Law School Discussion

Nine Years of Discussion

Show Posts

This section allows you to view all posts made by this member. Note that you can only see posts made in areas you currently have access to.

Messages - *.*

Pages: [1]
Socratic Method / Re: Legal Reasoning
« on: August 10, 2005, 10:30:32 PM »
Changing the Subject

Attacking the Person (argumentum ad hominem)

The person presenting an argument is attacked instead of the argument itself. This takes many forms. For example,the person's character, nationality or religion may be attacked. Alternatively, it may be pointed out that a person stands to gain from a favourable outcome. Or, finally, a person may be attacked by association, or by the company he keeps.
There are three major forms of Attacking the Person:

ad hominem (abusive): instead of attacking an assertion, the argument attacks the person who made the assertion.
ad hominem (circumstantial): instead of attacking an assertion the author points to the relationship between the person making the assertion and the person's circumstances.
ad hominem (tu quoque): this form of attack on the person notes that a person does not practise what he

You may argue that God doesn't exist, but you are just following a fad. (ad hominem abusive)
We should discount what Premier Klein says about taxation because he won't be hurt by the increase. (ad hominem circumstantial)

We should disregard Share B.C.'s argument because they are being funded by the logging industry. (ad hominem circumstantial)

You say I shouldn't drink, but you haven't been sober for more than a year. (ad hominem tu quoque)

Appeal to Authority (argumentum ad verecundiam)

While sometimes it may be appropriate to cite an authority to support a point, often it is not. In particular, an appeal to authority is inappropriate if:
the person is not qualified to have an expert opinion on the subject,
experts in the field disagree on this issue.
the authority was making a joke, drunk, or otherwise not being serious
A variation of the fallacious appeal to authority is hearsay. An argument from hearsay is an argument which depends on second or third hand sources.


Noted psychologist Dr. Frasier Crane recommends that you buy the EZ-Rest Hot Tub.
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith argues that a tight money policy s the best cure for a recession. (Although Galbraith is an expert, not all economists agree on this point.)
We are headed for nuclear war. Last week Ronald Reagan remarked that we begin bombing Russia in five minutes.(Of course, he said it as a joke during a microphone test.)
My friend heard on the news the other day that Canada will declare war on Serbia. (This is a case of hearsay;in fact, the reporter said that Canada would not declare war.)
The Ottawa Citizen reported that sales were up 5.9 percent this year. (This is hearsay; we are not in a position to check the Citizen's sources.)

Anonymous Authorities

The authority in question is not named. This is a type of appeal to authority because when an authority is not named it is impossible to confirm that the authority is an expert. However the fallacy is so common it deserves special mention.
A variation on this fallacy is the appeal to rumour. Because the source of a rumour is typically not known, it is not possible to determine whether to believe the rumour. Very often false and harmful rumours are deliberately started in order to discredit an opponent.

A government official said today that the new gun law will be proposed tomorrow.
Experts agree that the best way to prevent nuclear war is to prepare for it.
It is held that there are more than two million needless operations conducted every year.
Rumour has it that the Prime Minster will declare another holiday in October.

Style Over Substance

The manner in which an argument (or arguer) is presented is taken to affect the likelihood that the conclusion is true.

Nixon lost the presidential debate because of the sweat on his forehead.
Trudeau knows how to move a crowd. He must be right.
Why don't you take the advice of that nicely dressed young man?


Socratic Method / Re: Legal Reasoning
« on: August 10, 2005, 10:28:21 PM »
Appeals to Motives in Place of Support

Appeal to Force(argumentum ad baculum)

The reader is told that unpleasant consequences will follow if they do not agree with the author.

You had better agree that the new company policy is the best bet if you expect to keep your job.

NAFTA is wrong, and if you don't vote against NAFTA then we will vote you out of office.

Appeal to Pity (argumentum ad misercordiam)

The reader is told to agree to the proposition because of the pitiful state of the author.

How can you say that's out? It was so close, and besides, I'm down ten games to two.

We hope you'll accept our recommendations. We spent the last three months working extra time on it.

Appeal to Consequences

The author points to the disagreeable consequences of holding a particular belief in order to show that this belief is false.

You can't agree that evolution is true, because if it were, then we would be no better than monkeys and apes.
You must believe in God, for otherwise life would have no meaning. (Perhaps, but it is equally possible that since life has no meaning that God does not exist.)

Prejudicial Language

Loaded or emotive terms are used to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition.

Right thinking Canadians will agree with me that we should have another free vote on capital punishment.
A reasonable person would agree that our income statement is too low.
Senator Turner claims that the new tax rate will reduce the deficit. (Here, the use of "claims" implies that what Turner says is false.)
The proposal is likely to be resisted by the bureaucrats on Parliament Hill. (Compare this to: The proposal is likely to be rejected by officials on Parliament Hill.)

Appeal to Popularity (argumentum ad populum)

A proposition is held to be true because it is widely held to be true or is held to be true by some (usually upper crust) sector of the population. This fallacy is sometimes also called the "Appeal to Emotion" because emotional appeals often sway the population as a whole.

If you were beautiful, you could live like this, so buy Buty-EZ and become beautiful. (Here, the appeal is to the "beautiful people".)
Polls suggest that the Liberals will form a majority government, so you may as well vote for them.
Everyone knows that the Earth is flat, so why do you persist in your outlandish claims?

Socratic Method / Legal Sophistry
« on: August 10, 2005, 10:25:46 PM »
Here are the common logical fallacies that are crucial for a good lawyer to condemn theoretically and apply practically:

Fallacies of Distraction

False Dilemma
Definition: A limited number of options (usually two) is given, while in reality there are more options. A false dilemma is an illegitimate use of the "or" operator.
Putting issues or opinions into "black or white" terms is a common instance of this fallacy.

Either you're for me or against me.
America: love it or leave it.
Either support Meech Lake or Quebec will separate.
Every person is either wholly good or wholly evil.

Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

Arguments of this form assume that since something has not been proven false, it is therefore true. Conversely, such an argument may assume that since something has not been proven true, it is therefore false. (This is a special case of a false dilemma, since it assumes that all propositions must either be known to be true or known to be false.) As Davis writes, "Lack of proof is not proof." (p. 59)

Since you cannot prove that ghosts do not exist, they must exist.
Since scientists cannot prove that global warming will occur, it probably won't.
Fred said that he is smarter than Jill, but he didn't prove it, so it must be false.

Slippery Slope

In order to show that a proposition P is unacceptable, a sequence of increasingly unacceptable events is shown to follow from P. A slippery slope is an illegitimate use of the "if-then" operator.

If we pass laws against fully-automatic weapons, then it won't be long before we pass laws on all weapons, and then we will begin to restrict other rights, and finally we will end up living in a communist state. Thus, we should not ban fully-automatic weapons.
You should never gamble. Once you start gambling you find it hard to stop. Soon you are spending all your money on gambling, and eventually you will turn to crime to support your earnings.
If I make an exception for you then I have to make an exception for everyone.

Complex Question

Two otherwise unrelated points are conjoined and treated as a single proposition. The reader is expected to accept or reject both together, when in reality one is acceptable while the other is not. A complex question is an illegitimate use of the "and" operator.

You should support home education and the God-given right of parents to raise their children according to their own beliefs.
Do you support freedom and the right to bear arms?

Have you stopped using illegal sales practises? (This asks two questions: did you use illegal practises, and did you stop?)

Pages: [1]