Logical Analysis

2006-12-07

In the world today, we are regularly confronted with claims about what to believe and what to do. These claims all claim to deserve our acceptance, our obedience. But how do we know what to believe; what is true?

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut solution. If you just disbelieve everything, you will have nothing to work with, as you will be forced to doubt all but your own existence. But if you donít, you will find yourself in a maze of differing values, goals, and interpretations of events. Even if two people were given the same choice in the same circumstances, they might choose different things. On top of all this, most claims are not intended to convey unbiased truth, but designed to convince us of something. These often play on our emotions and opinions and can easily fool us into accepting something we shouldnít. Such bad arguments are called fallacies.

One common fallacy has to do with refuting a claim. This fallacy is belief that disproving someoneís reason for believing something is the same as proving their belief to be wrong. Disproving someoneís reasoning only reopens the issue to debate again, allowing reasons to be advanced for both accepting it as true and accepting it as false. For example, if you believed that Russia had a higher population than Canada because it had more land area, but then learned that there is no direct relationship between land area and population, it would be a fallacy to assume, because of this, that Russia had a smaller population than Canada.

Another common fallacy has to do with groups that have members in common. It is a fallacy to assume that, because all members of one group fit into a second group, all members of the second group fit into the first group. One example would be to assume that, because all kings are men, all men are kings. Another example of such a fallacy would be to assume that, because the terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers in the US were Muslims, all Muslims are terrorists. On the other hand, it is a fallacy to assume that because all the members of one group fit into a second group, the second group must have members that do not fit into the first group. For example, given that all humans have opposable thumbs, it would be a fallacy to assume that not all creatures with opposable thumbs are humans.

A third common fallacy is to associate a person with the truth of their argument. Nothing about a personís character or their relationship with you changes the truth of their arguments. For example, a personís explanation of the theme of a poem for English class does not become wrong just because they made the basketball team and you didnít. Another example would be that a person does not gain abilities just because you are friends and think that that personís feelings would be hurt if that person found out what you believed. This doesnít mean, however, that you would have to tell anyone your true beliefs.

All claims, however, rest on assumptions, beliefs that have not been proven, meaning that even the most carefully arrived at claim might not be true. It is important to question things, but be careful, if you question too much, you will have nothing left to work with. Some things cannot be proved one way or another, no matter how hard we try. Although logic cannot answer a lot of 'big questions,' like if God exists, or the true nature of justice, or if all of reality is only in your mind, it can help us with many everyday things.

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