Like many others, I am finding myself inundated right now with political discourse and outright propaganda. In the midst of this onslaught, it is frustrating to try to distinguish truth from falsehood, and even more frustrating to try to sift through illogical and misleading arguments.
In an article entitled “Facts, Arguments and Politics” in yesterday’s New York Times, Dr. Gary Gutting offered a thoughtful analysis of the interplay of facts and arguments in political discourse. After presenting a couple of examples to illustrate his points, he concluded:
What is the moral? That facts alone are necessary but not sufficient for a good argument. As important as getting the facts right is putting the facts into a comprehensive logical structure that supports your conclusion. This structure must present a plausible account of the various factors relevant to the conclusion. Without it, even an impeccable set of facts does not give us a good argument. The recent journalistic trend toward serious fact-checking holds considerable promise for improving our political debates. But we also need a serious effort at argument-checking.
One way to improve our argument-checking skills is to recognize logical fallacies when we hear them. There are numerous sources available online that define and explain logical fallacies, including:
The Top 20 Logical Fallacies from The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe
42 Logical Fallacies from the Nizkor Project
Logical Fallacies from the Purdue Online Writing Lab
As I have stated before in this blog, critical thinking is a sound antidote to propaganda.