Friday, May 01, 2009

Rosenau lays a logical egg

Sometimes when you try firing on the enemy, your weapon blows up in your hand. It's kind of embarassing.

Josh Rosenau, still trying to prove that someone who does not deny the Holocaust is a Holocaust denier, keeps digging himself in deeper, and making it more and more evident that he has some fairly serious logic issues. He had pointed to William F. Buckley's condemnation of Pat Buchanan as an "anti-Semite," characterizing Buckley as a Buchanan "ally," making his condemnation, said Rosenau, all the more remarkable.

Trouble was Buckley and Buchanan were not "allies." Buchanan is a paleoconservative, and Buckley, by the end of his life, a neoconservative. Rosenau contested this assertion, arguing that William F. Buckley was the "paleoconservatives' paleoconservative," a strange characterization, I pointed out, since virtually every leading paleoconservative repudiated Buckley, and Buckley took few paleoconservative positions.

One of the positions on which I pointed out was that Buckley was at odds with paleoconservatives was the recent issue closest to their hearts: the Iraq War. Rosenau's last response is illustrative of his problem in dealing with these issues logically.

Here is Rosenau's response to me in his last post "Apparently, I'm (almost) a paleoconservative":
If Martin Cothran is to be believed (and naturally he isn't):

The paleocons, almost as a matter of definition, opposed the war [in Iraq], and opposed it harshly.
I opposed the war in Iraq, and opposed it harshly, so "almost as a matter of definition, I'm a almost paleocon..."
This is supposed to prove how ridiculous the argument in my last post was.

I suppose I should be thankful that Rosenau is at least attempting a logical syllogism here, but syllogisms are best left in the hands of those who know how to operate them. He is attempting here what is called a reductio ad absurdum, which takes an opponent's assumption and tries to draw a logical implication from it that is obviously absurd, showing thereby, that there is something wrong with the assumption. In this case, however, the logical gun explodes in his hand (a common hazard for those who use them without proper instruction).

Let's lay out his attempted reductio ad absurdum neatly, with the proper logical notation:
PaleoconservativesPd oppose the Iraq WarMu
I (Josh Resenau)Sd oppose the Iraq WarMu
Therefore, I (Josh Rosenau)Sd am an "almost" paleoconservativePu
Rosenau thinks at this point that he has shown that my assumption leads to the conclusion he has come to in his little syllogism. At this point Rosenau does his customary end zone dance under the impression that he has scored.

But wait ... there's a flag! The referees appear to be calling back the play. Why? Let's go to the field...

Rosenau adds the little "almost," thinking he can insulate himself against a possible mistake, but, alas it doesn't work. He has, indeed, committed a logical error, with or without the "almost." He didn't notice, apparently, that this is a classic example of the fallacy of undistributed middle.

This happens when the middle term (the term that connects the major and minor terms together in the premises--in this case, "opposition to the Iraq War," indicated by the "M"), is "undistributed" (indicated by the "u"). Somewhere in the premises, the middle term must indicate all members of the class to which it refers (in this case, "those who oppose the Iraq War"); otherwise, it is not strong enough to connect the minor and major terms, as every conclusion must.

Neither instance of the middle term in the premises he gives refers to all those who oppose the Iraq War. "Paleoconservatives oppose the Iraq War" doesn't do it: it only refers to opponents of the Iraq War who happen to be paleoconservatives. "I (Josh Rosenau) oppose the Iraq War" doesn't refer to all those who oppose the Iraq War: it only refers to the one opponent of the Iraq War named "Josh Rosenau." So you have all those opponents of the Iraq War out there who are neither paleoconservatives nor Josh Rosenau. Most liberals, for example.

Neither occurrence of the middle term having been distributed, it cannot bear the weight of the inference.

You can see the fallacy easily by another argument of exactly the same form:
CrowsPd are blackMu
My carSd is blackMu
Therefore, my carSd is a crowPu
Exactly the same illogical form:
All P is M
All S is M
All S is P
Therefore, you have no justification for concluding anything about Josh Rosenau being a paleoconservative--"almost" or not. In fact, the addition of "almost" just compounds his problem. When he does that he not only commits the Fallacy of Undistributed Middle, he adds to it the Fallacy of Four Terms.

It's a mistake that a first year logic student knows better than to make. I can't wait to show it to my students.

5 comments:

Evil Bender said...

still trying to prove that someone who does not deny the Holocaust is a Holocaust denierYou're still eager to defend Buchanan, I see.

Do you bother to teach your students anything about those who avoid addressing their opponents' actual claims, shift the goalposts and argue dishonestly?

Josh Rosenau said...

I could defend myself by pointing out that, if opposing the war is (almost) the defining trait of paleoconservatives, then the major premise is not "paleoconservatives opposed the war," but "those who opposed the war are (almost) paleoconservatives."

But I don't care enough to develop that reading of your previous post, since it does nothing to elucidate Pat Buchanan's Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. Nor, naturally, does your logically fallacious claim that an (alleged) error in one argument discredits an entirely separate argument.

You say Buchanan "does not deny the Holocaust." I've offered the generally accepted definition of the Holocaust, and shown that Buchanan denies it. You've offered no definition of the Holocaust, and point only to the fact that Buchanan uses the word.

This is like the old joke:

Q:If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog got?

A: Four.

Your defense of Buchanan requires that we answer that question: "Five."

Martin Cothran said...

Every time an argument doesn't go the way Evil Bender's likes, he questions my honesty and accuses me of "shifting the goalposts." Go back and look at our previous exchanges. The same accusations appear.

He never says what he is referring to--what goalposts he's talking about and how I have shifted them. But it sounds catchy.

Not only was the argument I addressed Rosenau's main argument in his last point: it was the title of his post. Maybe Evil Bender would care to tell us what point I brought up what wasn't first brought up by Rosenau.

And if changing the subject is a problem, then why isn't Evil Bender giving his little lectures to Rosenau, who I have been trailing around from topic to topic for over a week now?

But questioning people's motives and honesty is so much easier than actual argument, isn't it?

Martin Cothran said...

But I don't care enough to develop that reading of your previous post, since it does nothing to elucidate Pat Buchanan's Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.If the point about paleoconservatism doesn't elucidate your point about Buchanan's so-called "Holocaust denial," then why did you bring it up in the first place?

I don't know where you have given your "generally accepted" definition of the Holocaust, but Merriam-Webster's seems fine to me: "the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II."

If that's what it is, then your arguments amount to saying that Buchanan denies there was a mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II. Since he has explicitly affirmed that he does, it is a little ridiculous to say he doesn't.

Nor, naturally, does your logically fallacious claim that an (alleged) error in one argument discredits an entirely separate argument.Where did I say this?

Andrew said...

I wonder if Mr. Rosneau would deny that the Gulags killed over 20 million people, and that 45 million have been murdered under the rules of Roe v Wade, a scientifically flawd decision.

I wonder if he would deny these were Holocausts.

Probably, since he uses words to mean what he means when it suits him.

He was well known for that over at the Kansas Citizens for Science site.

But whether he denies those are Holocausts or not, I bet he has an excuse for them.

I bet ya!