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Argumentum Ad Baculum

by Hans Bluedorn

I found this in an article in the August 17, 1999 edition of the Chicago Tribune. The article was entitled "After years in middle, Clinton veers left," by Naftall Bendavid

quote–"To be sure, this is not exactly the Great Society. The Clinton proposals have a distinctly New Democrat twist to them. They don't use federal money for far-reaching programs but to coax investment from business.

In touting this BusinessLINC program, which teams big business with struggling inner-city firms, Clinton spoke recently of business' obligation to help poor areas–but only if they can make a buck. "This has to be a profitable decision" he said. "This is not a social program. This is free-enterprise economics."– end quote

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines free enterprise as "freedom of business from State control." Clearly any attempt by government to "coax investment" is an attempt by the State to control business activity, so Clinton's assertion that his BusinessLINC program is free enterprise is clearly false.

I am not sure if Clinton's use of the term free enterprise is an example of equivocation, because free enterprise has an unambiguous definition; but Clinton is clearly bending that definition to suit his own purposes. What do you think? Please advise.

Randy Hoheisel

Dear Randy,

Bill Clinton seems to be squeezing a second definition out of "free enterprise," a definition that includes government involvement. It is not Equivocation, which is holding an ambiguous phrase (a phrase with multiple definitions) to one definition (Example"If the English don't drive on the right side of the street what are they doing on the wrong side?"). By liberalizing the definition of free enterprise Clinton is using the ancient method of manipulation called the dialectic. If you can get everyone to include government control in their definition of free enterprise everyone will forget the former definition. Remember, controlling the definitions of words and phrases controls communication, which in turn controls lives. This is a good example of a subtle attempt at moving us to the Left through the definitions of words.

Hans Bluedorn

Straw Man

On August 11th the Kansas Board of Education voted six to four to embrace new standards for science curricula, standards which did not include evolution as a scientific principle (making teaching it optional).

Prior to the vote, Presidents of Kansas' six public universities wrote a letter to the Board of Education stating that this "will set Kansas back a century and give hardtofind science teachers no choice but to pursue other career fields or assignments outside of Kansas." (Quote from an article entitled "Kansas school board drops evolution" at the MSNBC website.)

Notice that, while nothing is said that would openly contradict the facts, the implication is that the teaching of evolution is no longer allowed in Kansas (teachers would only leave if they are not allowed to teach evolution). Notice also in the quote how the content of the legislation seems to have been distorted such that now it sounds like the teaching of evolution is now banned in Kansas.

This is called the Fallacy of Straw Man.

This is were you misrepresent your opponent by saying something about them that is not true, and then destroy them based upon your "straw man" misrepresentation.

These six presidents are basing their conclusion, that all the science teachers will leave Kansas, on a seeming distorted interpretation of the facts that evolution is no longer allowed in Kansas, or at least strictly controlled. This is a "straw man" argument, as it is still up to the local school board to decide on the curriculum (Where in the world can you find a textbook which does not include evolution?).

A good question to ask is "how do you know that?"

Argumentum Ad Baculum

Here is another interesting fallacy I found in the article.

"Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, a Republican, warned board members not to adopt the antievolution curriculum, and has said he would support an effort to abolish the Board of Education." – From the same article.

This is my personal favorite fallacy (if it could be called a fallacy) called Argumentum Ad Baculum (an appeal to the stick). This rather crude means of persuasion is where the opposition is encouraged to accept an idea....or else. "If you don't agree with me you'll be sorry" is the basic idea. Many European dictators have employed this strategy with great success. Logical reasoning is thrown out the window in favor of a more pragmatic means of persuasion, the gun.

The Kansas Governor is saying that if the Kansas Board of Education doesn't agree with him by getting rid of this "anti-evolution curriculum" he's gonna' get rid of the Kansas Board of Education, or at least attempt to. A rather crude, but effective, means of persuasion.

Unfortunately there is no easy way for dealing with this reasoning. The means usually found most effective is to ensure that your stick is larger than their stick, if you know what I mean.

[By the way, if not including evolution in guidelines for curriculum is "anti-evolution," then not allowing the teaching of a Creator God in schools would be teaching anti-religion, and anti-morality.]

Can you guess the fallacy?

Can anybody notice the fallacy in this article? (HintThink sequence and timing.) If you can see where it is, but don't know what it is called, just describe it.

This quote was taken out of "The Christian Science Monitor" from an article entitled "A Jarring Theory For Drop In US Crime" by Abraham McLaughlin.

"A controversial thesis from a pair of respected academics claims to have solved the enduring riddle of this decade's fast-falling US crime rates...

...Their rationale is thisAfter the US Supreme Court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion, the number of abortions exploded. This reduced the number of "unwanted" children, particularly those who would have lived in less-than-ideal homes filled with poverty, neglect, or abuse.

The authors, citing other studies, say such children are more likely to turn to crime. And those kids would have hit their prime crime-committing years – ages 18 to 24 – in the early 1990's. But since they weren't born, the authors argue, crime came down.

They note, too, that the five states that legalized abortion before 1973 – Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Washington – all saw crime rates drop before the rest of the country did (see chart).

And they observe that places with high abortion rates in the 1970's saw greater drops in crime in the 1990's – even after many other factors are accounted for."

To help you out, here are a few fallacies to choose from

Fallacy of Hasty Generalization. This is an argument based upon an inadequate sampling of instances. Also called "Jumping to Conclusions."

Example"I bought a Goodstone tire once and it went bad. I'll never buy another Goodstone tire."

Example"Homeschooling is bad. I knew a Homeschool student who used poor grammar."

Example"Homeschooling is great. I knew a Homeschool student who memorized Shakespeare."

Fallacy of Division. Arguing that individual parts of something have the same quality as the whole thing.

Example"If this school is so good it must also have good janitors."

Example"This kid is gonna' give us trouble, he comes from the bad part of town."

Fallacy of Composition. Arguing that the whole possesses the qualities of its individual parts.

Example"This will be a very good pie, I used only the best ingredients."

Example"This team has very good players, its bound to be a good team."

Fallacy of False Cause (Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc). Arguing that something happened "after this, therefore it happened because of this."

Example"My brother sucked on his thumb until he was ten years old, and now he is a serial killer. Never let your kids suck on their thumbs!"

Example"Our rooster crows every morning just before the sun comes up. Now do you understand how important roosters are?"

Example"I hate Friday the 13th, that day is unlucky. My uncle fell off of a tight rope last Friday the 13th."

To: Logic Loop


A co-worker said the taxpayers of Chicago should help the Bears build a new stadium because it would aid the local economy. When I asked him to justify his statement, he said he couldn't because he did not understand economics. It seems to me that he has not offered any logical argument at all. Or is there some implicit appeal to authority in his statement, i.e., perhaps he is just repeating what he has heard from "experts" who often make such claims for publicly-financed sport facilities. I am interested in your comments.

Randy Hoheisel


I would go out on a limb and say that your co-worker is not using any logical argument at all, at least not one that he is aware of. Yes, he is probably merely trusting the "authority" of some economics expert on the 6 o'clock news that said building a new stadium would help the local economy by creating new jobs. Interesting reasoning because the money to pay for these jobs will come out of your pocket and get distributed, after the bureaucrats have taken their cut, into the hands of some worker, thus creating another dependant government employee. How is that helping the economy? Our government is very generous with our money.

Copyright September 17, 1999, all rights reserved. 8874 views

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