Sunday, September 23, 2012

Logic Lessons pt 9: Metaphysical Fallacies

This last set of Material Fallacies deal with the aspect of philosophy known as Metaphysics.  It is important to know these because if you are wrong about the nature of the universe, you will be wrong about the understanding of that universe.

  1. Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness” -confuse abstract with concrete
     e.g. “I love humanity, but I hate people.”  This is where you treat an abstract concept (like humanity) as more concrete than the substantial thing from which you made the abstraction (like actual people).  This is problematic when we lose site of where we need to place our priorities.  It reminds me of those who want to "save the planet" in the abstract sense but are willing to do it at the expense of the well-being of actual people.

  2. Fallacy of Accident = confusing accidents with essentials 
    This is when the non-essential things are confused with essential things.  The most obvious example of this is racism, where a person's race (a non-essential property of a person) is thought to be an essential aspect of their personhood.

  3. Confusing Quantity with Quality (and vice versa): includes “qualification of quantity” = claims numbers have personalities, moral values, mystical significance.
    This is what happens when we put the wrong value on numbers.  If we say that most 90% of American Catholics disobey the Church's teaching on contraception, that number tells us nothing more than 90% of American Catholics disobey the Church's teaching on contraception.  The number does not tell us whether or not the position is morally good or bad.  

  4. Reductionism: usually reducing from form to matter
    This is where a thing is only looked at and understood in its material parts.  For example,  “Mind is nothing but brain."  This reduces the complexity of the human soul to the firing of electrons.  Or like saying that the works Shakespeare are just "ink blots on paper."

  5. Confusing Logical, Causal, and Psychological Causes
    More on this one in a later post

  6. The Existential Fallacy = confusing essence and existence
    The most famous example of this is  St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument.  In it, he said that God is the greatest conceivable being.  That means that I could not possibly conceive of a being greater.  Anselm then asks if it is greater to exist in reality or only the mind.  The answer, of course, is that it is greater to exist in reality.  So if God only existed in the mind, He could not be the greatest conceivable of being because I could imagine a greater being (one who existed in reality).  So God must also exist in reality.  The problem with this argument is that he confuses the distinction that Thomas Aquinas makes between a thing's essence (its definition) and it's existence (whether it exists in reality or just the mind)

  7. Confusing Natural with the Common:
    We see this when we say things like "Teenagers are going to have sex no matter what we say."
    Is it common for teens to experiment with sex?  Yes.  But does that mean that it is in their nature?  No.
     -Natural is inherent and unchanging.  If the above statement was a statement of nature, then no teen could be chaste.  But that is obviously not true.
     -Common is accidental and changeable.  The presence or lack of chastity has no bearing on that which is natural to teens because it is something changeable.

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