Monday, December 13, 2010

Stepping off my soapbox

I wrote an article about communication a little while ago. I have strong feelings about communication because it is crucial to the success of relationships and relationships are what life is all about.

To be perfectly fair, my temperament puts me on one extreme of the spectrum of communication styles: I’m direct. This, I’m sure, will not surprise anyone who knows me. It’s not that I can’t pick up on unspoken messages or read between the lines; it’s that I’m always uncertain if I’m interpreting things correctly (that is, in a way that harmonizes with reality). My inability to discern the meaning behind veiled communications has caused me no end of trouble and I’ve chosen to rebel against the system.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to spot errors in political (and other) arguments

Introduction

There are several logical fallacies (or errors) that are lamentably common in political discourse (and normal conversation) today. What's worse, people - even educated people - seem to be persuaded by these fallacious (that is, flawed) arguments. This post will point out a few common ones and will conclude with an assignment designed to challenge the reader to apply his/her new knowledge.

Before diving into the details, I should explain the structure of a logical argument. First, the speaker (for simplicity, I'll assume that the speaker is female) explains premises, or the facts and ideas that are the basis of her argument. She then applies reason - formally, argument forms - to reach some conclusion. The use of valid argument forms and true premises guarantees that the conclusion reached is true. It is possible to disagree with an argument on the basis of a premise or on the basis of an error in reasoning.

It is also important to note that most debates actually center around things that aren't rigorously provable. For example, many political arguments cite statistics that may or may not consider all of the possible causes and outcomes. The studies provide evidence but do not provide proof. In many cases, the arguments can't be disproved, either. The room for debate is what makes political discourse interesting and this post won't make everyone agree. I hope that the information in this post will help to improve the quality of our conversations.