A Philosopher's Blog

Just Doesn’t Get It

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on August 9, 2011
Rhetoric of Reason

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When it comes to persuading people, a catchy bit of rhetoric tends to be far more effective than an actual argument. One rather neat bit of rhetoric that seems to be favored by Tea Party folks and others is the “just doesn’t get it” device.

As a rhetorical device, it is typically used with the intent of dismissing or rejecting a person’s (or group’s) claims or views. For example, someone might say “liberals just don’t get it. They think raising taxes is the way to go.” The idea is that the audience is supposed to accept that liberals are wrong about tax increases on the grounds that its has been asserted that they “just don’t get it.”Obviously enough, saying “they just don’t get it” does not prove that a claim or view is in error.

This method can also be cast as a fallacy, specifically an ad hominem. The idea is that a claim should be rejected based on a personal attack, namely the assertion that the person does not get it. It can also be seen as a genetic fallacy when used against a group.

This method is also sometimes used with the intent of showing that a view is correct, usually by claiming that someone (or some group) that (allegedly) disagrees is wrong. For example, someone might say “liberals just don’t get it. Raising taxes on the job creators hurts the economy.” Obviously enough, saying that someone (or some group) “just doesn’t get it” does not prove (or disprove) anything. What is needed is, obviously enough, evidence that the claim in question is true. In the example, this would involve showing that raising taxes on the job creators hurts the economy.

In general, the psychology behind this method seems to be that when a person says  (or hears)”X doesn’t get it”, he means (or takes it to mean)”X does not believe what I believe” and thus rejects X’s claim. Obviously enough, this is not good reasoning.

It is worth noting that if it can be shown that someone “just doesn’t get it”, then this would not be mere rhetoric or a fallacy. However, what would be needed is evidence that the person is in error and thus does not, in fact, get it.


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30 More Fallacies

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on May 21, 2011

Thanks to the budget cuts to education, I am not teaching this summer. While I did consider practicing “would you like fries with that?”, I decided to finish several book projects that have been languishing due to my teaching load. The most recent is 30 More Fallacies, which is a companion to 42 Fallacies.

The book, as the name states, presents thirty fallacies. It is available via Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is priced at a bank breaking 99 cents (just over three cents a fallacy).

Here is a sample:

Accent, Fallacy of


This fallacy occurs when a conclusion is drawn from a premise or premises that are ambiguous due to a lack of clarity regarding the emphasis.  Most commonly this fallacy involves an ambiguity arising from a shift in emphasis/accent in the course of the argument. This fallacy has the following form:

1)      Premises are presented that are ambiguous due to a lack of clarity regarding emphasis.

2)      Conclusion C is drawn from these premises.

Ambiguity by itself is not fallacious, but is a lack of clarity in language that occurs when a claim has two (or more) meanings and it is not clear which is intended. The Fallacy of Accent occurs when an inference is drawn from a premise or premises on the basis of a specific sort of ambiguity that arises in three main ways.

The first is that a claim is ambiguous because the intended tone is not clear. For example, the claim “you would be lucky to get this person to work for you” could be high praise or a sarcastic remark depending on the tone used. The second is that the ambiguity arises from a lack of clarity regarding the intended stress. For example, the meaning of the claim “Leslie thinks that Sally has been faithful to him” can shift based on the stress. Stressed one way, the claim can be taken as indicating that Leslie thinks this, but is wrong. A third possibility is that claim is taken out of context. As an example, suppose that the original text was “Among the radical left, Mr. Jones has considerable appeal as a congressional candidate. However, mainstream voters rightfully regard him as a questionable choice, at best.” If someone were to quote this as “Mr. Jones has considerable appeal as a congressional candidate”, then they would be taking the quote out of context.

Perhaps the most used example of this sort of fallacy involves a hard drinking first mate and his teetotaler captain. Displeased by the mate’s drinking habits, the captain always made a point of entering “the mate was drunk today” into the ship’s log whenever the mate was drunk. One day, when the captain was sick, the mate entered “the captain was sober today” into the log. Naturally, the mate intended that the reader would take this emphasis as an indication that the event was unusual enough to be noted in the log and thus infer that the captain was drunk on all the other days. Obviously, to believe that conclusion would be to fall victim to the fallacy of accent.

Example #1

Sally: “I made Jane watch Jennifer Aniston in Just Go With It last night.”

Ted: “What did she think?”

Sally: “She said that she never wants to see another Jennifer Aniston movie.”

Ted: “But you love Jennifer and have all her movies. What are you going to do?”

Sally: “I’ll do exactly what she said. I’ll make her watch Just Go With it repeatedly.”

Ted: “Cruel.”

Sally: “Not at all.  She did say that she never wants to see another Jennifer Aniston movie and I’ll see to that by making sure that she watches that movie rather than another.”

Example #2

Dr. Jane Gupta (on TV): “Though Prescott Pharmaceuticals claims that their VacsaDiet 3000 is ‘guaranteed to help you shed those unsightly pounds’, this claim has not been verified and many of the ingredients in the product present potential health risks.”

Stephen: “Hey, Bob! Dr. Jane Gupta just said that ‘Prescott Pharmaceuticals VacsaDiet 3000 is guaranteed to help you shed those unsightly pounds.’”

Bob: “In that case, I’m going to buy it. After all, Dr. Jane knows her stuff.”

Stephen: “Yes she does. You just missed her-she was on TV talking all about diets and stuff.”

Bob: “I’m sorry I missed that. By the way, do these new pants make me look fat?”

Stephen: “No, your fat makes you look fat.”

Bob: “You wound me, sir.”

Example #3

Employer: “I wasn’t sure about hiring you. After all, you were at your last job just a month. But your former employer’s letter said that anyone would be lucky to get you to work for them.”

Keith: “I will do my best to live up to that, ma’am.”

Employer: “I’m sure you will. Welcome to the company.”

The Fallacies in 30 More Fallacies

Accent, Fallacy of

Accident, Fallacy of

Amphiboly, Fallacy of

Appeal to Envy

Appeal to Group Identity

Appeal to Guilt

Appeal to Silence

Appeal to Vanity/Elitism

Argumentum ad Hitlerum

Complex Question

Confusing Explanations and Excuses

Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Equivocation, Fallacy of

Fallacious Example

Fallacy Fallacy

Historian’s Fallacy

Illicit Conversion

Incomplete Evidence

Moving the Goal Posts

Oversimplified Cause

Overconfident Inference from Unknown Statistics

Pathetic Fallacy

Positive Ad Hominem

Proving X, Concluding Y

Psychologist’s fallacy


Reification, Fallacy of

Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

Victim Fallacy

Weak Analogy

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The Fallacy Fallacy

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on September 16, 2010

Fallacy Fallacy

Also Known As: Argumentum ad Logicam, Fallacist’s Fallacy


This fallacy occurs when someone infers that a claim is false because a fallacy has been used to “support” that claim.  The form of this “reasoning” is as follows:

P1. Fallacy F was used to argue for claim C.

Conclusion: Therefore claim C is false.

This is a fallacy (and a somewhat ironic one) because the truth or falsity of a claim cannot be inferred solely from the quality of the reasoning.  If someone has committed a fallacy, then they have made an error in reasoning but they need not have made any factual errors. As such, they have failed to provide logical support for the claim.  Whether the person’s claim is true or false is an entirely different matter.

This is especially clear when a deductive fallacy (an invalid deductive argument) is considered:

P1. If Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States, then it is in the United States.

P2. Washington D.C. is in the United States.

Conclusion: Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States.

This is an example of affirming the consequent and is invalid. However, the conclusion is true. As such, it should be clear that poor reasoning does not entail a false conclusion.

Example  #1

Glenn: “Obama is a Muslim and a socialist. That is why he is wrong when he claims his stimulus plan helped the economy.”

Jon: “Aha! I just read about fallacies on the internet and you, my fine fellow, have just committed an ad hominem! That means that you are wrong: Obama’s plan must have helped the economy.”

Example #2

Sally: “Why should you believe in God? Well, the bible says that God exists.”

Jane: “But why should I believe the bible? It is just a book after all.”

Sally: “It was written by God, so you can believe every word.”

Jane: “Hey, you are just assuming what you need to prove. That isn’t a good argument at all! So, that just about wraps it up for God.”

Jane: “What?”

Sally: “Well, your argument is bad, so your conclusion has to be wrong.”

Jane: “I don’t think it works that way.”

Sally: “Why, did God put that in His book?”

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