Archives for: July 2012, 03
In response to Burr Deming's
Jesus, Paul, Obamacare, Contempt for Congress
Plus, Heathen uses charts to illustrate his data, which will horrify John Myste. And he does it as an advocate for a point of view, which makes him intellectually dishonest. I would not have believed that it demonstrated anything but intellectual diligence until my friend John explained it to me.
- Burr Deming, June 30, 2012
With or without charts, it is ignorant to present one point of view as true when one is not aware of other potentially legitimate points of view.
With or without charts, it is foolish to present one point of view as true when one is aware of alternative points of view, yet has not considered them.
With or without charts, it is dishonest to present only one point of view as true when one knows of alternative points of view that he cannot show to be false. That is deliberate concealment.
However, charts do deserve special attention for a few reasons:
Many people use charts to promote their beliefs, yet few of them genuinely derive their beliefs from those charts. This means that the charts, while presented as primary arguments, are simply convenient rhetorical tools. Thus, even if the charts are invalidated, the person who used them is unlikely to change his beliefs. He may even seek another set of charts that confirm what he wants to see. In this way, charts can obscure reasons for belief.
Charts convey a sense of authority to both the audience and the writer because they are supposed to be objective depictions of objective data. This is one of the ways in which they are useful rhetorical tools. Unfortunately, charts convey limited information and do not make causal connections on their own, so any argument that is purely chart-based is correspondingly limited in validity and usefulness. If a writer's argument is not purely chart-based, yet he pretends that it is, then he is concealing his reasoning behind the charts' power of authority. In this way, charts can convince people that bad arguments are good.
- Arguments based on the kinds of charts we're talking about tend to encourage the audience to accept correlation as causation, which humans often do anyway. This is the other way in which charts are useful rhetorical tools. Unfortunately, in the same way, they promote fallacious reasoning.
Good chart-based arguments are much more thorough than those that one is likely to find on political blogs. One should only use them if he is willing to apply honest critical thinking to determine alternative explanations for the data.
Do such concessions strengthen an argument's rhetoric? No. Do they make the argument more reasonable and promote truth? Yes.
The question, then, is: Which of these is your goal?
Ryan is a frequent and creative contributor. He also writes for his own site, where reason and logic prevail against the onslaught of the most formidable of visual aids.
Please visit Secular Ethics.