Tag Archive | Informal Logic

Project Logicality | The Appeal to Force

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(This post contains rough language, and at least one rather graphic example, not particularly kid-friendly, is provided. Then, this is not a kid-friendly blog, so no biggie.)

What happens when the threat of force is used as an argument? Is such use valid? If so, when?
Here we discuss the appeal to force, just for the sake of annoying pedantry, the argument from the cudgel, or the ad baculum fallacy.

It’s an informal, language-derived argument, often an irrelevant appeal, to compel compliance or even merely seeming agreement with a claim using force or its threat, whether physical, psychological, or legal.

It may be thought of as a subset of the argument from final consequences, and in a simple and slightly vulgar formulation basically amounts to:

Agree with me and do as I say, or I’ll kick your f**king *ss!

Or a bit less crudely,

Agree that I’m right because I’m badder and meaner than you are and I can light you up!

There’s also:

Do as I say, not as I do …or else!

That last might also double as an argument from authority, it and the ad baculum both being not-so-subtle forms of bullying.

It’s a fallacy when the threat implied or expressed used has no valid relation to the claim. It aims to exploit a demand for submission to authority or fear to substitute for good argument.

This is probably apocryphal, but there’s a classic example I’ve seen in one of my Great Courses lectures, of something attributed to Hitler, on hearing the then Pope’s displeasure with his policies, in which he allegedly said:

“…and how many tanks does the Pope have?”

Not exactly a rhetorical question.

But that nicely illustrates the use of this argument in exploiting the idea that ‘might makes right.’

Another example of this is Pascal’s wager, with its choice, actually a false dichotomy, of theistic belief while supposedly losing nothing and maybe winning everything, or non-belief and the supposed risk if ‘wrong,’ whatever that means. There are many unstated assumptions going into the wager without independent support, which if not presupposed undermine Pascal’s case, but I won’t deal with that here.

An ad baculum argument can have valid applications, as when the threat made directly relates to the claims and not just to overthrow discussion by substituting intimidation or fear for real justification of a claim.

There are those criminal penalties imposed as punishment in various legal systems. This includes crimes like theft, fraud, murder, and treason, with such penalties as narfling the Garthok, or maybe being consigned to Jabba the Hutt’s Rancor pit for making awful movie references on this blog.


For example:

If you read the forbidden (and completely made-up) haiku collection ‘Reflections on Infinity,’ horrible and nasty critters (equally fictitious) from the Outer Void (as made-up as the first two) will show up and slowly eat your brain. Attracting the attention of such horrors can be horrific, worse than death, as madness comes while they eat your brain. To best avoid this unpleasant fate, you must not read ‘Reflections on Infinity.’

Okay, so that was a little over the top.

With many arguments, sometimes using fallacies or not, valid or invalid use depends on context. The use of it for furthering is valid and invalid for squelching reasonable discussion.

Most such fallacies are not simple and easy matters of the argument structure. They depend on meaning bound up in language, which is not merely decorative filler as with formal logic.

Content matters. With informal arguments, content and meaning are structure.

One final note as well: an argument may be formally valid in terms of structure, yet informally invalid, committing a fallacy, or several fallacies, in the exact same statement.

So we must examine our assumptions going into an argument, and our reasoning to our conclusions on two fronts, both formally and informally.

And that, I think, goes a bit further to making us better, smarter thinkers, and more skillful with our reasoning as a means of self-defense for the mind in a post-truth world.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Project Logicality | Labeling Argument Strategies & The Fallacist’s Fallacy

There are many ways to argue deceptively or mistakenly, and often these ways involve logical fallacies–flaws in arguments that come in two general sorts, formal and informal.

The former are defects in structure, errors in the pattern of the argument that render it invalid, usually independent of the argument’s specific content.

The latter are often breaches of procedure rather than structure, attempts to thwart the goal of a critical discussion, often to merely ‘win’ the argument than to achieve better understanding, to obscure truth rather than reach it. Many informal fallacies are not always fallacious.

Fallacy theory is a complex subject, and not all logicians agree on the definitions I’ve just given, but that’s cool. Fallacies can be used to distract and mislead, or they can be used in reverse, in labeling argumentative strategies, to reduce their effectiveness by calling attention to them when abused.

In some debates, such labeling will be done fairly frequently, in others, more subtle counterstrategies will be used rather than explicitly pointing out the fallacies. In this case, knowing thine enemy and naming it is useful, subjecting the flawed argument to scrutiny, and lessening its sting.

But that is not enough. And it pays to not be a dick when debating.

To argue that naming a fallacy shows the claim of an argument false is to commit the fallacists’ fallacy, as it it entirely possible for an argument may be weak, its claims not following from the premises, but the claim made can still be correct despite the argument made for it.

It is also committing the fallacist’s fallacy to falsely accuse one’s opponent of arguing fallaciously, when a fair evaluation of their argument and its context would clearly show the argument valid. Context matters with argumentation!

So it is not enough merely to label an argument. In fact, it’s advised that you don’t, at least not in an arrogant manner. What’s needed is to use your knowledge of how the argument goes wrong to craft an even better counterargument, assuming that it’s even important enough to refute. Not all arguments are, as some may be simply ignored if not worth the time spent ‘attacking’ them.

There’s a military metaphor in that, an unfortunate artifact of the history of argumentation that has given the entire field of study a reputation for quarrelsomeness and bickering.

That’s especially the case with logical inconsistencies and outright contradictions. If two or more arguments work at cross-purposes, logically at least one of them must be rejected, but the natural human inclination is to throw them all out, as reflecting poorly on the arguer’s credibility and even resulting in loss of the argument.

Even fallacious arguments sometimes assert things that are true, being right for the wrong reasons, but they cannot reliably show those things to be the case. Logic alone proves nothing, even if the argument is formally or informally valid or uses strong inference.

For that, we need objective data as well.

We need the best evidence available to support our premises, which must not only be true, but which must also be acceptable, clear, relevant, as non-circular as possible, and as free from unwarranted assumptions and presumptions as can be had.

Tf. Tk. Tts.