Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The "value" of fallacious argumentation

A recent post led to a discussion with a RC about the so-called value of empirical apologetics:


RC: …even though I agree in principle with your claim that misuse of a source doesn't imply that the source is insufficient or unclear, I will say that such prolonged and sustained results (i.e. continuous splintering), certainly give very strong empirical evidence, although not absolute proof, that the source is insufficient (by itself) and unclear.

Me: You think reasoning from effect to cause is strong evidence?

RC: I think the results are strong empirical evidence of the sufficiency of the source, especially after such a prolonged period with the same ever repeating results. Keep in mind, however, that in no way am I implying internal biblical contradictions.

Me: I really don't know what to say to that. I guess I don't find arguments reasoning to causes from effects as convincing as you do.

RC: I can understand your way of thinking only as long as you keep it in the abstract, but I think in real world applications you, I, and everyone else learn this way all of the time.

Me: I don't find appeals to the majority very convincing either. Then again, I'm not a Roman Catholic :)

RC: If you equate convincing evidence to absolute irrefutable proof then I agree with you, but if you treat it empirically then I don't understand your reluctance.

Me: I'm not an empiricist either. Nor am I a subjectivist.

RC: I'm not an theological empiricist either, nor a subjectivist, but neither of those mitigate against the value of real world empirical evidence.

Me: As opposed to "false" world empirical evidence? Common sense, strong empirical evidence, real world... these are just terms used to gloss over the fallacious nature of empiricism and cow people into deference to its so-called value. In a span of 5 posts you have reasoned from effect to cause, appealed to majority consensus, subjectively and arbitrarily demarcated what constitutes "strong" empirical evidence, and I think that by favoring its perceived utility over "abstract," logical thinking […] you betray your position as one which is concerned, not primarily with truth, but with whatever works. Notwithstanding your relatively moderate view of its cogency, to regard such arguments as having any merit at all in this discussion is simply wrong. It is brute fact, bare assertion argumentation, and if it is the or even a method by which you reject Protestantism or anything else, I hope you come to realize that it is necessarily more "deplorable" than the conclusions you ground on it, like the alleged "splintering" Protestantism provokes.


This is, of course, the end of all empirical – or, more generally, fallacious – argumentation. If one such argument has value, couldn’t all fallacious arguments have value? Any response in the negative to this question would presuppose that one cannot fallaciously assert a response in the positive, undermining the purported value of the original fallacious argument.

For example: suppose I analogously told the RC that the “sustained results” of debauchery amongst RC priests “certainly give very strong empirical evidence, although not absolute proof, that” Roman Catholicism leads to unchristianly behavior. Who would believe that the RC would admit this argument has any value? Would he care? Would he think that the argument has any merit? Doubtful. Or what if I told the RC that Roman Catholicism is wrong because I say so? Obviously, he wouldn’t pay my fallacious argument any attention, as well he shouldn’t. But picking and choosing which fallacious arguments have value without further ado is to succumb to the very self-defeating subjectivism that the RC claims to disavow.


Joshua Butcher said...

There is certainly a place for plausibility where certainty is unavailable (as in courts of law, for one example), but that anyone would wish to argue for plausibilities (especially meager plausibilities) where irrefutable claims may be established, shows a determined lack of insight. For even the plausibilities at stake in a court of law require prior assumptions of certainty with regard to preliminary grounds of procedure, the determination of fact, and a host of other "abstractions" that bear all the weight of empirical arguments.

Ryan said...

Good point.