(About a 2 minute read)
It is a curious fact that an argument can be perfectly logical and yet its conclusion can be a lie.
To illustrate with as simple an example as possible:
All men are dolphins
Socrates is a man
Therefore Socrates is a dolphin
Any logician will tell you, the argument is logically valid. That is, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. But of course, the premises are not true, the conclusion is a lie. And in this case, that is quite obvious.
But perhaps there is something about us humans that causes us to be all-too-persuaded by merely logical arguments, because unscrupulous people use such arguments to dupe us all the time.
“Liberals care about touchy-feely things like hungry children and animal rights, therefore they make their decisions on the basis of their emotions, rather than according to reason.”
How often have you heard that one? I would guess pretty often if you’ve listened to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who popularized it. But have you ever seen any science in support of the notion that liberals make decisions on the basis of their emotions more often than anyone else?
Of course not, and the likelihood they do seems to me quite possibly close to zero. The argument is simply unsupported by empirical evidence. Although it does appear to offer some empirical evidence when it mentions liberal’s emotional reactions to hungry children and animal rights, those offerings turn out to be empirically untested assumptions — along with the further even more important assumption that liberals are more emotional than conservatives.
“Conservatives must have small penises because they need guns and large pickup trucks to compensate for not having large penises.” Again, an argument that is logical, but a lie, for where is the science — where are the empirically established facts — to back it up?
From these examples we may see that the key thing to ask about any merely logical argument is — not only, “Does it make logical sense” — but, “Where are the observable facts to back it up?” Only in that way can you prevent yourself from being bamboozled by unscrupulous people.
Put differently, we should take our clue from the sciences, for the sciences do not accept as sound any hypothesis that is supported by logic alone, but demand that all hypotheses be supported by well established empirical evidence.
That is why they are the single most powerful means of discovering truths that humanity has yet invented.