Friday, February 22, 2008

Time out for a Logic lesson!

The most courageous post by someone who, courageously, prefers to remain conveniently anonymous, affords the opportunity to make some important points about logic. So here goes. The Brave Anon's post says (quoting in full):

Hey Spiros- I doubt that you would ever have the balls to spew your crap to Billy Joel if you ever met him. I would love to see Joel ( a former welter- weight boxing champion ) whack the living shit out of you in the grand old New York tradition. Who gives a fuck what music you don't like ? Blogging bullies like you are all the same - big brave blowhards in cyberspace, and limp-dicked cowards in reality. You are obviously a failure in your own miserable life.

The problems begin in the first two sentences. Anon "doubts" that I'd even "have the balls" to "spew" my "crap" to Joel if I ever met him; she says I wouldn't have the balls because Joel is a "former welter-weight boxing champion," and therefore would "whack the living shit" out of me. Thus far, the post violates a dialectical norm of relevance. That Billy Joel could "whack the living shit" out of me is irrelevant to what's in dispute, namely, whether Joel's music sucks. The irrelevance is clear from the fact that what enables one to "whack the living shit" out or another is strength and fighting skill. But what enables one to write music that doesn't suck is something else altogether. Accordingly, we would reject the view that the best fighter is therefore the best songwriter! For example, let's stipulate that Billy Joel could "whack the living shit" out of Paul McCartney; it does not follow that therefore Joel's music is better than Paul's. Nor does it follow that Joel's doesn't suck.

More formally, the opening sentences are instances of a fallacy known as ad baculum ("appeal to the stick"). Ad baculum arguments instantiate the following fallacious inference:
1. If you don't agree that p, I will beat you up.
2. Therefore p.
Obviously, the truth of p does not follow from the truth of the premise.

The next sentence raises another kind of failure. The Courageous Anon writes: "Who gives a fuck what music you don't like ?" This is a kind of performative contradiction. Obviously Anon gives a fuck! Had she not given a fuck, she'd not have taken the time to write her precious note. That is, the "who gives a fuck..." claim has the pragmatic implication of saying "No one should even bother caring about what you say," but Anon, in her great wisdom, says this while obviously caring a great deal about what I say!

The next sentence is also a failure. The Brave Anon writes: "Blogging bullies like you are all the same - big brave blowhards in cyberspace, and limp-dicked cowards in reality." Leaving aside the worry about why cyberspace is not "reality," note that this is a classic instance of the ad hominem ("appeal to the person") fallacy:
1. You are a bad person (a "big brave blowhard in cyberspace, and limp-dicked coward in reality").
2. Therefore, what you say is false.
But bad people say all kinds of true things. So, to say the least, this is not a promising form of inference.

The final sentence, You are obviously a failure in your own miserable life, also instantiates a vice of reasoning: it's an assertion posing as a conclusion. Here, the "obviously" is doing the work of suggesting that something has been demonstrated (namely, that I am a "failure in [my] own miserable life") by what Anon has said in the previous sentences. But absolutely nothing about me has been demonstrated. Alas, all that has been demonstrated is that Anon is intellectually inept. No wonder she likes Billy Joel.

35 comments:

Imipolex_G-Unit said...

My question is more legal than logical: Has Anon, by wishing in writing that BJ whack poop out of your body (a paraphrase) and then later claiming to *be* BJ thereby given you grounds to call the cops on BJ?

Spiros said...

Good question. The answer is: no. Threats need to be *credible*. And there's lots of legal fuckedupness concerning online speech. I'm pretty sure Anon is a friend playing a joke, anyway.

bones said...

WHAT?! You don't really think that is Billy Joel herself?? I was so convinced! I was all excited to get my name mentioned at the concert. Dang!

Anonymous said...

I'm not your friend. and I believe that the statement "He must be stopped" has legal implications beyond someone's desire to see you get your ass whipped. At any rate, you continue to procrastinate regarding my invitation to tell Mr. Joel your opinion of him personally. My offer still stands. I'll give you until the end of the day to take me up on it. After that, you and Mr. Bones can go back to your 'whine' cellar.

Spiros said...

The Most Courageous and Wise Anon writes:

"I believe that the statement "He must be stopped" has legal implications beyond someone's desire to see you get your ass whipped."

Wrong again. "He must be stopped" is not a threat, on any legal interpretation. Yet another proof of how inept Anon is.


The Brave Anon then writes:
"At any rate, you continue to procrastinate regarding my invitation to tell Mr. Joel your opinion of him personally."

As I argued in the previous thread, I will not take Anon up on this. And, to repeat, here's the reason: No doubt Billy Joel will prove unable to reply to my penetrating criticisms of his work. My arguments that Billy is an utter and complete failure in everything he has aspired to do, that his songs are among the very worst ever written, that his musicianship does not surpass that of a beginner, that his lyrics are *not even shallow*, that he has contributed nothing of value to the universe, etc. are unassailable. That Joel will prove unable to respond, and that he's already at such a low point in his life, means that it would be unduly *cruel* and *unjust* of me to take Anon up on her offer. Even complete failures like Billy Joel deserve some moral consideration. I will not allow Anon to compromise my moral integrity.

bones said...

Hey Anon, Meet me at the bike rack rack at 3pm tommorow! I will prove to you once and for all, who can write a better song!
unless, of course, you are chicken!

Anonymous said...

Have it your way kiddies. I'll miss our warm and cozy little chats. I should have known that Bones isn't old enough to drive, and that Spiros would continue to be what he/she has always been - just another coward with a computer. Carry on with your circle jerk, and make sure that you clean up when your done. I'm gone.

Spiros said...

And so the Courageous Anon departs after an exceedingly brave attempt to insult Bones and me. Conveniently, she claims for herself the last word, and so insulates herself from having to endure further refutation. Typical of morons and frauds everywhere.

The best part of this, perhaps, is that every vice she attributes to me is one that she herself embodies. Throughout the exchange, we have seen her (1) posing threats of physical violence, (2) lying (viz., claim to be Billy Joel), (3) being a blowhard without ever having to back it up, (4) being a coward.

It has been fun playing with her, but it's probably best that she retreat to her usual pastime of picking on people much smaller than she is.

Imipolex_G-Unit said...

One thing that I've learned from the whole experience is that we should equate musical prowess with the ability to administer violence.

I subsequently have renewed appreciation for the multiple careers of Steven Segal who is master of both karate and the blues guitar. And could whack poop out of Billy Joel's body.

Spiros said...

Dude:

I've actually *listened* to some of Steven Segal's music. I couldn't resist... As expected, if was fucking hilarious. And very, very, bad. He has a song titled "Alligator Ass." No, it's not autobiographical...

Imipolex_G-Unit said...

Watch out. Some Segal fan is going to swing by now and ask if you have the courage to say that to his face.

Spiros said...

I know!

But I'm not scared. Have you seen Segal lately? He's a lumbering, clumsy oaf. I think I could take him.

Anonymous said...

If Anon knew how to do it, I would love to tell Billy Joel how wretched I think his music is. Even with the beating I'd receive, I'd be better off.

C

brave anon said...

"just the way you are", or "don't go changin" or whatever it's called, is a nice melody, despite the vapid lyrics. it's better than beginner-level musically. therefore, you're ugly, too.

The Brooks Blog said...

For the record, I can verify that the claim that Spiros is "obviously a failure in your own miserable life" is not true.

Now it is one thing to get the logic wrong, but the facts as well....?

Anonymous said...

I once beat up Bob Dylan for saying that Ira was a better writer than George (Gershwin).

Sadly, Dylan then wrote a song about it that was very good, was covered by Mavis Staples, thus, I think, proving that Mavis Staples could pound the shit out of Irving Berlin.

ulhsfog said...

Now I hate myself for having read this thread... well done!

Ben said...

You actually made the biggest logic mistake of all.

You assumed that because Anon said that you wouldn't have the balls to spew your crap to Billy Joel in person, that Anon was saying your opinion was wrong. Looks to me like that wasn't his/her concern. Anon never said whether Billy Joel's music is good or not, he/she was simply pointing out how easy we are to ridicule people we don't know over the internet.

You can assume that he/she likes Billy Joel and therefore felt compelled to message you, but that doesn't change the fact that the point of the message was not to defend Billy Joel's music.

When you consider this, it makes your whole counterattack irrelevant. But you did a nice job of changing the issue...most people fell for it. I thought you guys were critical thinkers.

(Sorry, but since I don't speak philosopher, I can't translate this into deductive form for you.)

Anonymous said...

You write: "That Billy Joel could 'whack the living shit' out of me is irrelevant to what's in dispute, namely, whether Joel's music sucks."
However, Brave Anon never mentions that she was trying to defend the view that Billy Joel's music is good. (I am only going off the info you have given in this post) Insofar as you are responding to what was written in Brave Anon's post, I'm afraid it is your point that is irrelevant.

Also, Brave Anon never "appealed to the stick" in order to justify the conclusion that Billy Joel's music is good. In fact, Brave Anon's post NEVER even mentions the quality of Billy Joel's music. So, although she might be appealing to the stick, it is not to defend the view that Billy Joel's music sucks. (If anything, it seems that rather than appealing to the stick, she is simply stating that Joel could beat you up, period.)

With respect to the performative contradiction, you might be right. However, there is another, more charitable, reading we could give. We just have to make a distinction between caring about your musical taste and caring about how you choose to express that opinion. On this reading Brave Anon is consistent because although she does not care about your musical taste, she does care about the manner in which you express your opinions. (Not saying this is the correct reading, but it certainly is more charitable)
Your next point also makes the assumption that she is trying to argue that what you say is false. Again, if you have given us her complete post, (which you say you have), then I dont see how you can make the assumption that she is trying to contradict anything you said about the quality of Joel's music; she never mentions anything about the quality of Billy Joel's music.

Finally, I believe 'obviously' is used in order to emphasize (what she takes to be) the necessary connection between "being a failure in your own miserable life" and "being a blowhard in cyberspace and a limpdick in reality." I take it that she thinks the following statement is necessarily true: Everyone who is both a blowhard in cyberspace and a limpdick in reality is also a miserable failure.
Im not saying this is correct, but this is certainly a more charitable and plausible reading than the one you have given.

All the best. :)

Mark S said...

Here's a thought:

All arguments, insofar as they seek to be justified in some way or another, are necessarily fallacious insofar as their justification is always going to end up terminating in some kind of appeal to authority (now one can quibble over the relative status of different forms of authority--"illegitimate" versus "legitimate"-- but that always terminates in some sort of normative foundation which is, of course, another kind of authority).

Istvan Aranyosi said...

Agree with Ben and the Anonymous after his comment. This post is not a logic lesson, unless it is itself taken as an example how not to do logic, or how to change the subject. Spiros' points against the aggressive Anon are irrelevant.

But for some professional philosophers it was easy to fall for it (e.g. Leiter)

Istvan Aranyosi said...

Also, I don't think, contra the Anonymous I earlier said I agree with, that Brave Anon needs a premise as strong as he/she suggests: "I take it that she thinks the following statement is necessarily true: Everyone who is both a blowhard in cyberspace and a limpdick in reality is also a miserable failure."

No, all is needed is that conditional as being true in the actual world.

Moreover, we can be even more charitable and interpret Brave Anon as asserting the following conditional:

"It is highly probably, actually, that if someone is is both a blowhard in cyberspace and a limpdick in reality, he/she is also a failure in his/her own miserable life."

I tend to think this last conditional is true.

Anonymous said...

Istvan Aranyosi,
haha, you are correct. The reason I went with "necessarily" is b/c I was going to say the claim is analytic. As you said, though, what is important is not that there is any necessary connection between the two but that the "obviously" functions to demonstrate the what Brave Anon takes to be the obvious connection between being miserable and being a limpdick and blowhard.
Good Point :) lol

Ludlow said...

well, I've read this whole thread and it made me want to go beat someone up. I hope everyone is proud of themselves.

Brian Leiter said...

Let me see if I've got this straight: some people posting here think I or anyone else thought this post was about logic?

Istvan Aranyosi said...

Sorry, Prof. Leiter, I might have been mistaken.

I deduced that the topic of this post is logic (applied and informal) from:

(a) title of this post ("Time out for a logic lesson"),

(b)the first sentence of it ("The most courageous post by ... affords the opportunity to make some important points about logic."),

(c) from references in the post to fallacies in informal logic.

Ben said...

I didn't take it as a serious logic post, although the title would suggest that it is. I just took it as a foolish response that managed to outdo the original message from the anonymous fool.

JPH said...

Hey, little sister, what have you done?
Hey, little sister, who's the only one?
Hey, little sister, who's your superman?
Hey, little sister, who's the one you want?
Hey, little sister, shot gun!

It's a nice day to start again.
It's a nice day for a white wedding.
It's a nice day to start again.

Hey, little sister, who is it you're with?
Hey, little sister, what's your vice and wish?
Hey, little sister, shot gun (oh yeah)
Hey, little sister, who's your superman?
Hey, little sister, shot gun!

It's a nice day to start again.
(Come on.)
It's a nice day for a white wedding.
It's a nice day to start again.

(Pick it up.)

Take me back home.

Hey little sister what have you done?
Hey, little sister, who's the only one?
I've been away for so long (so long).
I've been away for so long (so long).
I let you go for so long.

It's a nice day to start again.
(Come on.)
It's a nice day for a white wedding.
It's a nice day to start again.

There is nothin' fair in this world.
There is nothin' safe in this world.
And there's nothin' sure in this world.
And there's nothin' pure in this world.
Look for something left in this world.
Start again.

Come on.
It's a nice day for a white wedding.
It's a nice day to start again.
It's a nice day to start again.
It's a nice day to start again.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who doesn't think this is funny? I just mean that this is boring. I feel like usually your site is much funnier than this.

ravi said...

Ben and others do a good job of highlighting the misrepresentation (perhaps unintentional) and hence irrelevance of Brave Spiros' lesson. It puts me in mind of two things:

1. The philosopher Paul Feyerabend observed (and I am summarising here) in reference to all this self-congratulatory hand-waving that some people need arias while others can settle arguments with a mere grunt.

2. The rapper Ice T gave us the lyrics: "not a chitlin' eating nigger from down South, but a nigger that will smack that taste from your mouth". Sometimes, as in the case of racism, the opponent does not deserve a logical reasoned response. A smack in the mouth serves quite well!

But does Brave Spiros deserve the smacking around that Anonymous wishes upon him at the hands of Billy Joel? That would be, at least to me (a pacifist, to boot!) a tad much. If the man (I presume Brave Spiros is a man) has a negative reaction to the music of Joel, so be it. Does Billy Joel really need defending from philosophers?!

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Andrew MacKie-Mason said...

I'm a little confused: why do you seem to be mocking the commenter for being anonymous while also being anonymous yourself?

Hattie said...

Oh joy! Another Billy Joel hater! I am in heaven.