James Gunn, an error in logical reasoning.


I come from a long line of tricksters trying to convince you tall tales are wet as rain, as they would say! So, as a child, I learned to spin tales as well, like the time I tried to convince my baby sister oak tree hollows swallowed up small kids without a trace when they don't listen to their big sisters. Worked until she was about 10 years old when I could no longer pull the wool over her eyes. Nonetheless, I would try my hardest to convince her of my wild logic. But, in all seriousness, in today's political-social climate, it's prudent to be ever aware of the falsities rolling down our phone screens. It's very important we recognize when someone is trying to 'pull the wool over our eyes'. We live in a time when critical thinking is at an all-time low with visual images riddled with logical falsities trying to gain our acceptance and trust.

It's fair to say you believe your ideas, theories, and beliefs are based on sound logic. Surely you would not condone actions that you felt were wrong or illogical. Thus, it's safe to assume your logic is sound. But, logic arrives in many forms and it's probably not as sound as you think. Now, more than ever, you really must watch the implications behind your words. James Gunn, Hollywood Director, knows this more than anyone,

James Gunn
James Gunn

"A series of tweets were found from before Gunn began as director on Guardians of The Galaxy, which made light of subjects like pedophilia and rape. One tweet read: 'I like when little boys touch me in my silly place.' Another read: 'The best thing about being raped is when you're done being raped and it's like, "whew this feels great, not being raped!". James Gunn has since issued a statement (via Hollywood Reporter), saying: 'My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative...He added: 'Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond my sincere and heartfelt regret," (Read more here)

His situation brings up an interesting side topic, what measure of responsibility must we carry from our previous actions, no matter the timespan, even if you are sincerely sorry today?

But, let us not get sidetracked, no pun intended!! The matter at hand is Logical Fallacies - where do they come from, how do people use them, and how to do you stop them?

Logical Science: Process Of Thinking; Where Do They Come From?

To prevent a James Gunn moment in your life, philosophy is a tool you can use to achieve justifiable logically sound knowledge.

Our look into logic begins with Aristotle, whose grip on justified beliefs lasted thousands of years! Picture a man crunching in the meadow watching nature unfold before his eyes. He recorded everything in bits and pieces, like a lecturer writing their notes on napkins with abstract chicken scratch and posh vocabulary. Historians stitched these together in a manual called Organon, or 'tool' in Greek.

Aristotle methodically categorized everything by their relation to nature, their quality, even their essence and being - the list is vast! 

But the overall arc is knowing that ...

  • All knowledge and truths can be challenged.
  • There is objective knowledge outside of perception.
  • All knowledge must be held in doubt until otherwise proven,
  • And, logic is the path to clarity.

Aristotle followed a long line of skeptical thinkers. The Presocratics reminded us to rethink stagnant beliefs. Socrates made us really really think hard and spell out our beliefs. Logic and reason didn't stop there. Descartes asked us to formulate beliefs that were not passed down to us but instead allow beliefs to flourish under our own powers of the mind and understanding. Who could forget German Philosopher Immanuel Kant who famously said,

"Logic can't have anything empirical about it-it can't have a part in which universal and necessary laws of thinking are derived from experience. If it did, it wouldn't be logic-i.e. a set of rules for the understanding or for reason, rules that are valid for all thinking and that must be rigorously proved." (Preface, Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals)

"Logic is a science embracing within its boundaries the whole range of human knowledge and activity" (Vera)

Wrap your mind around this nugget of knowledge, nothingness automatically becomes bias thoughts upon the entrance of awareness.

Think about that for a moment. As you read, you are processing all this information into categories. You are not actively doing it but rather, your mind is doing it automatically for you. Can you think of a time when thought is not the first thing that happens in an activity? Probably not. Then, if thought happens automatically, what is controlling it and what is the process of thinking? You could argue 'instinct', but even instinct is the awareness of a previous thought, albeit so hidden within the mind you don't even realize it.

Philosophers such as Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel believed the mind subconsciously categorizes information within the mind for later use. For example, if you encounter a tree for the first time, the mind received the information via your senses, otherwise known as, raw-sense data. Your eyes see the tree, your nose smells the sap, bark, and leaves, and your hands record the smoothness or roughness of the tree. The mind categorizes the experience and begins to formulate a criterion for 'understanding future trees'. For future trees to be associated with a 'tree', the sense data will be compared to previous information already stored in the mind. If the new data matches the old data, it will categorize the experience as 'encountering a tree'. But, what if you come upon a bush. A bush has bark, leaves, and smells similar but, your eyes record new data such as a smaller size and shape. Now the mind must create a new category for bushes. This process happens automatically without your intervention, and you can't stop it. Try it... try not thinking. It's impossible to not think .... unless you're dead. No matter what you do, no matter what situation you are in, simulated or real, you're as Descartes claimed, "A thinking being".

The very idea that you are thinking-being, with the power to influence those around you, stresses the point that you must think logically and soundly. Learning to strengthen and develop the rational powers of the mind will sharpen your skill of Logical Thinking (Vera). In today's political-social climate, it's prudent to be ever aware of the falsities of 'visual knowledge'.

An intriguing argument is a woman's right to control her body, aka, the abortion argument. The questions asked, do the rights of the woman overrule the rights of the unborn baby? This polarizing debate exists due to a failure to define terms.

For 81 years after the signing of the US Constitution African-American citizens were defined as 3/5 a person. It wasn't until a provisional clause within the 14th Amendment (1868) defined African-American citizens as a 'whole' person, and not until the 15th Amendment could an African American citizen vote.

Continuing that line of thinking, it took 133 years to recognize women as a full citizen with the 19th Amendment (1920). Further still, it would be 187 years until all citizens, over the age of 18 could vote no matter their race, gender, or age.

Fun fact, these rights come at a cost. In fact, to have those rights, each citizen agrees (via the social contract) to perform nine duties, can you name them?

But, not all these rights extend to all citizens of America. For example, Puerto Rico is a legal territory of the US subject to the laws of the land, but citizens living in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the President. So, will there be an amendment defining not only race, gender, or age, but location?

The US Constitution fails to address a very important citizen, that of the unborn fetus resting inside a woman. If a woman is murdered while pregnant, the murderer is charged with two life counts. While the woman is pregnant the US government allows for subsidies in the form of prenatal health care and welfare programs, in anticipation of the new 'person'. But the wording of the 14th Amendment states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside" Do you see the tricky words.... 'born' & 'person'? This implies the Constitution only protects a person who is (1) born or (2) naturalized, thus by default an unborn fetus - who is not born - has no rights. Second word, 'person'. So far, the Constitution has failed to define 'personhood'. The word 'person' is used 58 times in the US Constitution but not once does it state what constitutes a person. Is it the first faint heartbeat from within the womb or, is it the first breath you take out of the womb?

As I said, the debate is deep and polarizing, and the subject of many logical fallacies. One logical fallacy commonly used is Appeal to Authority.

Let's look at a recent example of this tactic from an uncredited feminist from the YouTube show Middle Ground.

Jubilee, Middle Ground
Jubilee, Middle Ground

"Like abortion, uhm those who signed the bill in the room with Trump were all white men. I did not see a single woman. It doesn't matter if it is a white woman. I did not see a single woman. So those uhm, men, are making choices for us, women, about birth control, abortion, healthcare, everything. We can't have a say on it because they won't even hear us." 

(Can Feminists and Non-Feminists Agree on Gender Equality? S02 E06, May 6, 2018, youtube.com/watch?v=E37swnRU2fs)

President Trump reinstating the Mexico City Policy
President Trump reinstating the Mexico City Policy

The policy in question is the Mexico City (Global Gag) policy originated by then President Ronald Reagan (1984). The U.S. government policy forbids monetary aid to foreign non-governmental organizations if they perform or promote abortion, "The policy requires non-governmental organizations to 'agree as a condition of their receipt of [U.S.] federal funds" that they would "neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations'. The policy has exceptions for abortions done in response to rape, incest, or life-threatening conditions." (Richard P. Cincotta, Barbara B. Crane, ScienceMag.org, Science.sciencemag.org/content/294/5542/525).

The policy has experienced a yo-yo effect with each successive president rescinding and reinstating the policy, usually depending on the political party. President Donald Trump reinstated the policy by executive order in 2017 in the infamous photo above.

Looking closer at her argument, she claims men are not able to make proper decisions about women issues. This argument implies only women have the authority to make sound proper legislation concerning women issues. Not a completely foreign idea, however, the logic is a hard line to walk. This implies only women know what's best for a woman's body and legislation created by men lack the empirical knowledge needed to make such decisions. A little research presented a problem,

If we stick this logic, we must throw out legislation created by men concerning women. Concerning the Mexico City Policy, within one year of its creation, male senators designed several amendments to counteract the policy, which are still in effect to this day.

(1) Dennis DeConcini Amendment (1985): For abortion provision to counteract the Reagan Policy.

(2) Livingston-Obey Amendment (1986) Prohibits discrimination by the U.S. government against organizations that offer only "natural family planning" reasons when the U.S. government is awarding related grants.

Should we remove those being they were created by men?

The second issue posed comes from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds who signed into law a policy that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Returning to the feminists' argument above,

Premise 1: Only women have the empirical knowledge needed to make wise choices on behalf of women

Premise 2: Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is a woman

Conclusion: Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds can make wise choices on behalf of women

The fault is not in her reasoning that men or women have a unique perspective over their own bodies, but a faulty base for generalizing.

Trap: Narrow Base for Generalizing

Governor Kim Reynolds
Governor Kim Reynolds

You fall into this trap when you observe a pattern from one message or one event, or even a few events or messages, but you failed to hold up that pattern to a larger base of information. When you focus on an isolated incident and imply it 'could' represent all incidents, you fall into the "all or nothing' trap, which is detrimental to logical reasoning.

When we discuss the propositional truths it logically follows that the final proposition given is valid based on its premises. In other words, the argument logically followed from A to Z without an error in between. However, where deductive reasoning differs from inductive reasoning is the possibility of (2) bad inferences.

For example:

  • All dogs are mammals. All mammals have hair. All dogs have hair, or
  • Having just arrived in Ohio, I saw a white squirrel, therefore, all Ohio squirrels are white

In both cases, we have bad inferences. Of course, assumptions are ok and have had positive effects on areas of science, not to mention the power of 'what if' scenarios. But, where assumptions turn ugly is when they are false and those who state them refuse to see them as false. They begin to solidify a false belief into a valid belief; one they refuse to change.

For a humorous look into fallacies, visit https://existentialcomics.com/comic/9

I challenge you to watch the media carefully, as well as listen carefully to arguments around you. The more you practice, the easier it will be to combat them. To understand logical reasoning better, we must work our way through a series of steps. These steps will help you sharpen your skills of deduction and induction, and you will be on the path to a strategic logical thinker!

What Is A Logical Fallacy?

First, what is a Logical Fallacy? A logical fallacy is an argument, often plausible, that uses erroneous inferences to derive a conclusion that does not follow validly from the argument's premises. Recognizing a logical fallacy on a news site will help you see an invalid argument in mainstream media. Searching search through three major news sites, CNN.com, FoxNews.com, and BBC News, I was able to locate many Logical Fallacies.

For one example, by Stephen Moore, published June 25, 2014 at FoxNews.com, featured an article about the decline of jobs in the US, "Nearly everyone knows the real unemployment rate is far above the "official" 6.3 percent rate because of the disappearance of Americans over the age of 16 from the workforce."

This could be a Circumstantial ad Hominem. A CAH is a fallacy of self-interest where the circumstances do not fit the truth of the matter; purely stated for self-interest with no studies, facts, or evidence to back it up.

Guilt by Association was present on another article on the Al Jazeera News site when Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah claimed he would reject a tally-vote based solely on the overseeing committee, "From now onwards, since [the election authorities] have not responded to our legitimate demands ... everything they do and the result of their activities will not be accepted by us," Abdullah said on June 20, 2014 (https://alj.am/VFVkSo ).

Aristotle was first to categorize our 'errors in reasoning' into a list of thirteen logical fallacies. He designed a trio of propositions where the third one logically followed the previous two, called a Syllogism. This is a form of inductive reasoning. I always thought of him as the father of Logic and Reason.

"Men will frequently fall into fallacies through not setting out the terms of the premises well, e.g. suppose A to be health, B to be disease, and C to be a man. It is true to say that A cannot belong to any B (for health belongs to no disease) and again that B belongs to every C (for every man is capable of disease). It would seem to follow that health cannot belong to any man. The reason for this is that the terms are not set out well in the statement, since if the things which are in the conditions are substituted, no syllogism can be made, e.g. if 'healthy' is substituted for 'health' and 'diseased' for 'disease'. For it is not true to say that being healthy cannot belong to one who is diseased. But unless this is assumed no conclusion results, save in respect of possibility: but such a conclusion is not impossible: for it is possible that health should belong to no man." (Organon, Aristotle)

Looking at Aristotle's break down, we see A and B together could never equal each other. You could never have a healthy person and a diseased person at the same time. That would be like having the temperature both hot and cold. He further states no matter how you arrange the premises, you will never have a sound conclusion.

The Mind of A Robot

The mind works like a robot, receiving and releasing information via electrical impulses. But, buried deep within the recesses of the mind is a 'thing', an 'it', or 'something' that helps the mind comprehend raw sense data, let's call it 'reason'. If I lay an object on the ground, for example, a metal object with a sharp point, perhaps it has a wooden handle and a shiny exterior. Further, I lay down a child next to it and walk away. After the mind finishes categorizing the experience, reason begins to assess the situation. Reason sees the metal object with the sharp point and wooden handle and concludes, that it is a knife. Further, reason concludes that a knife by itself is not a dangerous object but, by placing a child next to it the danger rises exponentially. MOVE THE CHILD!! That would be a logical conclusion.

What if reason didn't reach that conclusion. What if reason decided it's best to let the child learn the dangers of sharp objects for themselves? Is that reasonable thinking? I believe most of us would argue that is not sound logic. Why would someone believe such a thing? There are several reasons why someone's beliefs or ideas are illogical.

One last mention of Aristotle's Illogical Thinking and Logical Thinking

Beliefs that consist of nothing but empty formulas, arbitrary rules, and artificial proceedings, which are neither consistent with themselves nor with the things to which they are applied, false habits and distorted facts are all considered illogical beliefs. The path to illogical thinking tends to be ideas influenced by the past, old habits, self-serving interests, old traditions, ignorance, indifference, impatience, disappointment, and an overall difficulty of embracing the real meaning of a theory (Vera).

Logic is thus a universal science extending and comprehending all areas of thought,
form, content, and categories of knowledge ending with a sound proposition.

Philosophy uses the language of logical propositions accumulating from sound premises. For example, if I were to say Socrates was a mortal man. I am offering an educated assertion in the form of a proposition, based on sound premises. First, premise one, which was 'all men are mortal'. Then, I thought about Socrates. Premise two could be "if Socrates is a man' then, I could conclude that Socrates was mortal because he was a man. So, my assertion, or conclusion, holds up against the scrutiny of deductive reasoning. All men are mortal, Socrates was a man, thus Socrates was mortal.

Logical reasoning demands we show logical and sound premises, and when we do that, we will arrive at a logical and natural conclusion.

Aristotle had such a curious mind and inquisitive nature but, only in the form of total natural objectivity. He even went as far as defining the word 'define', "the specification of an object or idea by naming the genus or class to which it belongs" (Will Durant). Among his vast array of treatises that he wrote, it was his six-volume treatise on logic called, Organon, more specifically, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics. and Sophistical Refutations. These books have an interesting story behind them, and well worth the read if you get the chance. The works were lost to time, survived wars, translated into many different languages, and then finally revived during the Enlightenment.5

At any rate, Aristotle divided the fallacies into two sections: Verbal and Material fallacies. The Verbal Fallacies constituted an error on behalf of how the argument was presented while Material fallacies are the topic at hand. The material itself is quite a laborious read but I have pulled excerpts out that pertain to our Logical Fallacies discussion.

The traditional Philosophy 'formula' for an argument is as follows:

Premise 1: "Premises are assertions that, when joined together, will lead the reader to the conclusion."

Conclusion: "A conclusion can be any assertion that your readers will not readily accept. A conclusion must have at least one premise supporting it."

Here's a popular example to illustrate a correct argument:

P1: All mammals feed their young with milk.P2: All human are mammals.

C: Therefore, all humans feed their young with milk

Here's a popular example to illustrate an invalid argument:

P1: The President of the United States must be 35 years of age or older.
P2: Baby Elizabeth, born 30 days ago, will be 35 years of age or older one day.
C: Therefore, Baby Elizabeth, born 30 days ago, is President of the United States.

Dr. Michael C. Labossiere, the author of a Macintosh tutorial, Fallacy Tutorial Pro 3.0, beautifully defined key terms relating to logical fallacies,

"In order to understand what a fallacy is, one must understand what an argument is. Very briefly, an argument consists of one or more premises and one conclusion. A premise is a statement (a sentence that is either true or false) that is offered in support of the claim being made, which is the conclusion (which is also a sentence that is either true or false). There are two main types of arguments: deductive and inductive. A deductive argument is an argument such that the premises provide (or appear to provide) complete support for the conclusion. An inductive argument is an argument such that the premises provide (or appear to provide) some degree of support (but less than complete support) for the conclusion. If the premises provide the required degree of support for the conclusion, then the argument is a good one. A good deductive argument is known as a valid argument and is such that if all its premises are true, then its conclusion must be true. If all the argument is valid and has all true premises, then it is known as a sound argument. If it is invalid or has one or more false premises, it will be unsound. A good inductive argument is known as a strong (or "cogent") inductive argument. It is such that if the premises are true, the conclusion is likely to be true. A fallacy is, very generally, an error in reasoning. This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts. To be more specific, a fallacy is an "argument" in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support. A deductive fallacy is a deductive argument that is invalid (it is such that it could have all true premises and still have a false conclusion). An inductive fallacy is less formal than a deductive fallacy. They are simply "arguments" which appear to be inductive arguments, but the premises do not provide enough support for the conclusion. In such cases, even if the premises were true, the conclusion would not be more likely to be true." ~Labossiere

As you move through the fallacies, try to pull out the most commonly used fallacies and commit them to memory; you never know when someone will pull the wool over your eyes. 

Kelly Perez, Adjunct Professor