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The Sly Way to Commit a Straw Man Fallacy

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Sunstone, Dec 6, 2018.

  1. sun rise

    sun rise "Let there be peace and love among all"
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    Rather to me he was stressing this point about power:

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.
     
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  2. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    This is basically what I was saying in my post. If someone wants to argue that houses can be kept as pets, and they define a "house" as a four-footed furry creature, then you simply CAN NOT assail the validity of their argument by pointing out that a house is not a four-footed furry creature. You can only assail the soundness of their argument by showing that their premise ("If we define a house as a four-footed furry creature") is not true ("We do not define a house as a four-footed furry creature").

    If they want to define a "house" as a four-footed furry creature for the purposes of their argument, that is their prerogative--but they must be prepared for the vast majority of people who agree on the common definition of a "house" to dismiss their argument as nonsense.
     
  3. WalterTrull

    WalterTrull Godfella

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    As a teenager I was told by a somewhat lightly loafered librarian that all strawmen were flamers. I intuited the reverse was not true as I acquainted several undefeated flamers. However, to this day, strawmen make me itch. I lived in Kansas, iI that helps.
     
  4. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    That's quite an interesting view. Thanks for sharing it!

    As it happens, I'm in significant disagreement with you. For one thing, I do not understand why your the best case must be the best case. I would think it possible for someone using a new definition of a word with a well established meaning to point out that he or she is using the word in a new way and then define his or her usage of the word. If they did that, then wouldn't the best case be that others understood them -- rather than the best case being miscommunication and confusion?

    Can it be acceptable to use a new definition for a concept that already has a well-accepted definition? I don't see why not. Doing so violates no laws of humanity or nature. So long as the new definition is made explicit what is the harm?

    It seems to be advantageous at times to redefine words with well-accepted definitions for various purposes -- very much including to reflect new knowledge or accommodate new concepts.

    For instance, the word "paradigm" once had a well-accepted definition of referring to a form or template for something. Then along came Thomas Kuhn in the early 60s. His new usage of the word proved to be so popular and useful to so many people that nowadays, a few decades later, most of us use "paradigm" to more or less mean what Kuhn meant by it. Do you consider Kuhn's redefining of paradigm "acceptable"? Do you think it at best led to "miscommunication and confusion"?

    Again, based on what little I know of the sciences, it seems to me that words with well-accepted meanings are being redefined all the time. How many alterations in meaning has the word "intelligence" gone through in the field of psychology for any of several reasons?

    Beyond that, very few people in my experience perfectly adhere to the dictionary definition of every word they use despite that dictionaries usually report the most common and well-accepted usages of words. And yes, that often enough leads to miscommunication and confusion, but it also sometimes leads to better communication of various concepts when a new usage someone has coined takes off and becomes popular.

    For instance, there seems to be a relatively recently coined meaning for the word "Pablo". Pablo used to refer only to the proper name of some persons. But a few years ago, I began now and then hearing it used in reference to a kind of person -- near as I can figure it out, a "Pablo" is a very smart man who doesn't act like he's smart. If so, it seems like a pretty useful expansion on the language to me because I don't know of any other word that conveys exactly the same meaning as the new meaning of "Pablo". Pablo is not a perfect example of what I'm getting at, but I hope you can get the idea. Redefining the meanings of well-accepted words can sometimes enrich the language and even lead to providing an easier way to communicate an old or new concept.

    Using old words in new ways can certainly create problems, I will grant you that. But those problems often enough seem to me outweighed by the legitimate advantages that can sometimes be had by doing it.

    That would be an excellent point if only it were relevant. If you will re-read the first argument, you'll notice it is not about whether god exists or not. So to say that it's "shifting the goalposts" for whether god exists or not strikes me as a misunderstanding.

    It seems to me that "Lincoln's" point can be rephrased as "defining a word in a way that conflates two distinct things does not make the two things the same thing in reality". I agree. But here's where I think we disagree:

    In essence, I am arguing that to define a term as X does not necessarily mean you are conflating X with Y simply because Y is the prior or more common meaning of the term. To redefine "house cat" as "an exceptionally sexy housewife" does not necessarily mean you are conflating "an exceptionally sexy housewife" with "a small domestic feline" simply because "a small domestic feline" is the prior or more common meaning of the term "house cat".

    Yet -- if I understand you correctly -- you are in essence arguing the converse of my position.​

    Have I understood you correctly?

    At any rate, thank you for making such interesting points. It's fun discussing this with you. You always get me thinking.
     
  5. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    If I'm understanding you correctly, you are saying that fish live in trees, and because of this, we need to develop fishing lures that have wings and are able to elevate themselves into the trees where fish live.

    Or maybe I'm just defining the words you used differently from the way you would define them?
     
  6. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    I completely agree. I wonder if anyone has thought of George Orwell's "Newspeak" in connection with this discussion about whether and when it is permissible to define words and terms as we see fit? In Orwell's 1984 it was not permissible. Moreover, I recall Orwell was of the opinion that whoever controlled language controlled thought.

    That's an interesting notion -- whoever controls language controls thought. I wonder how true it is? Any ideas on that?
     
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  7. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Can you elaborate on why you believe that, please?
     
  8. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    I'm lost, Paul, as usual. Could you please tell me what you mean by, "Who said the first definition is the only definition"?
     
  9. Subduction Zone

    Subduction Zone Veteran Member

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    Equivocation fallacy,.
     
  10. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Interesting! Could you elaborate please?
     
  11. Subduction Zone

    Subduction Zone Veteran Member

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    Gladly. As you know most words have multiple meanings. An equivocation fallacy is done by using the same word but using different definitions for it.

    "
    Description: Using an ambiguous term in more than one sense, thus making an argument misleading.

    Example #1:

    I want to have myself a merry little Christmas, but I refuse to do as the song suggests and make the yuletide gay. I don't think sexual preference should have anything to do with enjoying the holiday.

    Explanation: The word, “gay” is meant to be in light spirits, joyful, and merry, not in the homosexual sense."

    Equivocation

    The example that you gave used multiple definitions of "god".
     
  12. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    That's not exactly an equivocation fallacy. In fact, "If we define X as Y, then we can say that Y is X," is not a fallacy at all--it's just basically a statement of definition.
     
  13. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    Now you've got it, so an equivocation fallacy would be, "If we define axe as why, then we can say that Y is X."
     
  14. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Thanks so much! I love Bennett's website. I sometimes wish he'd be a little bit more precise in his "descriptions" or definitions of fallacies, but he more than makes up for that with his great examples!

    Indeed. The first person used one definition. The second person used another. If I now understand you, you are suggesting that a fallacy of equivocation was committed because of that? If so, that's an interesting thought.

    I think I can see how that might suggest an equivocation -- as in, "The second person was equivocating on the first person's use of god".

    That does not strike me as an actual fallacy, though. I think that for it to be a fallacy, the equivocation would need to occur within the same argument. That is, either within the first person's argument, or within the second person's argument. Do you see an equivocation in the first person's argument? What about in the second person's argument?
     
  15. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    I see your point. There are certainly times when a redefinition is warranted because a previous definition fails to capture some essential point. We also have to allow some flexibility of the language. But I am also concerned about the likelihood of confusion when using a word with more than one definition (leading, as some have pointed out, to the possibility of the equivocation fallacy).

    I also see a distinction when there is a redefinition of a technical term because of knowledge that makes the old definition less useful. In this context, the redefinition tends to happen through those studying the relevant subject agreeing that the word needs to be redefined.

    But even then, a lot of attention needs to be paid to the possibility of confusion. I know of several examples where, because of historical accidents, the same word is used in two closely related but distinct ways. And that always requires special care on the part of the reader or expositor.

    And I'm not denying that this happens. But it tends to be the case when the older definition simply isn't showing itself useful to encourage new discussion and knowledge.

    The case of the word 'planet' is a good one, I think. There was a fair amount of debate about what the definition should be and the consequences of the various definitions in terms of future investigations.

    What I saw in your OP was person 1 unilaterally deciding that a standard definition was unsuitable when there remained a number of good reasons to keep the old word around. The new one produced a reaction to be expected because the old definition was still relevant to a number of discussions.


    Fair enough. My bad. I do see it as a significant enough shift of meaning to lead to likely confusion. perhaps one reason is that the term 'god' has significant emotion context as well as intellectual context. it seems more 'ingrained' in the language than, say, Pablo.

    I'm more questioning the justification for the redefinition. If the older term is still active and useful, I see it as being problematic to give the word a new denotation that is too closely related to the original. It leads too often, in my experience, to either the equivocation fallacy or to moving the goalposts. A much better choice, is to coin a new word, imho.
     
  16. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    You make some very good points, Poly. Very reasonable ones. My only disagreements with you are one or two quibbles so minor they are not worth mentioning. Thank you so much for your insightful comments!

    Beyond that, I hate how you've crushed my spirits by giving me nothing to argue against. You beast! How could you!
     
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  17. Subduction Zone

    Subduction Zone Veteran Member

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    The original two arguments are rather vague in what they are trying to prove, so I cannot say for sure how this fallacy would apply. But far too often I see people making this sort of argument when they are using different definitions for the same word. At best the two people in the OP have a failure to communicate. Hmm, why am I suddenly craving hard boiled eggs?
     
  18. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    I also see that all the time. Two -- or even more -- people talking right past each other. It's so popular to do that, I'm beginning to think doing it must feel like sex to some folks! :D
     
  19. lewisnotmiller

    lewisnotmiller Grand Hat
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    Sort of.
    It's not that a dictionary is an effective argument for the only correct or proper usage of a word, and certainly not complex words like 'God' or 'Lewisnotmiller'.
    But I have once or twice been on the end of arguments involving the completely incorrect understanding of a word's meaning.

    So, perhaps the argument still holds regardless, but at least using the dictionary to correct how the argument is being framed can be helpful.
    Overly simple example would be people conflating 'worthless' and 'priceless'.
     
  20. lewisnotmiller

    lewisnotmiller Grand Hat
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    You mean they fall asleep half way through, then get slapped?
     
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