about his motives, but am merely expressing curiosity at his actions.

    I don’t need to know his reasons for choosing this particular example to plug into his syllogism metric to judge that it was a bad choice, given that, in addition to being factually, logically wrong, it’s glaringly offensive.

  28. Pen says

    Logically, the statement ‘date rape is less serious than stranger rape’ doesn’t endorse date rape, but Dawkins is the one who needs a lesson in thinking if he doesn’t see that the statement minimises the seriousness of date rape with respect to stranger rape. Not only has he introduced an unsupported assertion as an example but he’s also set up his premises as though endorsement/not-endorsement were a real dichotomy in communication and the only one which should interest us. All comparative valuations minimize the value, importance or quality of one thing relative to another without necessarily going to the extremes of endorsement/condemnation. Why wouldn’t the verifiability of a valuation and the criticism of a false valuation be less valid when we’re looking at different degrees of condemnation?

  29. John Morales says

    It is true any two acts can be ranked according to some metric (badness, here), but I note he carefully kept within categories in his examples.

    As to his purpose in tweeting that, presumably he considers some people really are claiming that to claim that X is bad but Y is worse is endorsing X, and so he has set out to disabuse them of this notion.

    (Else why bother?)

  30. says

    You can’t even necessarily say that one is worse than the other from point of view of a single particular person who has experienced both.
    Or anyway, I can’t. It may not be different degrees, it may be different KINDS. It remain tangled and indecipherable after years of therapy.

    Different kinds of asking yourself what you did to provoke it, different kinds of shaming yourself into thinking you’re overreacting, different ways of wondering if you really get to use the “r” word or the “m” word or maybe “s. a.”, wondering if the differences in that terminology based on legal jurisdiction is the deciding factor in how you get to think about what happened to you… feeling guilty for trying to put a name to what happened to you at all. Parsing the “what went where which time” so you can know if your reactions are “legitimate” or not. Feeling embarrassed to name your PTSD, not knowing which was the worst contributor, and because after all – it’s not like you were storming the beach at Normandy…

    As for R.D., all I have to say about the man is I can’t see a thing wrong with his hair. Nothing at all. Anyone who criticizes his hair is a fool.

    But I think mine is definitely nicer.
    Just because my hair is nicer than his doesn’t mean his is bad.

  31. John Morales says

    It does make me wonder whether he considers that the degree of badness of an instance within a category can be compared with an instance from another category or whether he considers such incommensurable.

  32. says

    So his statements have prompted, discussion, mainly about if Y is actually worse than X. I find this very amusing, he expresses his opinion and or states facts in a blunt and controversial way, you would think people would be used to this by now, he has been doing it a while.

    Apparently heterosexual men aren’t allowed to express an opinion about rape because they can’t have been raped can they?

    And what is this about his hair, yours is better?
    How can you comment? Are you a hairdresser? I think only a hairdresser can hold an opinion about who has the better hair. Keep it to yourself about the hair please.

  33. rorschach says

    I am relieved that I will be spared further visits to the dank old rooms at the Alex in Dublin for the foreseeable future, seeing that Mick Nugent has jumped the shark on this issue, and noting the crowd of slymers that is cheering him on in his regrettable effort.

  34. says

    According to Richard Dawkins it’s JUST LOGIC that saying Y is worse than X is not an endorsement of X.

    I would say Dawkins was straightforwardly wrong. I also don’t think it is a matter of logic and rhetoric having different rules[1] but more a matter of a confusion, about what an appeal to logic amounts to.

    Frege notoriously thought there could be a perfect language, one in which the logical relationship between its parts was utterly perspicuous. In such a language, if indeed it is a possibility outside certain very restricted contexts, a claim that what one has said is merely a matter of logic would be a simple factual claim, straightforwardly true or false. But the logic of a natural language is nothing like that of a Fregean perfect language.

    Formal logical theories either Aristotelian or Fregean are great tools for analysing arguments and spotting weaknesses in reasoning but they do not describe the internal logic of natural languages.[2] This can be illustrated by our use of the connective “or.” If I said “have the bottle of beer or the bottle of cider,” I might be a bit miffed if you drank both. On the other hand if you promised to bring a bottle of beer or a bottle of cider to the party, I could not reasonably claim you had broken your promise if you bought one of each. The word “or” is being used in two different ways here but our ability to negotiate these usages is so smooth that it takes some effort to realise that this is happening.[3] Another illustration is that in normal English usage, the word “not” is repeated for emphasis and such repetition does not imply repeated negation.

    Back in the late 60’s, the philosopher John Lucas caused something of a stir by saying something along the lines of “Men and some women can be rational sometimes.”[4] It turned out, as is the way with such proclamations, to be “only a joke,” and the controversy has been long forgotten, except by those, such as me, who are impolite enough to resurrect it. But what would we say if he had said, in his defence, “It is a matter of logic that saying A: ‘some women are rational sometimes’ is not an endorsement of B: ‘some women are irrational all the time.'”? I think most of us would think he was being disingenuous. If the word “some” is understood as a Fregean quantifier, then this statement would indeed be correct, but “some” does not function like this in ordinary English.

    We don’t have the time to inform others of all the manifest consequences of our utterances and we certainly don’t have the time to frame them in a formal logical system. To make language possible as a communication system we use what use what Ryle and others have called “inference licences” that are different to those used in formal logic. To take a simple example, if you say “X and Y,” where X and Y are statements of some sort then the conventions of the language licence me to assume you would, if called upon say “X.” From the point of view of formal logic this corresponds to what is known as the rule of and-elimination. However this is the only case I can think of where logical connective follows the same rules in English as in formal logic. In the case of “or” there are two different logical laws, which are applicable in different circumstances, circumstances that any competent English can discern without needing to be conscious of what he or she is doing. On the other hand quantifiers such as “some” and “all” are hardly every used in the same way as they are used in formal logic and the difference between the usage of “implies” in formal logic and in English is so great that the former usage is often considered to be paradoxical.

    The logic of languages like English is, as philosophers of language say, intensional (with an “s”) whereas formal logic is extensional. That is to say that whereas in formal logical systems you are only licensed to make inferences from the literal extension of an expression, i.e from what it literally applies to, ordinary language licences us to make inferences that involve the meanings of the terms used in the expression. Moreover the way in which these meanings interact with logical rules is context dependent. To illustrate this suppose John Doe is the shortest person in the class. Then from the point of view of formal logic, then the statement E: “John Doe is the smallest person in the class” is merely a true statement saying that two seeming different designations in fact pick out the same person and the only statements I am licensed to infer from this are ones like “If Fred Nerk is a member of the class then he is at least as tall as John Doe.” But suppose I were to say E in a community that took it as read that short people are thieves, then this licenses that inference to “John Doe is a thief,” and this is so even if I am referring to a class of particularly tall people. If I were to say such a thing in such circumstances then that would be precisely the inference I would expect others to make, appeals to what “logically follows” from what notwithstanding.

    John Lucas, who incidentally is a logician, did not claim in his defence that his statement B does not logically follow from A. If he had done he could be accused of using rhetoric. Conflating logical rules as part of an argument is to use rhetoric. But let’s return of Dawkins’ tweet. His argument about what is a matter of logic would be correct if the logic of the connective “is worse than” in normal English worked analogously to “is less than” in mathematics. This is manifestly false. Consider “Having excruciating toothache is worse than going to the dentist,” or “being a starving child in Africa is worse than having to wait an hour for breakfast.” Both have the form “Y is worse than X” and in both cases the logic of normal English would licence the inference to something like “X is at least not bad enough to be worth complaining about” or “under the circumstances you really ought not complain about X.” Indeed it seems like the usual use of “is worse than.” Indeed in many cases this is precisely the inference that the utter of “Y is worse than X” wants the hearer to make. Can someone as intelligent as Dawkins really be completely unaware of this especially as he seems to have the competence to exploit the internal logic of English when needs must?

    In short the “I am only being logical” defence does not work in this case and it is hard to believe Dawkins is completely unaware of this.

    [1] I don’t even think logic and rhetoric can be compared in that way.

    [2] I do know that much contemporary formal logic goes far beyond the “classical” logics of Aristotle of Frege, but I would wager that most of those who attempt to justify their utterances on the grounds of logic have some such system in mind. Accordingly I will use the term “formal logic” in this sense.

    [3] Someone who has studied Formal Logic will immediately spot that the former usage is an “exclusive or” while the latter is an “inclusive or.” However there is no need to have these concepts in order to use the connective according to normal English usage. Furthermore there is nothing in formal logic that will tell us when it is appropriate to use one rather than the other.

    [4] I can’t remember the exact words he used and I don’t have time to trawl through his published works, most of which can be found at http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/ – He has been considerate enough to include his grid reference on the page just in case anyone should be tempted to send a cruise missile in his direction.

  35. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Mick Nugent has jumped the shark on this issue

    After all, Nugent read Dawkins’ autobiography and it made him out to be such a wonderful person! And nobody would ever fudge a little to make themselves look good!

  36. says

    Re: the hair… Inside joke. To be inside you have to have read more than this single comments thread.

    Same as the criticism of what R.D. said… to understand the criticism you have to have read more than this single comment thread.

  37. sacharissa says

    I am very dubious about the claim that stranger rape is always worse than date rape. In cases of date rape the rapists have often manipulated the victims in order to gain their trust. The victim has to contend with the betrayal and any feelings of love or desire she (or he) had for the rapist. It can poison future relationships, because she may be reluctant to trust again. Also, date rape can be extra hard on the victims precisely because people are more likely to trivialize the crime, while stranger rape fits the stereotype of what rape looks like.

    I’m not trying to say here that stranger rape is not as bad as date rape. My point is that you can’t divide rapes into two clear-cut tiers based on whether the parties were acquainted or a weapon was used. So I think Dawkins statement on that was actually a logical fallacy.

  38. Bernard Bumner says

    …seeing that Mick Nugent has jumped the shark on this issue…

    He has shown an unfortunate tendency towards charity to offenders at a cost to victims, his friends, and allies.

    As he demonstrates in that post, the only way to excuse Dawkins is to completely reinterpret his words and grant concessions to sentiments which simply aren’t there in the completely unnuanced original tweets or the follow-ups.

    I’ve no doubt that Dawkins managed to convey a meaning that he didn’t intend, but he also shows no real sign of having examined whether or not that meaning actually reflects his own damaging and unexamined prejudice. He clearly holds such prejudice, since he is unable to comprehend the response to these (and previous) tweets, and to Dear Muslima). Either that, or he is pathologically unable to admit making clumsy mistakes which are to the detriment of many people who should be natural constituents of a progressive leader and advocate of human rights.

    Perhaps it is both.

  39. alqpr says

    At first I misread your quotes as including replies from Dawkins but now I see that they were all just elaborations from you. Did he ever respond?

    I took his tweets as defence of ‘Dear Muslima’ because from what I saw that got a lot more reaction than his personal story. His description of his own experience and reaction to it was much less offensive because, so far as I recall, it did not make an explicit comparison with someone else’s experience and the victim whose pain was being dismissed was himself (and surely he has the right to dismiss his own pain – even if some people may suspect that he suffered more than he is aware of).

    In a sense he has a point in that since our resources are limited we each need to focus our efforts based on the seriousness of the evil and our capacity to deal with it. It would have been ok in my book for him to say “Look, I know we have a problem here but let’s not lose sight of that bigger one over there”, but his DM et seq was rudely dismissive and made the logical error of failing to note that a small effort to effectively solve a small problem might be more useful than the same effort used ineffectively on the bigger one. The fact that “Hey guys…don’t do that” was not effective (and the disgusting reaction to it) demonstrated that the “small” problem was actually much bigger. I take the joint statement as Dawkins’ belated recognition of that, and of the fact that it is worth even a bit of *his* attention. But my respect for him will not be fully restored until he acknowledges and apologizes for his own earlier failings.

  40. deepak shetty says

    One more thing.
    X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.
    if X union Y is the sum of all possibilities then it IS an endorsement to do X (going to war is bad , but not going to war with the Nazis in WW-II would have worse consequences , therefore we goto war). So its not necessarily an endorsement of X but it could be – it is not that it can never be as dawkins seems to be implying

  41. says

    Richard Dawkins doesn’t even act like he believes his own syllogism. If so, he’d be the first to acknowledge that saying X is bad and we ought to do something about it doesn’t imply that there isn’t a worse Y out there somewhere that we should also do something about. So writing a “Dear Sufferers of Y” letter to shame the people who are advocating doing something about X would be rather pointless and condescending and offensive wouldn’t it?

  42. yoga1951 says

    I think the term “syllogism” is being used too loosely.
    “A syllogism is a deductive argument in which a conclusion is inferred from two premises.” (Copi, Introduction to Logic).
    Dawkins’ conclusion has no connection to his two prior statements, neither of which he attempts to define in any measurable way. To even call it an argument is stretching it. It reads more like some kind of ex cathedra declaration.
    More importantly, the promiscuous way Dawkins throws around words like “rape” and “pedophilia”, reminds me of Antony Flew’s observation about the danger of an assertion “dying the death of a thousand qualifications.”

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