North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

The Anti Conservative Fallacy

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And other bits of bad induction

Edward Fesser describes the anti conservative fallacy at TCS:

Those inclined to commit the anti-conservative fallacy might try to defend themselves by claiming that the average conservative voter does not in fact have any good reasons for opposing the things he does. They may say that whether or not a Thomas Aquinas or Edmund Burke could come up with a fancy justification for being against abortion, same-sex marriage, or whatever, the typical redneck Bible thumper surely cannot. So, the critic of conservatism might infer, it must be the case that his view really is based on nothing more than irrational prejudice after all.

We should keep in mind, however, that even if a person couldn’t give a sophisticated defense of his belief that murder, theft, child molestation, and rape are wrong, we would not conclude from this that his disapproval of these things is therefore irrational. Rather, we would acknowledge that many perfectly defensible moral beliefs might require some detailed philosophical argumentation to justify, and that the common man is as reasonable in leaving such justification to professional ethicists and theologians as he is in letting his electrician rewire his house rather than trying to do the job himself. Liberals do not demand that the average union member must master John Rawls’ political theory before voting a Democratic ticket, and libertarians do not expect makers of pornographic videos to read Robert Nozick before decrying censorship. But then, by the same token, if the average churchgoer can’t do much more than appeal to the Bible to defend his view that abortion or same-sex marriage is immoral, it doesn’t follow that his view is irrational. If the ordinary liberal or libertarian can rest on the laurels of a Rawls or Nozick, the ordinary conservative can surely rest on those of an Aquinas or Burke — or, to update the examples, on those of a Joseph Ratzinger or Roger Scruton.

The fallacy seems to me to be one of unjustified induction. Let’s have a look at a few more examples.

This one is of my own devise. Ill considered defenses of traditional marriage will sometimes ask why we are putting such an old and valuable institution at risk for the sake of “such a small percentage of the population.” That’s a bad argument because rightness or wrongness has nothing to do with numbers. If you are one of the few who is in the vise of a controversy, you’ll get no satisfaction at all from being “one of a few.” Liberals will – rightly- pounce on such a statement. They will also, however, completely invert themselves when the topic changes to restricting late term abortion. They’ll accuse a pro lifer of putting us on a “slippery slope” for the sake of “a few.”

Lydia McGrew asks why human dignity is an acceptable premise for some cases and unacceptable religious tripe in others at Right Reason:

When we consider the relationship between public or secular reasoning and slavery, we should note that slavery does not require religious premises for its defense. It can be, and has been, defended on the non-religious grounds that there are differences of ability among people. And, if a nigh-religious commitment to egalitarianism did not prevent us from acknowledging publicly available empirical facts, we would admit that there are innate differences of ability among people, regardless of whether these differences are correlated with race. The further step to arguing that some human individuals are naturally suited to be slaves to those more able sounds incredibly controversial to modern ears, but it is, in truth, no more controversial than the proposition that some human individuals are not persons and may morally be slaughtered at will. And if one finds something suspicious, controversial, or religious-sounding about a principle such as the intrinsic dignity of the human person, one will find it at least a bit difficult to defend absolute abolitionism.

The argument here is not about whether or not human dignity is an acceptable premise in public debate. That’s a sloppy generalization. It is about the linkage of that dignity with ability. McGrew points out that if you tie dignity to ability, you in fact make it easier to argue for slavery that you do to argue against it. That ought to give pro choice Libs pause, but for some reason it doesn’t.

Wretchard at Belmont Club (note the new home for this blog) takes on the NYT’s stance on Gitmo:

What Mr. Friedman does not quantify is how many innocent civilians might die from mistaken engagement, friendly fire, bad targeting and what have you, if an alternative means of obtaining intelligence is not found. Would it be greater or less than the hundred or so Jihadis said to have died in US custody? Would it matter to those who regard Gitmo as the anti-Statue of Liberty? This is not an argument for torture: there are more effective ways than hostile interrogation to obtain intelligence including spying, wiretapping, surveillance and tracing through bank accounts. But it is an argument to recast humanitarian law to allow the gathering and application of that intelligence. Much of the historical impact of humanitarian law stemmed directly from the ability to gather and apply intelligence to discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. The devices of open cities, clearly marked ambulances, zones of safe passage, armbands for humanitarian personnel, etc. are usages whose practical utility has expired under the deceptions of terrorist warfare, but their intent — that of marking the limits of licit violence — is sound. It is a distinction which can be based only on intelligence. Without that, humanitarian law is form without function on the modern terrorist battlefield, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Thomas Sowell points out how much has changed in some western circles about how to conduct war by comparing how abuse of war privileges was treated in WWII:

During World War II, German soldiers who were captured not wearing the uniform of their own army were simply lined up against a wall and shot dead by American troops.

This was not a scandal. Far from being covered up by the military, movies were taken of the executions and have since been shown on the History Channel. We understood then that the Geneva Convention protected people who obeyed the Geneva Convention, not those who didn’t — as terrorists today certainly do not.

What’s the induction I’m drawing attention to here? To the modern Internationale – recently exemplified by Amnesty International’s calling Gitmo a “Gulag” – the Americans have disavowed Geneva and are engaged in a might makes right school of combat. This is one of the reasons they accuse the US of sliding into Facism. To make their claims work, however, they need to credibly suggest that Iraqis who approach the US with the intent of resolving differences – and who do so without resorting to Terror- will not be treated any better than terrorist insurgents. They need to show that the US is unwilling to engage in reciprocity, and this they have not done. Instead, they rely on a sloppy generalization that makes them look and sound paranoid.


Written by Curt

June 8, 2005 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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