LogicWarrior Demand Reason

20Oct/090

The Categorical Is (Usually) Your Enemy

Categoricals (statements without exception like all, every, never, and always) are rarely worth their rhetorical value in argument.  Usage of a categorical exposes one's argument to easy counter by coming up with a single counterexample.  Replying to the exception with "that's an exception" immediately voids the rhetorical high ground established by having a logical sound argument.

A: Killing is never justified.
B: What about in self-defense?

A is now stuck replying with noting self-defense as exception which makes A appear non-rigorous or having to have a more encapsulating argument that doesn't allow for self defense.  Some arguers will try to carve out an exception within a definition which may cede an argument due to rare definitions or make the arguer appear excessively semantic.

Common Failings: Categoricals involving humanity like "people don't change" or "men are evil" are often giveaways that the speaker is being rhetorical or non-rigorous.  The speaker may intent to say "most", but failure to make this simple change suggests that the person making the statement isn't actually interested in discussing the point.  Categoricals may be used for rhetorical flourish or to justify mass action.  Once one says "all objects of a certain class have  a specific quality" and this statement is accepted as part of the argument, logical actions meant to fix that quality can then be applied to the entire class of objects.  Once a categorical is conceded by an arguer argument by counterexample becomes difficult.

Avoiding This Failing: Words like most, the preponderance, and usually allow one to make statements regarding several but not all objects of a certain class.  In my experience also allows for "friendly" counterexamples while still maintaining logical integrity and maintaining relative rigor in presented fact.

Before employing a categorical try to find a counterexample.  If you do and wish to retain the categorical consider word choice:  "Murder is never justified" is far easier to defend than "killing is never justified".  Be careful as this may result in tautologies.  If one defines murder as unjustified killing, no useful claims have been added to the universe of discourse.  Alternatively, consider your end-game.  Continuing the above example, one could be arguing about capital punishment.  Trying to say "killing is wrong" is a weak claim as there's no evident reasoning supporting and to me it just sounds simplistic.  A statement like "the state doesn't have the right to take life of its citizens" (denying the jus gladii of an actor) is a more reasonable starting ground which maintains the categorical and restricts the domain of counterarguments.

19Oct/090

Roy Schestowitz on FLOSS Weekly

Roy Schestowitz is a spokesperson for Boycott Novell and was interviewed on FLOSS Weekly 91 where he made the following statement.

You have to remember Novell only has a few hundreds [sic] of engineers working on Linux, right? Novell has almost 4000 employees at the moment, so the vast majority of people don't actually do this code.

There are two reasonable implications for which the author is going.  One is that the portion of the organization that works on Linux is insignificant, this is not the case as R&D spending in the US averages about 2.5% of a firm's budget.  Tow, the speaker then fails to apply context by saying the ratio of engineers that work on Linux to other software packages or what other firms do.

Avoid excepting claims regarding an actor in a context when no comparison is provided to other entities in that context.