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Poisoning the Well, Fallacy of Accident

by Hans Bluedorn

loop we asked you to find another fallacy in this quote:

"What we need to do is plug the loopholes that are still allowing criminals and children to get guns. Sensible people agree that if you have to go through a background check to buy a gun in a gun store, you should have to do the same at a gun show," – Naomi Paiss, a spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc. From an article entitled "FBI figures show drop in crime" on the MSNBC website.

Here are the responses we received:

Hans,

I think the other fallacy in your article is the sentence that begins with "sensible people agree..." To even argue this point would be quite uncomfortable because one who disagrees with the statement might feel that they were accused of being insensible just because they don't agree. This may be the fallacy of Fallacy Of Pre condemnation (sometimes called "Poisoning The Well"). How did I do?

Just as a word of encouragement, I want you to know that I enjoy your Logic Loop very much and have learned a lot from it.

Jinnine Nitschke

You did great. Maybe you could take over. Emotionally charged statements like the one in our example are used a lot nowadays. Saying "only the sensible people agree with me" is a handy way of getting rid of the opposition before their head even pops up.

If you notice anything in the news, or anywhere, which smells fishy, send it on.

Hans,

"Sensible people agree" appears to have elements of Fallacy of Hasty Generalization (inadequate sampling of instances), Argument to the Man (appeals to a man's personality, character), and Fallacy Of Pre-condemnation (opposition is discredited). "Sensible" and "agree" both are vague and undefined terms here, and are being used authoritatively and emotionally, it seems. Since I might not agree, I am not sensible...and some (perhaps most) people would go with the implied majority, rather than suffer as a minority, in any discussion context, and likely not notice this judgement of their sensibility. Also, "sensible people" must be those who missed the "modification on the fallacy of complex question," so they aren't so sensible, right?

Thanks Hans, for teaching/helping me learn logic. These applications and your notes are quite helpful. I am presently reading Isaac Watts first book on logic. Didn't he end up Unitarian? Where's his/the logic in that?

Sincerely, Jim Bartlett

I understand how it is Abusive Ad Hominem and Pre-condemnation (which by the way is just a specialized Abusive Ad Hominem), but where is the Generalization? Unless it's that her sample of "sensible people" is strictly limited to herself (i.e. "I'm sensible and I agree with myself, so everybody else who is sensible must agree with me, too"), in which case we can just let all those "sensible people" enjoy themselves agreeing with each other. As far as the logic in Isaac Watts' latter religious persuasions, we didn't much like his logic book anyway.

Hans

Fallacy of Accident

"It astonishes me that, just two weeks after the terrible crimes of hate in Illinois and Indiana, some still deny that hate crimes merit stiffer punishment." "When a killer on a rampage picks Jews, Blacks and Asian-Americans as his victims, I do not understand how some can still argue that hate crimes are no different than all other crimes. They are different." – Al Gore, at the Boston City Police Headquarters, July 12

This is a good example of what is called the Fallacy of Accident. This is where an argument is supported by something that happens to be true but really doesn't have anything to do with the conclusion.

Example: "Officer, I stole that man's car because somebody stole mine."

The essential argument in our quote is: "We should pass hate crimes legislation because hate crimes are terrible." The supporting premise (hate crimes are terrible) is slipped in and doctored up to make it sound reasonable and supportable to the conclusion (we should pass hate crimes legislation). In reality it does no such thing. Sure "hate crimes" are terrible, but so are all crimes. What has that got to do with anything? Terribleness shouldn't be the standard of why we punish crimes. If we do that then we will all end up wandering around for a Politically Correct standard for "terribleness."

How do you deal with this fallacy? I suppose the best thing to do when someone argues on the basis of irrelevant material is to ask "what does that have to do with it?" The trick is recognizing when someone is using this Fallacy of Accident even when it sounds like its relevant.

Doublespeak

While it isn't strictly a logical fallacy, when I was reading about the sunset of the Independent Counsel Act I found something which is somewhat akin to doublespeak. Have you ever noticed that sometimes people say things to the public that sound perfectly innocent and fair, but when looked at more closely you find out what the speaker is really trying to say. Here is what I mean.

"I have come to believe – after much reflection and with great reluctance – that the Independent Counsel Act is structurally flawed and that those flaws cannot be corrected within our constitutional framework." – Janet Reno [It seems Ms. Reno is having trouble finding it in the Constitution about only going after Republicans.]

"This special counsel thing ought to be reviewed because the costs outweigh the benefits," – Bill Clinton at a 1996 press conference. [This was the moment he suddenly realized that it was a two way street and he was on the wrong side!]

Copyright July 28, 1999, all rights reserved. 11460 views


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