A refresher in basic logic

I have been gratified that this blog seems to attract a sophisticated and knowledgeable commentariat, people who add greatly to the information and quality of the discourse. I have learned a lot from them. Hence it is surprising and a little jarring to once in a way find comments that seem to display a level of argument that is well below the norm. I usually treat them as momentary aberrations and ignore them but there has been one recurring theme that perhaps needs to be addressed.

I often approvingly quote the words of other people. On occasion people who do not like the sentiments expressed will take the trouble to unearth something else that the quoted person allegedly said about another topic and ask whether I approve of that too. The absurdity of such a question is so transparent that I don’t even bother to respond because I feel a little embarrassed doing so. The premise on which it is based is so silly that to even take the trouble to refute it seems patronizing and condescending, like explaining why 2 plus 2 is not equal to 22. It shouldn’t really be necessary. But perhaps once in a while I need to engage in this exercise, although other commenters have also done so.

As a counter-example, I recently approvingly quoted archbishop Desmond Tutu’s ringing denunciation of homophobia. Tutu is, of course, a Christian. Does my quoting his views on homosexuality mean that I must believe in everything else he says, including his belief in a Christian god? To ask the question is to answer it. Similarly, if I defend the right of someone to write and speak about what they believe, am I also endorsing everything they say? Again, to ask the question is to answer it. (But for the benefit of the logic-impaired, the answer to both questions is ‘no’.)

Or in another context, I often sign petitions for one cause or another. I do so based on what the petition says. I almost never bother to check who else has signed because it is immaterial, not to mention impossible if the number of signatories runs into the thousands. But suppose it was brought to my attention that someone who was a notorious racist-homophobic-pedophilic-rapist had also signed the same petition. What would I do? Would I withdraw my signature? Of course not. To do so would give that person a veto power over my choices and actions. To make one’s decisions conditional on what other people are saying or doing is to be buffeted by the vagaries of other people’s actions.

As I said before, I feel almost embarrassed explaining what seems to me, and I know to many others who visit here, to be so obvious. But perhaps awareness of elementary logic is not as widespread as I would like to think it is and this may serve some useful purpose. At least when someone else comes along raising the same issue we can point them to this post.


  1. Chiroptera says

    Have you noticed that one of the main offenders about whom you are writing doesn’t even bother trying to present anything like a rational argument in favor of his idiosyncratic obsession? Some people take a position that is so reprehensible that they cannot make a coherent, rational argument. The tactics that you describe are pretty much the only thing they have going for them.

  2. says

    I think that’s what’s known as a garden variety “purity troll”.

    It’s a common troll species.

    Go ahead and post something about Hitchens and you’ll get a a purity troll complaining that “he supported the war in Iraq!!eleventy11!!!” Therefore something.

  3. slc1 says

    I am afraid that Prof. Singham and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this point, hopefully not disagreeably.

  4. Dunc says

    I see you’re breathing oxygen. Do you know who else breathed oxygen? Frankenburger!

    It’s OK, we all know who you’re talking about… Funny thing is, I’ve been known to agree with him (I’m pretty sure it’s a “he”) on the rare occasions he makes sense, despite his well-known and utterly reprehensible views on other matters. I’m sure the irony will be lost… He’s pretty much a running joke at this point. (Actually, he was a running joke back in the Sb days…)

  5. Corvus illustris says

    The lack of rational argument is one thing; it’s the blast-before-reading that can really get you down. Arghh! Read Mano’s piece. Read the link. Now comment. (Sometimes the tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.)

  6. Matt G says

    Fallacies which come to mind are the Genetic Fallacy and Poisoning the Well. Can people name others, or give other names?

  7. MNb says

    “I feel almost embarrassed …”
    You should. Just take a look at 4.1.
    Such people are beyond hope – and they are proud of it.
    I know you’re opposed to banning, but imo he’s a candidate – not because he disagrees with you (I disagree with you when you apply your oligarchy hypothesis to the EU) but because he doesn’t bring up any substantial argument. As such he does his favourite country in the Middle East more harm than good.

  8. says

    I am afraid that Prof. Singham and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this point

    Disagree about how basic argumentation works? What, do you have your own way of arguing what is truth that is somehow different? I mean, I know you appear to think you do, but unless you can support why your one-way reasoning is right, “agreeing to disagree” amounts to admitting you’re wrong.

    Of course, we all know you know you’re wrong – every time you dodge a challenge to your ‘reasoning’ you tacitly admit that you know your position is indefensible. Otherwise, you’d, you know, defend it.

    So you’re not only a rather unpleasant sort of cowardly fascist, you’re intellectually dishonest, too. At least you’re decent enough to be a little embarrassed by your performance.

  9. ollie says

    I’ll give a sort-of contrary view. Take the Bradley Manning case. I wasn’t angry that he released the horrific video of the US helicopter killing innocents (mistaking them for insurgents).

    I was upset that the release wasn’t an isolated bit of information (like the video) but a whole lot of stuff and STILL have concerns that someone of his limited experience had the maturity to understand the implications of each bit of information. Because I have served in the military and have had a security clearance, I think that I understand this issue better than most who were NOT in the same position.

    BUT, it did trouble me to see who agreed with me; that made me rethink my position; I wondered where my priorities were. Note: I rethought it, and still hold the same positon.

  10. filethirteen says

    But I’ve seen you comment on Professor Singham’s blog many a time slc1. Don’t you realise that means you agree with everything he says?

  11. slc1 says

    Of course not. Most of the time I disagree with him, particularly relative to issues related to the Middle East. Unlike a lot of the blogs out there, Prof. Singham is not unduly troubled by those who disagree with him.

  12. slc1 says

    It seems to me that this was pretty well hashed out on a previous thread on this blog. Quite clearly, when two sides are arguing past each other, nothing is to be gained by continuing the discussion. In which case agreeing to disagree is the best course of action.

  13. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I take it then that you disagree with Chomsky’s support for a Holocaust Denier – although you wrote here :


    That you thought Chomsky is “*always*” worth reading which seemingly rules out such exceptions.

    I apologise if this seems illogical or offensive to you, I’m certainly not claiming to be any sort of genius here but .. well, there’s a pretty big difference, I think, between noting someone belongs to say Christianity and that colours their worldview (big deal!) versus someone actually supporting and arguing for Holocaust Deniers which, yeah, actually does reflect very poorly upon them!

    Oh & note that this :

    ..the premise on which it is based is so silly that to even take the trouble to refute it seems patronizing and condescending, like explaining why 2 plus 2 is not equal to 22.

    is dependent upon context.

    If you write a numeral ‘2’ and then add a second numeral ‘2’ immediately after it without any spacing you do get the number ’22’. Or if you add one particle of anti-matter to one of matter you get zero. if you add one cat to one mouse you get one fatter cat. Add one bunny to another opposite gendered bunny, leave it a few months or more and you get lots of rabbits and growing!

    (Assuming of course those rodents are fed and watered adequately as an unstated assumption there.)

    IOW, maths is not just an abstraction working in some context poor pure dimension but has messy real world sometimes counter-intuitive realities depending on what we’re discussing. 2 +2 isn’t always 4 in actuality as opposed to basic mathematics. Equally, judging a certain authors character and credibility isn’t done in a vacuum and also depends on combined, varied – sometimes even illogical – perceptions of that author which get altered by many factors such a separate statements on different issues.

    So Mano Singham, please. I like your blog and you but I’d really would like to know in more detail your opinion of Chomsky’s support for that notorious anti-Semite neo-nazi Holocaust Denier and how you think it affects Chomsky’s credibility because it seems like terribly poor judgement to me. In fact for me, it totally destroys Chomsky’s credibility on any issues where Jewish people are involved and I refuse to read or view Chomsky’s work as a result of it.

    Do you disagree with this and if so, please why and does it not impact on your understanding of the man Noam Chomsky and his other works and comments which are generally biased very much anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli.

    PS. Please don’t ban me for asking these possibly uncomfortable questions in a serious and respectful discourse. If you don’t want me to discuss this further or comment on certain issues feel free to say so and I will of course abide by your wishes on your blog.

  14. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Correction :

    Or if you add one particle of anti-matter to one of matter you get zero.

    You get a flash of energy from mutual annhiliation (I think?) and then nothing left!

  15. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    MNb – Who are you referring to – slc or me? (Or both?)

    I strongly disagaree with your asessment here and humbly suggest that a diversity of views and commenters is a good thing. slc1 certainly (and myself hopefully) contributes some useful information and a perspective which – whilst often clashing with the majority of other commenters – is often interesting and in my view valid.

    It’d be a really boring world if we all thought the same and a really nasty one if we couldn’t sometimes agree to hear each other out and then agree to disagree on occassion.

    Look at it as a preventative against becoming an “echo chamber” – and proof that FTB isn’t as intolerant and unwilling to entertain other worldviews as some of its enemies wrongly allege.

  16. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @Chiroptera : Well that’s your opinion – others disagree with you.

    I don’t know if you (& others) are referring to me or someone else but I suggest that you may want to reconsider and ask yourself if perhaps you are mistaken or have reached your conclusions through unfair misreadings of the person you disagree with.

  17. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @4.0 Dunc : “we all know who you’re talking about”

    I don’t. You want to clarify?

    Also breathing oxygen is something everybody does. Denying the Shoah or supporting those who do make that most offensive of all conspiracy theories (as Noam Chomsky in my view and that of many others is guilty of) OTOH, not-so-much. I think the comparison here is false and does not apply.

    I also think academics who support Holocuast Denial and exhibit anti-Semitism deserve to be, at minimum, heavily criticised and not held as being at all as credible when discussing anything related to the Jewish people including Israel and its Jihadist enemies.

    Would you seriously actually disagree with that above statement?

  18. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Guilt by association?

    Then again, if someone hangs out with and argues for certain nasty groups of people it isn’t exactly unreasonable to judge them by those associates. Circumstantial evidence and merely suggestive rather than conclusive maybe but still.

  19. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    And it does depend on specifics and context – hand around with Christian relatives a lot and it may still be pretty unfair to dub that person a Christian.

    Spend heaps of time in the company of a serial killer and accompany them on long mysterious trips to destinations where the victims “co-incidentally” disappear and that’s something else again and indicative -through not proof – of possibly being an accomplice.

  20. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    D’oh! Typo fix – that’s “hang around with” NOT “hand around with” naturally, sorry.

    Example offered above is just intended as an illustrative example with NO wider connotations BTW.

  21. says

    Arguing is one thing, but you cannot “agree to disagree” about basic truths. Because what you’re saying, in effect, is “I know I’m wrong but I’m not going to admit it.”

    That’s just silly, because we know you’re wrong too.

  22. steffp says

    Chomsky’s support for a Holocaust Denier
    Well, Chomsky is on record for opposing the French “Loi Gayssot”, which criminalizes denying the Shoa.
    Chomsky, too, is on record for opposing Article 301 of the Turkish Penal code, which criminalizes, among other things, to call the Armenian Genocide a fact.
    His argument in both cases, if one cares to read it despite the dog-whistle of “anti-semitism”, is that only totalitarian states attempt to define truth. Both the French and the Turkish constitution guarantee the right of free speech. But their respective laws criminalize voicing an opinion, not an action – like, for instance, libel & defamation, inciting a riot, or breaking the peace of the land.
    Which leads to the interesting consequence that, in France, you can deny the Cambodian, Rwandan, Armenian, Yugoslavian, Darfur genocides, but not the Shoa. And I carefully chose only massacres that are under close scrutiny by international courts, comparable to the Nuremberg trials. But the attempt of French Parliament to make it an offense to deny the Armenian genocide, too, was taken down by their Constitutional Court because the matter was not decided in a court in a fair trial..
    As anyone who’s been to Bergen-Belsen, Majdanek, Osviece, and watched the trials of concentration camp personnel, I find holocaust deniers highly delusional, and often personally revolting. I combat them, in historical publications, politically, and in discussions. But in Germany and France, they’re not allowed to present their fake evidence. And in Turkey, I’m not allowed to present the tons of evidence for the Armenian massacres. To a dyed in the wool Jewish liberal like Chomsky, both situations are identical: a state defining truth. For him, that is unacceptable. I have referred to the (doubtful) Voltaire quote before
    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
    Which “supports” both heroes and villains. As defending any human right does. One may question Chomsky’s generative grammar, his long history of peace activism, his political objectives. But accusing him of “enabling antisemitism” is a pretty weak attempt.

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