[lit-ideas] Re: An American student's history of the world

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 01 Oct 2006 19:09:00 -0700

Lawrence wrote to Simon:

I saw no point in further responding to you.  You seem unable to understand
the nature of a logical fallacy.  When I described it to you, you merely
said I was obfuscating (misspelling the word didn't help in that case) and
repeated the fallacy.  Showing your argument to be fallacious isn't to throw
scorn on it.  It is to show that it is no argument at all.  And in the note
below you continue to think you have a good argument.  I explained the
nature of your fallacy to you.  The fallacy you committed has a name.  You
can read about it.

My Reed webmail has been acting up. Most of today's lit-phil posts have simply
disappeared after having been briefly on display. This led me to go to my Yahoo
mail to see if there was anything I especially wanted to look at again. There I
found a post from Lawrence, dated yesterday, in which he asked whether I
wanted, in light of his analysis of Simon's bad reasoning, to lecture him or
Simon. As if!

Here is some of that post from yesterday:

--Robert, apparently Simon wants to go on; so you be the judge.

--Simon asks if I accept that the ?war in Iraq created more fundamentalists
than there were before.?   The initial discussion began not with a question
but with an assertion, ?Lawrence, my assertion is a simple one. The war in
Iraq has caused moderate muslims to be attracted to fundamentalist ideology.
Because of the war (which, it should be noted, had nothing to do with 9/11),
there are now more fundamentalist muslims than there were before. Because of
the war in Iraq, people died in Madrid and London.?

--I know of no evidence to support Simon?s assertions and beliefs. I spent
some time with the question of how many Moderate Muslims there were in the
Middle East, with Omar, and we discovered that we couldn?t find any evidence
one way or the other; so I ask what evidence Simon had to support his assertion
that there were fewer Moderates and more Fundamentalists in the world (he
didn?t want to restrict this matter to the Middle East) and he responded with

?It's not just the extremists in the middle east that are the problem. It's
also the home grown ones. How do I know there are more extremists. Because they
blew up trains in London and Madrid and because I've heard interviews with
muslims in Britain who cite the Iraq war as a major contributing factor in the
formation of their views. And yes, there are moderate muslims all over the
world. They're the ones trying to explain that the extremists don't represent
Islam, they're the ones saying how they never knew that their friend was
involved. But they're also the same ones pointing at Iraq and saying how they
understand why this is going on.?


I recognized his argument as a fallacy and attempted to explain that to him. I
continue to believe that the term ?Anecdotal Argument? is essentially
?The Fallacy of Hasty Generalization,? but I won?t insist on that. His
Fallacy is the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization. He cites two terrorist attacks
and an unknown number of interviews that he has heard as evidence that the
number of extremists has increased. We need not go into his subsequent
assertion, namely the reason for the increase, to see that he is guilty of the
Fallacy of Hasty Generalization. His sampling is not sufficient to justify his

I think it's unwise to leap from a fallacy's having a name to the conclusion
that that name picks out every variety of 'argument' said to be denoted by it.
It is unwise because there's enormous confusion on the part of those who
believe that giving names to fallacies is an aid to clear thinking as to just
what this fallacy is. Lawrence thinks that it's merely a failure to provide a
sample large enough to license some inductive inference. This is by no means
agreed upon by taxonomists of fallacies. (At this point no doubt Lawrence is
tapping his foot and muttering 'Call it what you like.') But it's worth noting I
think that reasoning from insufficient or otherwise skewed sampling involves
more than just the size of a sample.


(1) What uniforms are the band members wearing today?

There go a couple of them.

Oh, I see--the striped pants and the green jackets.

(2) The terrorists said they'd kill one hostage every hour if we didn't give
them what they wanted and they've killed a hostage every hour for the past three
hours. We ought to go in now!

Wait--there are over a hundred hostages. That they've killed three means

(3) The sample from the top of this [unshaken] milk bottle is 25% butterfat. So
the milk in this bottle is 25% butterfat.

(4) This strand of the linguine [I've been gently stirring and watching over] is
cooked just right. So all of it is cooked just right.

Does including/excluding the words in brackets matter?

(5) It's just one link in a really long chain so there's nothing to worry about.

Coda by Judy (reproduced from Lawrence's Saturday post):

I don't really think saying the War on Iraq has radicalized some Muslims
(and increased the number of extremists) counts as a hasty generalization,
even it it is not true.

Simon might have more resources than either Simon or Lawrence realizes. But I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth. Or take them out.

Robert Paul
Tweedy Professor of Logic Matters
Mutton College
Sheepskin, Nebraska

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