How Not to Argue – A Public Service

You’ve seen it before a thousand times. An argument breaks out next to the water cooler, in class, at home. If it is some kind of philosophical or moral dilemma being debated, there is one thing that is inevitable. Someone is going to pull the Hitler card.

No, the Hitler card (Reductio ad Hitlerum) is not some sort of Dungeons and Dragonesque playing card one keeps in a meticulously organized folder, but it might as well be. People throw it out like the “wild card” in UNO, believing that it will prove their point and end the discussion allowing them to ride off into the sunset of argumentative glory.

The Hitler card is the designation given to a fallacious method of persuasion. It is commonly used when the losing party in an argument runs out of points to their favor, and resorts to petty comparisons. I think that this is best described with an example.

“Hitler believed in gun control, so gun control is wrong.”

You could also replace “gun control” with abortion, capitol punishment, censorship, vegetarianism… etc. The idea is to discredit the opponent through revelation that their position on the issue is shared with Hitler. This is flawed for various reasons. If we were to believe that anything which Hitler believed in was wrong because of his various unrelated crimes against humanity, we would likely want to stop: cooking our food, cleaning our bedsheets, using combs, or countless other things. It seems silly, but people actually use this argument!

This is simplified and very clear cut, but I believe it illustrates the point. The Hitler card is used in vain to show that if Hitler or the Nazi party believed in something, it is wrong. It sounds absurd but in the heat of argument it is used very often. An issue should be considered based upon its own merits, and not upon those who have associated themselves with it.

In this spirit, I have created a list of other logical fallacies which people use in an effort to support their arguments, but only end up proving their foolishness.

Black or White Fallacy/False Dilemma

“It is either this way, or that way.” This is often used in religious arguments in order to provoke a hasty conclusion. Smoothing out large issues into two choices does not help solve problems. Why doesn’t this work? Because if you decide to say that abortion is either right or wrong, you are ignoring smaller issues such as whether it should be used in situations of incest or rape, or when an embryo should be considered “alive.” It is just much too complicated to fit into two categories.

Ad Hominem

“Obama smokes so his proposed health care system must be bogus.” This has ties to the Hitler card, but it needs to be stated. This is when you attack a person personally with an irrelevant issue in an attempt to weaken their argument. You will often see this in arguments between couples. One may recall irrelevant past discretions in an attempt to augment the current discussion. Although it sounds persuasive, it is not logical. The decision at hand should be considered, not ones in the past. For instance, just because your girlfriend may have forgotten to feed the dog, doesn’t mean she shouldn’t get to pick out which new fridge to buy. (Disclaimer: Luckily I don’t ever have to deal with this tactic being used in my home).

Circular Argument

Assuming what you set out to prove. This one is harder to spot. Lets look at an example. “We know God exists, because it says so in the bible. We know that the Bible is true because it is the word of God.” This is simplified of course, so hopefully you spotted it. If your argument proves itself, it is not a masterfully crafted rhetorical gem, it is a bad argument.

In conclusion, usage of any of these arguments by an opponent does not disprove their argument either. It only proves that they are using a bad argument. I would like to issue a challenge to everyone to be more rhetorically aware, and to not use bad argumentative tactics.

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1 Comment

Filed under Opinion, Politics, Random

One response to “How Not to Argue – A Public Service

  1. Tyson, this is probably the best thing you’ve ever written.

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