One thing I have found interesting about making my popular (in both senses) work on fallacies readily available is that it generates some rather hostile criticisms. In fact, one such criticism, posted as a comment by argumentics, was removed from this blog site.
When I found that the comment had been deleted, I was somewhat split in my view. On the one hand, allowing comments that go beyond criticism into hostility can be damaging to a blog by allowing the conversation to spiral down rapidly. On the other hand, criticisms should be taken seriously and addressed.
Of course, if someone wants his or her criticism to be taken seriously and considered an addition to the conversation, that person should present his/her comments in a suitable way. That is, in a civil manner.
While I will not reproduce the entirety of the deleted comments, I will present the criticisms made by this person (without the condescending remarks and personal attacks) and reply to them. This is mainly because I do not like to walk away from an attack.
Also, the criticisms raised by argumentics are not new-over the years the same sort of comments have arrived in my email. By addressing what I take to be misinterpretations of my work I hope to lower the chance of other people making the same mistakes.
Argumentics begins by claiming that there is “no single difference between your example of “Inductive Argument” and that of “Inductive Fallacy”. What resembles (and makes them both “inductive”) is that they are deductively invalid: their form is not that of a valid syllogism.”
Argumentics is in error here. What makes an argument inductive is not being deductively invalid. After all, affirming the consequent is an invalid argument but is not classified as an inductive argument.
While inductive arguments are all technically invalid (since an inductive argument can have all true premises and a false conclusion at the same time), they are not intended to be valid and are assessed by different standards.
Turning back to the examples themselves, they are different.
Example of an Inductive Argument
Premise 1: Most American cats are domestic house cats.
Premise 2: Bill is an American cat.
Conclusion: Bill is domestic house cat.
Example of an Inductive Fallacy
Premise 1: Having just arrived in Ohio, I saw a white squirrel.
Conclusion: All Ohio squirrels are white.
(While there are many, many squirrels in Ohio, the white ones are very rare).
The non-fallacious inductive argument is an inductive syllogism and the specific example is a strong argument. After all, if it is true (which it is) that most American cats are domestic house cats and Bill is an American cat, it is very likely that Bill is a domestic house cat. In short, the truth of the premises makes the conclusion likely to be true and this makes the argument strong.
In the example of the fallacy, the inference is from one example (the white squirrel) to all Ohio squirrels. The truth of the first premise does not make the conclusion likely to be true, hence the reasoning is poor. It is, in fact, a classic example of a hasty generalization.
Argumentics also brings up a not uncommon comment, namely that my examples are not really arguments. For example, s/he asserts that the following is not an argument: “Equal rights for women? Yeah, I’ll support that when they start paying for dinner and taking out the trash! Hah hah! Fetch me another brewski, Mildred.”
Argumentics does raise a reasonable concern here. After all, the imaginary person does not clearly identify his premises or conclusion and could be taken as merely saying stuff rather than as committing an error in reasoning. As such, it would seem to be something of a leap to take this as a fallacy and also it could be contended that I should have provided an example with a clear conclusion and clear premises. For example, a “complete” example would look something like this:
Premise 1: I have mocked the idea of equal rights.
Conclusion: Therefore, women should not have equal rights.
However, the reason why I used the original example is that when people engage in fallacious reasoning in “real life”, they typically do so in a very rough and informal manner. In fact, sometimes it is so rough and informal that it might be a matter of reasonable dispute as to whether or not the person is actually even arguing. However, in the example I gave, the person seems to intend to reject the notion of equal rights for women on the basis of his making fun of the idea, which seems to be an appeal to ridicule.
I am willing to admit that this is a reasonable point of concern and is, in fact, one my students raise: how do we distinguish between a fallacy and someone merely saying things that sort of look like a fallacy (the same applies to non-fallacious arguments)? In some cases, we can clearly tell. In other cases, it can be a matter of judgment. What, I think, is important is being able to tell when good reasoning is absent-either because a fallacy is being committed or because reasoning turns out to be absent altogether. At a later date, I should write more about this.