When I was a freshman at Marquette University, lo those many years ago, we had to take a debate class. I had never been involved in debate in high school and had absolutely no desire to participate in debate in college, so I really couldn’t see the value of the course. I was at the time a Communications major and I had had a host of Communications classes in High School with Craig Streff, who not only had the courage to wear saddle shoes in the mid to late 1970s but also was in many ways one of the few anchors of stability in my chaotic high school years. I had enjoyed Mr. Streff’s Argumentation and Logical Reasoning class, so I thought that a Debate Class would be familiar territory. I have never regretted taking Prof. Kennedy’s class and have used the information imparted there on at least a weekly basis since then. Now, almost 30 years later, I believe every citizen of the world should have to take a debate class.
We don’t know how to think. We don’t know how to reason. We have become numb to the fallacious tripe that passes for discussion and debate of issues or causes. Good God, the current “Presidential Debates” are little more than press conferences, and we delude ourselves into believing they serve some good purpose! At the very least, we ought to know about a few fallacies, which I will outline for you in lay terms:
1. The personal attack is always a fallacy. It doesn’t matter whether you opponent has a big nose or has slept with every member of the opposite (or same) sex in town. None of that information has any bearing on the quality of their ideas.
2. Just because one thing occurs after another thing doesn’t mean that the earlier thing caused the later thing!
3. Just because two things move in the same direction at more or less the same time doesn’t mean that one caused the other to move. For example, the fact that my friend Billy started eating like a horse just about the time I started gaining weight doesn’t mean that Billy’s rapaciousness caused my weight gain.
4. Appeals to emotion are always fallacious in that they have nothing to do with the issue being discussed. They are a diversionary tactic, and always inappropriate.
5. Perhaps most importantly, your feelings and personal interests just don’t matter when discussing the value of a proposition. The fact that you really like your gas guzzling SUV has no bearing on whether or not hybrid automobiles are a good idea. The fact that your husband cheated on you has no bearing on whether a man is trustworthy (except for your husband, of course). Perhaps a therapist would be a good idea!
There are many more we could go into, but these are a decent place to start. I suggest that the next time you find yourself involved in a heated discussion of some issue of great import to you, you might stop and evaluate what is going on against the above criteria. Do the same at the next so-called “Presidential Debate.” If we are ever to move forward as a society, we have to regain the ability to think clearly and logically, not like some mealy mouthed, teary eyed, snot nosed little girl (see number 1 above)!