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

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 04:00:54 -0700

Robert, I wasn't attempting to describe all that comprised the Fallacy of
Hasty Generalization, merely that Simon's fallacy was that particular
fallacy.  And by saying Simon had committed the Fallacy of Hasty
Generalization I didn't intend to imply that Simon had exhausted the Fallacy
of Hasty Generalization with his particular fallacious argument.    Don't
forget, I was happy saying that Simon had engaged in an "Anecdotal Argument"
which was by definition fallacious. You take it full circle with your
example of band-members uniforms; although the circumstances of seeing the
band members (say it happened just after a performance) might remove that
argument from the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization: e.g. the band just had a
performance.  Really?  What uniforms are they wearing this year?  Look,
those two are the last ones to leave the performance.  Ah, I see they are
wearing stripped pants and green jacket. 


Simon's argument has no extenuating circumstances that I can see.  He heard
several interviews and saw a pattern; so he supplied the "therefore" and
drew a conclusion not as Judy would have: "some have become terrorists as a
result of the war in Iraq," but the more audacious and fallacious "the
number of terrorists in existence is larger now than it was before the war
in Iraq because of the war in Iraq. And the number of moderates is smaller
now than it was before the war in Iraq because of the war in Iraq."


Neither Omar nor I were able to determine how many moderates were in
existence.  I was not able to determine that there were any moderates in the
Middle East because neither Omar nor I could find hide nor hair of them.
Yet Simon, upon the evidence of two terrorist attacks and a small number of
interviews has determined this for us.  However small the number of
moderates was before Iraq war II.  It is even smaller now.  And the reverse
is true of the number of terrorists.


Consider that instead of beating his head against Lawrence on Lit-Ideas,
Simon joins Zogby and is told to go and find out if there are more or less
moderates and terrorsts after Iraq War number two than before.  Simon
interviews ten people he is impressed with and returns two weeks later and
says, "Mr. Zogby.  I have evidence that there are fewer moderates and more
extremists after Iraq War II."  


"Very well," Mr. Zogby says.  "Good work.  How many people did you survey
and what were their demographics?"


Simon answers, "Ten people, Mr. Zogby, and their demographics were 'really


Is Mr Zogby going to be more or less happy with Simon than Lawrence is?




-----Original Message-----
From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Robert Paul
Sent: Sunday, October 01, 2006 7:09 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: An American student's history of the world


Lawrence wrote to Simon:


> I saw no point in further responding to you.  You seem unable to

> 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

> scorn on it.  It is to show that it is no argument at all.  And in the

> 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

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 


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


?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

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

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

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 


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

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 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

what this fallacy is. Lawrence thinks that it's merely a failure to provide

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

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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