Friday, February 8, 2013

Analogies The Final Installment

In the past two posts, I've explored the benefits and the dangers of using comparative language to express an idea or an argument. Referencing a book by Robert J. Gula, I distinguished between the poetic purposes of an author and the logical purposes of an author.

A writer or reader or audience member of any kind must consider how poetic and logical purposes are different.

Since the purposes of poetry are different from the purposes of logic, our standards in assessing the effectiveness of each will also be different. A poetic comparison, if it succeeds at all, will succeed on poetic terms; a logical comparison, if it succeeds at all, will succeed on logical terms.

As you've read in my two previous posts, the terms that the laws of logic impose on us are strict.

In this post, we'll look at the last example that Gula gives to illustrate a fallacious chain of analogical reasoning, and then we'll look at the recommendations he offers by way of summary.

In Nonsense Gula writes, "Analogies are abused when a person uses the terms of one element to predict  the terms of another element" (144).  To show this definition in action, let's look at the following exchange:

P: "Who are voting for?"

Q: "Probably Smith.  I'm an environmentalist, so I think the government should be putting a lot more money in making renewable energy a practical way for the United States to generate electricity and transport its citizens to and from wherever it is their going.

P: "If the environment is important to you, then you shouldn't vote for Smith."

Q: "Why not?"

P: "Well, because take a look at the current administration's record on environmental issues. I guess it hasn't had any photo ops where high ranking cabinet members actually shoot polar bears from helicopters, but needless to say, it hasn't exactly been friendly to the tree and the flower.

Q: "But that's irrelevant. What this administration has done is one thing. What Smith will do is an altogether different thing."

P: "No. Not when one considers all the similarities between the current president and Smith. For example, the president's father made his fortune in the oil business, and so did Smith's. The president attended Exeter, then Princeton, then The University of Chicago School of Law. Guess what Smith's academic career looks like? You got it, Exeter, Princeton, Hyde Park. After he graduated from law school, the president was awarded a federal clerkship before going into politics, just like Smith. I think it's clear from all these similarities that since the president said one thing during his campaign about the environment but ended up implementing a different policy, we can conclude that Smith will do the same thing."

If you can forgive my long winded example, what is your assessment of it?

P tries to argue by analogy. P connects several similarities between the current president and Smith. P then goes further by drawing a conclusion about Smith's future behavior. Such an analogical reasoning chain would be fallacious.

At the end of his discussion of analogies, Gula (144) recommends answering the following questions when evaluating the cogency of an analogical argument:

1. "Have all the properties of X (the object of analogy) and all the properties of Y (the other object of the analogy) been cited?"

2. "How many of these properties are similar?"

3. "How many of these similarities are relevant?"

4. "To what extent are some of these similarities actually not as similar as they have been made out to be?"

5. "To what extent is X different from Y?"

Analogies are everywhere. We use them all the time. When we are being asked to assent to a speaker's conclusion based on analogy, we should be aware that arguing from an analogy has a high standard to satisfy before the argument's conclusion can be accepted.

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