In part one, as you will recall, I laid the basis and the modus operandi of the series. I also defined five fundamental terms – statement, fact, opinion, reasoning and fallacy – in addition to providing specific examples to clarify them. I then went on to introduce and discuss, as a starting point, the first logical fallacy – evading the truth or side-lining the issue. In the first part, also, I presented an example of evading the truth, along with an analysis indicating why it is considered a logical fallacy.
In this second part, I will give one more example on evading the truth before going on to another logical fallacy. Don’t worry! As the Liberian man says, “We will take it li-pi-li-pi.” OK?
Speaker one: The Sirleaf-led government is not doing enough to curb crime. For example, armed robbery is on the rise. Residents of Monrovia go to bed every night worrying about whether they will not be robbed, chopped or harassed by armed robbers. People are robbed in broad daylight, whether on Broad Street or in the corner. Armed robbers and other criminals are arrested and later released without being prosecuted. No serious actions have been taken against these criminals. This was not the case when Taylor was the president.
Speaker two: You should praise the president for all the hard work and many achievements since she came to power. If we make you president now, will you be able to stop armed robbery? Let’s stop criticizing the government.
Analysis: The second speaker has presented an erroneous reasoning. He is not qualified to be a citizen of the Republic of Free Speech. The first speaker presents an argument and provides some evidential examples to prove his point. If the second speaker disagrees with the first speaker – which he does – then his duty is to refute the first speaker’s arguments, supporting his points logically and/or evidentially, so as to set the records straight. But he failed to do just that. Hence, his failure to stick to the point of argument proffered by the first speaker – by bringing in other arguments that don’t logically relate to the point of debate – is criminal and renders him guilty of evading the truth. The second speaker, for example, should have focused on these questions:
1) Does the first speaker’s argument state that the Sirleaf-led government is not doing enough to curb crime? If the argument is true, let second speaker not challenge the first speaker’s position. If he thinks it is false, let him provide the true picture. 2) Are the examples the first speaker presents factual, or misleading? If they’re true, the second speaker should state it, or reserve comments. He may also want to point out why the examples presented are occurring, though. On the other hand, if he thinks the examples are misleading or untrue, let him, again, provide the true situation. 3) Is the comparison made between the defunct Taylor-led government and the Sirleaf-led government, in terms of crime rate, true or false? Indeed, every point must be critically considered before reacting to the first speaker’s argument.
So, as you can see, commenting on another person’s argument, or point of view, has to be done from a logical, evidential, mature and other perspectives. It’s better not to make any attempt to attack a person’s argument or idea when you are unprepared or ill-prepared to do so. If the second speaker had done his homework well, he wouldn’t have been guilty of evading the truth. In the intellectual world, this is big disgrace.
As indicated in part one, evading the truth is a logical fallacy committed when a speaker or a writer deliberately or unknowingly avoids the main point of a debate or a discussion and begins to confuse it with other arguments not logically related to it. We must guide against such a fallacy in our writing and speaking. Do not remain babies; grow up in the world of intellectualism. If you are not ready for this, it’ is better and safer to just read or listen to other people’s arguments or ideas without attempting to make comments on them, when you know you are not able to do it logically, convincingly and maturely.
Having dealt with evading the truth, it’s proper at this time to turn to another logical fallacy commonly committed by many writers and speakers. And that is Argumentum ad Misericodiam, also known as Appeal to Pity or Appeal to Sympathy. Let’s see this fallacy through an example statement, which was made by a speaker during the 1997 presidential elections.
Speaker: G. Baccus Matthews (May his soul rest in peace) should be elected president of Liberia because he has suffered a lot for the country. He was imprisoned and ill-treated, including beating. The man’s health has even been affected by the detention and other terrible things done to him. The man has suffered too much for this country. We must think about his situation and elect him.
Analysis: While this speaker may have some interesting points about Matthews’ life, he has presented no logically convincing arguments to prove his statement – that Mr. Matthews should be elected president. The speaker is only appealing to Liberians to elect Mr. Matthews because of the suffering he went through. The speaker failed to mention anything about Mr. Matthews’ programs and policies. There’s nothing about his stance on security, justice or reconciliation. There’s nothing about his vision on education, rural development, governance, or war crimes prosecution.
Indeed, the speaker’s statement is erroneously supported. He is guilty of Argumentum ad Misericodiam, which is a fallacy committed when a speaker, or a writer, tries to convince his audience by appealing to their feelings, instead of their intellect. Do not be carried away by speakers and writers who engage in this. Some of them do it deliberately; others do it inadvertently. Watch out, folks.
For the fun of it, this particular logical fallacy – that is, Argumentum ad Misericodiam – reminds me of the story of an applicant who went for a job interview in one of the offices of a newly established private firm. Permit me to reproduce, in a dialog form, the parts of the exchange between the applicant and the potential employer.
“Why do you think our firm should employ you?” asked the potential employer.
“I think you should employ me because I have been unemployed for three years. Besides, I have seven children who are not in school because of lack of money. Moreover, my wife has been sick with chronic pneumonia for nine months now. Finally, the house in which we live is makeshift and leaking,” explained the applicant.
Right after his last sentence, the potential employer stared at him for some time, thanked him and said, “I think you should take your case to a charity organization.”
As you might have noticed, instead of the applicant convincing the potential employer on the basis of his qualifications, experience, special skills, and so forth., which, when put together, would help the firm in achieving it’s objectives, he chose to appeal to the potential employer’s feelings. This is what we called Argumentum ad Misericodiam. In the intellectual world, it is a crime to engage in this when trying to prove one’s argument in a discussion or a debate.
To end this second part, permit me to share with you what once happened between my maternal Grandfather and me, so as to indicate to you that Argumentum ad Misericodiam can be committed in everyday life.
Once, my maternal grandfather showed me a version of the Crucifixion Picture of Jesus Christ. After sometime, he asked me, “Should we believe in Jesus?”
“Yes, Granpa,” I quickly responded.
“Why?” he asked.
Having looked at the picture for a while, and having reflected on my Sunday school lessons, I confidently answered, “We should believe in Jesus because He suffered a lot, because He was abused and ill-treated by the Jews and the Roman soldiers, because He was abandoned by His apostles during the most difficult time of His life, because He was extremely thirsty on the cross and no one was willing to give him water, and because He looked sorrowful on the cross. I feel sorry for Him every time I see any of His Crucifixion Pictures.”
At the end of my passionate response, my maternal grandfather laughed and said, “Like you, grandson, I feel sorry for Jesus, but thank you for not saying, or doing, anything to convince me to believe in Him.”
Folks, the Republic of Free Speech is getting freer, more welcoming and more accessible, but we who wish to be part of it must prepare ourselves for the basic rules upon which it stands. In any discussion, present your arguments and supporting points logically, convincingly and maturely. Do not engage in logical fallacies like evading the truth and Argumentum ad Misericodiam. Don’t disgrace yourself. What you say, as well as how you say what you say, also says a lot about you. Be careful!
Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.