Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New logical fallicy: Argument ad Linguistics

One thing I keep seeing pop up in internet debates that is incredibly stupid is the use of linguistics to make a larger point where it is totally irrelevant. For example at Pandagon there was a debate over abortion (who woulda thunk it). In any case in the course of the argument at one point went to if pregnancy was active or passive and someone named Dan wrote this gem:

If pregnancy were an action, it’d be a verb, not a noun.

Now as someone pointed out this is especially stupid because the verb gestate works just as well in this context, but this is a prime example of using artifacts of language as points in an argument. Language is a pretty handy thing, and linguistics is interesting, but these types of arguments basically are useless in every way. Making a point based on the part of speech (or the etymology) is not giving evidence, or even a logical argument, it's just an extra bit of useless information that is intended to muddy the debate. So I guess it's not really a new logical fallacy, it's just a red herring, but it's a particularly annoying type of red herring. I'm not sure if people using these sorts of arguments actually believe them or not, but they must either be pretty dumb to not see how stupid they are, or incredibly disingenuous and desperate. It's also pretty common, seeming to come up at Language Log all the time.

Actually it reminds me of an attitude that I was hearing this morning driving to work, I was listening to NPR and they were reporting on the whole immigration bill debate. The main argument used against the "amnesty" provisions were that we would be rewarding people who have broken the law, ignoring the fact that everybody has broken the law. I break the law every day by speeding (and I don't drive particularly fast), and I know very few people who didn't drink while they were underage. It's not about laws, it's about racism. The whole argument, like the linguistic ones, is based on a petty legalism used to make cheap points at the expense of real argument.

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