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A Freeper's Introduction to Rhetoric (Part 5, the Irrelevant Conclusion)
Introduction to Logic | Irving M. Copi & Carl Cohen

Posted on 12/26/2003 10:42:37 PM PST by general_re

Irrelevant Conclusion: Ignoratio Elenchi

The fallacy of ignoratio elenchi (literally, false refutation) is committed when an argument purporting to establish a particular conclusion is instead directed to proving a different conclusion. The premisses "miss the point"; the reasoning may seem plausible in itself, and yet the argument misfires as a defense of the conclusion in dispute. Arguments in the sphere of social legislation frequently commit this fallacy; a program of a particular kind, designed to achieve some larger objective that is widely shared, is supported by premisses that do provide reasons to share the larger end, but that tell us nothing relevant about the specific program under consideration. Sometimes this approach is deliberate; sometimes it is the result of a passionate concern for the larger objective, which blinds some advocates of the more specific proposal to the irrelevance of their premisses.

For example, particular tax reforms sometimes are defended by an emphasis on the need to reduce budget deficits — when the real issue is the fairness or yield of the specific tax measure proposed. Or special programs proposed to support the building industry, or the automobile industry, may be defended with premisses that show the need for assistance but do not support the need for the kind or amount of assistance the program at issue would provide. When the issue is the wisdom of developing a new and very expensive weapon system, the premisses will miss the point if they simply underscore the need for a strong national defense. Whether the weapon system proposed is the one really needed is likely to be the key question. Objectives that are stated in very general terms — national security, good housing, a balanced budget — are easy to endorse; the hard questions are likely to be: Will this particular measure promote the end sought, and if so, will it do so better — more efficiently or more effectively — than the available alternatives? Bypassing these questions, by obscuring the issue with attractive generalizations about some larger or different end, commits the ignoratio elenchi.

How do such arguments ever fool anyone? Often they succeed by distracting attention. By urging with enthusiasm the need for the objective defended by the premisses, the advocate may succeed in transferring that enthusiasm, in the minds of the audience, to the specific means fallaciously supported. The ignoratio elenchi also may prove effective when it is framed in highly emotional language that conceals the misfire with an ad populum appeal. But emotion is not the essence of this fallacy; even if the language used be cool and neutral, it is an ignoratio elenchi when its real thrust is a conclusion different from the one it purports to defend.

It may be said that every fallacy of relevance is, in a sense, an ignoratio elenchi. But as we use this term, it is the fallacy in which the argument misses the point without necessarily making one of those other mistakes — an ad hominem attack, or an ad populum appeal — that often characterize fallacies in which the premisses are not relevant to the conclusion.

The term non sequitur is also often applied to fallacies of relevance; the expression simply means that the stated conclusion does not follow from its premiss or premisses. A political columnist noted this example:

"Veterans have always had a strong voice in our government," he [former President Reagan] said all too accurately, adding the non sequitur: "It's time to give them the recognition they so rightly deserve."

The term non sequitur is most likely to be applied to an argument when the gap between premisses and conclusion is very wide, and the claim that the conclusion does follow is a rather obvious blunder. In a speech in Chicago in 1854, Abraham Lincoln said:

It was a great trick among some public speakers to hurl a naked absurdity at their audience, with such confidence that they should be puzzled to know if the speaker didn't see some point of great magnitude in it which entirely escaped their observation. A neatly varnished sophism would be readily penetrated, but a great, rough non sequitur was sometimes twice as dangerous as a well polished fallacy.

But there are times when the claim that the argument presented is a non sequitur may itself be open to dispute. Consider this report of an historic "legal fiasco":

The prisoner pleaded guilty. He then said he had made a mistake, and the judge allowed him to change his plea to not guilty. The case was tried. The jury acquitted. "Prisoner," said Mr. Justice Hawkins, "a few minutes ago you said you were a thief. Now the jury say you are a liar. Consequently you are discharged."

TOPICS: Chit/Chat; Education; Reference; Science; Society
KEYWORDS: argument; crevolist; fallacies; fallacy; logic; reason; rhetoric
Previous installments:

Part 1 - Introduction and the Argument From Ignorance
Part 2 - the Appeal to Inappropriate Authority
Part 3 - the Argument Ad Hominem
Part 4 - the Appeal to Force and the Appeal to Emotion

1 posted on 12/26/2003 10:42:38 PM PST by general_re
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To: longshadow; PatrickHenry; Woahhs; P.O.E.; No More Gore Anymore; jigsaw; Snake65; RobFromGa; ...
Okay, I promised Friday, and it's Saturday. Sue me ;)

Part 6 will begin the examination of the fallacies of presumption.

2 posted on 12/26/2003 10:43:42 PM PST by general_re ("You shouldn't treat people like objects. They aren't that valuable." - P.J. O'Rourke)
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To: *crevo_list; VadeRetro; jennyp; Junior; longshadow; RadioAstronomer; Physicist; LogicWings; ...
PING. [This ping list is for the evolution side of evolution threads, and sometimes for other science topics. FReepmail me to be added or dropped.]
3 posted on 12/27/2003 4:04:58 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: general_re
Bump for later reading.
4 posted on 12/27/2003 7:43:27 AM PST by Brett66
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To: general_re
How was your holiday?

I've been enjoying these threads.
5 posted on 12/27/2003 7:52:02 AM PST by Tijeras_Slim (Death before dhimmi.)
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To: PatrickHenry
Thanks for the ping!
6 posted on 12/27/2003 8:33:43 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: general_re
7 posted on 12/27/2003 10:48:25 AM PST by Virginia-American
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To: general_re
An additional resource

Baloney Detector. This is just the introduction

How To Avoid Propaganda – or – Think and Grow Righteous
“Lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (II Corinthians 2:11)

What’s a Baloney Detector? “The late astronomer and popularizer of science Carl Sagan worried that an epidemic of irrationality is loose in the world . . . What we need to protect ourselves from such false beliefs, Sagan writes in his book The Demon - Haunted World, is a well-equipped “baloney detector kit.” A baloney detector is simply a good grasp of logical reasoning and investigative procedure. Carl Sagan and I would agree about how to describe the principles of baloney detecting in general. We would disagree only about where the detectors are to be pointed, and especially about whether we should ever suspect the presence of baloney in claims made by the official scientific establishment.” – Dr. Phillip E. Johnson, “Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector” in Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Inter-Varsity Press, 1997), pp. 37-38.

“Carl Sagan was right: We do need baloney detectors. But we don’t need to beam them on Christian beliefs, as Sagan urged; instead, let’s use them to get an honest take on the fossil record and to separate science from philosophy. And we should encourage robust debate between creationists and evolutionists: It keeps both sides from ignoring evidence that does not appear to fit their theories.” – Chuck Colson, “Is Natural All There Is?”, Breakpoint radio transcript #80209, 1998.

8 posted on 12/27/2003 12:05:40 PM PST by LiteKeeper
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To: general_re
Hey, thanks for posting this series. it made for interesting reading ;-)
9 posted on 12/27/2003 11:36:49 PM PST by Prodigal Son
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To: general_re
Irrelevant Conclusion

Brings to mind a certain colorful poster here who mastered this technique...

"My textbook descibes a developmental program, therefore evolution is garbage."

10 posted on 12/28/2003 10:28:03 AM PST by RightWingNilla
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To: general_re
We tossed a virgin into the volcano.
The Volcano did not erupt.
Therefore, tossing virgins into the volcano prevents volcanic eruptions.
11 posted on 12/30/2003 2:38:56 AM PST by Swordmaker
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