Friday, February 1, 2013

Analogies II

In my last post I, referencing Robert J. Gula, who himself was referencing a metaphor from a poem by John Donne (For the record, if anyone wants to read it, I think the poem that Gula references is titled "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning,") explored some of the ways in which comparing one object to another object can be useful, incisive, and beautiful. 

I also explored, again using Gula as my guide, one way in which making an argument that derives a conclusion from an analogy can lead to a chain of fallacious reasoning.  

In Nonsense, Gula provides several more ways an argument from analogy can be abused. Let's take a look a few more.

From my last post, we know that to draw a conclusion based on an analogy between two objects, the two objects being compared need to have sufficient similarity for the conclusion to hold. According to Gula, other considerations need to be satisfied as well because "Analogies are abused when there is significant dissimilarity that goes unnoticed" (143). 

To illustrate Gula's point, let's take a look at the following short dialogue:

Q: "I don't think that I can vote for Smith in the upcoming election." 
P: "Why not?"
Q: "Well I'm really unhappy with the way things have gone the past few years. This current administration has not provided enough aid to help people who are struggling with the recent economic decline. And since Smith is an alumni of the same college, same law school, and same business school as is our current governor. Both Smith and our current governor also happen to live in the same wealthy neighborhood; both are filthy rich. I mean isn't it clear? To me it's obvious that Smith will simply continue the same ineffective policies that have gone on the past few years."
P: "But Smith is a Democrat. Our current governor is a Republican. Surely this distinction isn't merely irrelevant?"

The conclusion that Q draws is weak because although many similarities do exist between the two candidates, there seems to be a significant dissimilarity that Q simply ignores. Sometimes, given the public cynicism about politicians and given the influence that money has in the political process, it might seem like the two major parties in the U.S. are not so different as they try to make themselves appear during campaign season.

Nonetheless, I think P's point is a good one. I think the platform espoused by each of the two major political parties in this country contain enough dichotomies to invalidate Q's analogy, thus invalidating the effectiveness of Q's argument.  

A third way that analogies can lead to fallacious reasoning is "when one particular similarity is used to equate two very different things" (Gula 144).

To illustrate this potential abuse, let's look at this exchange:

P: "I'm going to Vegas next weekend."
Q: "What's your game of choice?"
P: "Roulette."
Q: "That's risky."
P: "So is buying a Dow Jones Industrial ETF."

Just so you know, an ETF is an Exchange Traded Fund. It collects a group of stocks into a financial instrument and allows it to be bought and sold as easily as a single share of stock. For modern investors, it really is quite an innovation. 

Now it is true that buying an ETF that contains the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average is in one sense committing a person to a financial risk. A person who places some chips on red risks a certain amount of money on that spin of the wheel. Similarly, a person who buys an ETF that tracks the Dow Jones Industrial Average risks a certain amount of money based on the collective performance of those 30 stocks. 

Nonetheless, this similarity obviously does not establish the identity of the two kinds of financial risks in question.  For one thing, risking one's money on a spin of the roulette wheel does not allow one the opportunity to recoup the loss. The chips are gone. One would need to risk more chips to recoup the lost chips. 

In contrast, the ETF allows a patient investor to recoup just about any temporary decline in cash value. The time horizon for a person who risks money on a roulette spin is different than the time horizon for a person who risks money in an ETF.

The two situations are far from identical, thus P's response is fallacious. Next week the journey continues with part III.


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