One of the things I have found so unsatisfactory in discussions on sexuality is the fallaciousness that makes up so much of the argument from the conservative perspective. I am not saying that the conclusions the conservatives reach are necessarily false — but that their arguments often are not really arguments. That is, they may begin with true premises and reach true conclusions, but the mode of getting from one to the other is not properly formed, and fails to prove what it intends to prove. One can, after all, reach a true conclusion by faulty means — but proof of the truth of a conclusion must rest on a train of what Hooker called “demonstrative reason.”
Let me give a simple example of a fallacious argument with a true conclusion. Let us for the sake of simplicity accept A and B as true. (It is admitted that a cat can lose a leg or two and still be a cat!)
B: Augusta has four legs.
C: Augusta is a cat.
I hope you can see the problem with this syllogism. C is quite true (you can see from the photo!) but it does not follow from A and B by legitimate logic. It happens to be true, but not because of the argument! The proper syllogism, reaching a true conclusion if both A and B are true would be:
A: Cats have four legs.
B: Augusta is a cat.
C: Augusta has four legs.
So the problem with logical fallacies isn’t that they might not express a truth from time to time — much like Alice’s stopped clock which is right twice a day.* The problem is that a fallacious argument doesn’t actually prove anything, does not establish a truth by reasonable means.
There are, of course, literally dozens of logical fallacies — and you can find helpful summaries of them, with all their fancy Latin names, on any number of web-sites simply by searching for the terms logical and fallacy. Those who have followed the debates and discussions on sexuality will no doubt see how often certain of these fallacies are employed.
Perhaps the principal fallacy is the one that assumes the conclusion as a premise: “Same-sex marriage is impossible because marriage requires a man and a woman.” This may simply be a prevailing weakness of being a “reasserter” — some of whom become quite defensive when asked to do more than simply to reassert, and to demonstrate the truth of their premises as well as their conclusions.
Also common are the twin fallacies of reliance upon length of time a belief is held, or the number of persons who hold it. Neither, of course, proves something to be true; the antiquity or popularity of a tradition may simply show just how wrong people can be, once a truly reasonable examination of the premise or conclusion is undertaken.
The reason I raise this is that I long for a decent argument, but often find myself caught up either in a Monty Python-like cycle of mere contradiction, or facing a tangle of assorted logical fallacies.
Nor, of course, does simply noting the fallaciousness of an argument disprove the truth of a proposition; the problem is that argument requires more than a simple train of assertion and contradiction, but engagement with the substance of the premises to test their soundness. This is to say nothing of the occasional actual falsehood, or distortion of the facts either by carefully ignoring any evidence that doesn’t agree with the premise, or amplifying the evidence that goes beyond what is warranted. That is another difficulty entirely.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
*Update: the famed clock is described in one of the "Difficulties" Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) prepared for The Rectory Umbrella, a miscellany of short occasional pieces and drawings. It is, of course, exactly the sort of clock that Alice would have. I believe it can be seen in Tenniel's illustrations of her entry into Looking Glass House, on the chimney piece. The LGH version has a very snarky expression, no doubt very satisfied with itself at its precise accuracy twice a day. The advantage, of course, to Alice, is that between them she has the ability to be sure of the time precisely four times a day. How to do that? In LC's example, the clock says 8:00, and all you need do is "keep your eye fixed on your clock, and the very moment it is right it will be eight o'clock." To further protests, he advises, "That'll do... the more you argue the farther you get from the point, so it will be as well to stop." Which indeed sounds familiar.