“Logic” is the word we use for certain ways to chain ideas. But I doubt that pure deductive logic plays much of a role in ordinary thinking. (Marvin Minksky in The Society of Mind)
I have a natural inclination towards analyzing the logic or rationality (or lack therefore) in people’s arguments. I am going to start a ‘series’ of posts where I take a quote from a news article or some other post and give a quote from it and ask people to analyze the flaws in the logic of the argument. The next day I’ll do a follow on post with my own analysis of the quote.
I will always post my analysis in advanced and I will not change it based on other people’s comments. Therefore I will have no advantage in my logical analysis over any comments.
Today, I have a quote from a news article that concerns whether or not Judge Vaugh Walker’s sexual orientation is relevant to his actions as a judge ruling on proposition 8. Conservatives in the article argue it is, liberals in the article argue it is not.
First, A Warning On the Limits of Rationality
Now I want to warn people that this series is only about analyzing reason and logic. It is not about the subject of the original news article, in this case gay marriage. Learning to leave your emotions and your politics at the door and being able to analyze the rationality of an argument is a good skill to learn.
However, I must confess, that I do not feel that logic and rationality is the end all and be all of our existence. The simple truth is that we are all capable of rationality, but rarely need it or use it. In fact, there is a very good reason why this is the case.
It’s because Pure Rationality rarely applies in real life.
True rationality is pure logical deduction. It’s where the facts force everyone to agree. For example, assuming no equivocation of words, consider the following logical deduction:
- Sally is a woman.
- Bob is not a woman.
- Therefore Bob is not Sally.
This rarely happens in real life. Outside of contrived circumstances, you will find that making choices based on logical deduction – pure rationality – happens maybe 0.001% of the time.
The rest of the time, we are forced to make choices without enough facts to support a decision via only rationality. Therefore, we must make decisions based on our default assumptions which we take from our world view, our ethics, our emotionality. We must make decisions based on the ‘facts’ we currently think we have even though we may later find some of the ‘facts’ were not facts after all.
This is real life and we should learn to accept this. We are not rational creatures and thank goodness we are not. A true rational creature would be like the donkey that starves to death between two piles of food due to the lack of ability to decide which one it should eat first. Emotional and non-rational decision making is an evolutionary survival tactic.
Good or Bad Logic Doesn’t Make You Right or Wrong
Therefore, when I analyze logic, please understand that the end result of any such analysis never implies that the person using bad logic was right or wrong. It only implies there was a problem with their argument.
I recently made a post about the fact that it’s possible to make a bad rational argument and still turn out to be correct. The reverse is also true. Someone can make a perfectly rational argument (say believing there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because 11 out of 13 intelligence agencies claim there are) and yet turn out to be completely wrong. Deductive reasoning plays little or no role in real life.
This is also why intelligent people can disagree on almost any issues. It’s because rationally it’s usually impossible to draw any definitive conclusions on any issues that don’t directly rely on our hidden assumptions about the world.
Does Judge Walker’s Alleged Sexuality Compromise His Ability to Make a Good Judgment?
I came across a quote from this article on Judge Vaughn Walker’s alledged sexual orientation. The article is about Judge Walker’s recent ruling to over turn proposition 8. Apparently some conservatives feel that there is evidence that Judge Walker is himself homosexual and therefore they are suspicious of his neutrality on this issue. Liberals argue that his sexual orientation should not be considered relevant to his role as Judge on Prop 8 at all.
Here is the argument I wish to analyze. The goal is to analyze the problems (or potential problems) on both sides:
And Byran Fischer, issues director for the American Family Association, urged the group’s members to contact their congressional representatives about launching impeachment proceedings because Walker had not recused himself from a case in which “his own personal sexual proclivities utterly compromised his ability to make an impartial ruling.”
William G. Ross, an expert on judicial ethics and law professor at Samford University in Alabama, said that a judge’s sexual orientation has no more relevance to his or her ability to rule fairly on a case involving gay marriage than it would for a deeply religious judge or a judge who had been divorced multiple times.
“Under the logic of the people challenging the judge’s fitness to rule on a case involving gay rights because he or she was gay, one would have to find a eunuch to serve on the case, because one could just as easily argue that a heterosexual judge couldn’t rule on it either,” Ross said.
Some questions to help get you thinking:
- What is the relevance of personal biases to the role of a jury or judge? Why do we consider it important?
- What does the court system do to try to remove biases?
- What is the connection, if any, between one’s sexual orientation and one’s bias on Prop 8?
Also, look for any arguments by analogy. As I argued in this post arguments by analogy can be easily disproven by the positive existence of an analogy closer to real life that doesn’t allow the same conclusion to be drawn.
It doesn’t actually matter how many people liked the previous analogy because presumably their own biases can cause them to like a bad analogy because it supported their prefered conclusion. Once we have a better analogy, we rationally need to drop the worse one in favor of it and make our arguments based on that.