From the Comments: Fallacies in the Threads

We don’t get as many trolls here as we used to, but every once in a while somebody will throw their garbage out the window as they drive by our humble consortium. Marvin’s comments in Dr Foldvary’s recent post on myths about libertarianism is a case in point. Attempting to take me to task for committing a logical fallacy, he  writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Dr Foldvary quit arguing with you because he has seen your fallacies over and over again throughout a long and distinguished career as an academic economist.”

Again, appealing to authority is not making a reasoned argument. You seem to be taking offense that anyone who would dare to disagree with or question anything he or you have said. Taking offense where none has been given is also rhetoric, not reason.

Just two things:

  1. An appeal to authority would have to involve me stating that Dr Foldvary is correct because he is an economist. I obviously made no such argument. I was merely trying to point out Marvin’s boorish manners and Fred’s subsequent, predictable reaction.
  2. I don’t see where I have “taken offense” in this thread. Marvin falsely charges me with doing so, and then goes on to suggest that I am angry because he disagrees with me. Now, Marvin would have a decent point if it were true that I was angry with his argument, but as it stands he is simply invoking his imagination in order to make his argument look better.

There is a reason Marvin has done this (I doubt it was a conscious one). He writes:

Brandon [again, quoting me]: “What exactly are you trying to refute, and which aspect of your argument refutes Dr Foldvary’s?”

First, it’s not Dr. Foldvary that I am having difficulty with. It is rather the unsubstantiated myths promoted by Libertarians generally that are the problem. For example, “In my judgment, when most people recognize natural moral law as the proper basis for governance, we will be able to have a truly free society.”

It is nothing but a rhetorical claim to say that my personal collection of moral laws are “natural”, “God given”, or “inherent”. Jefferson was speaking rhetorically (to sway emotional support) when he said “endowed by their Creator”. But when he said, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted” he was speaking of practical rights.

Can you spot the fallacy? I ask for an example of what Marvin is arguing against and he replies by changing the subject (from Fred’s argument to “Libertarians generally”). This particular fallacy is known as a red herring fallacy. In it, Marvin goes from ignoring Fred’s original argument to knocking down a “general” argument that he attributes to libertarians. How convenient!

Now, that’s two separate fallacies in one reply. Is it worth my time to respond? A fallacy is defined as being either a false or mistaken idea, or  as possessing a deceptive appearance. Marvin’s fallacies are a mixture of both, I think, and it would seem, based on his reasoning and on his dogmatic beliefs, that he is, in the words of alcoholics everywhere, fundamentally incapable of being honest with himself.

Nevertheless, I’d like to think that Marvin’s fallacies are based more on a false idea than on deception (I think the deception is largely for himself, anyway). So I’ll humor him one last time:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Being prohibited from killing another human being is not a restriction on freedom (same goes for stealing) because killing restricts the freedom of others.”

Actually, being prohibited from doing anything is a restriction upon the freedom of the person who wants to do that thing. The OD says, for example, freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”. Obviously if someone wants to steal and is prohibited from stealing, then his freedom is restricted.

You seem to have adopted a different definition, in which a rule against stealing is not really a restriction on freedom because it promotes the optimal freedom for everyone. I don’t think you’ll find that in the OD.

On the other hand, I do agree that all rules are intended to improve the total good and reduce the total harm for everyone. But to achieve that benefit, the rule diminishes the total liberty of everyone.

This is a much more sophisticated fallacy, but it is a fallacy nonetheless. Marvin is trying to discredit libertarianism by arguing that total freedom allows for individuals to steal and kill as they please. This is utterly false, and I’ll get to why in just a minute, but first I think it is important to highlight Marvin’s underlying logic behind this fallacy so that in the future we can all do a better job of rooting out dishonesty from our debates on liberty.

Marvin argues that total freedom must allow for killing and stealing, and only restrictions upon killing and stealing are able to prevent such occurrences from happening regularly. By framing the debate in this way, it then follows that restrictions upon other freedoms (ones that may come to be deemed harmful to society by some) are a logical and beneficial response to social problems. Do you follow? If not, you know where the ‘comments’ section is.

Marvin’s fallacious reasoning in this regard is on full display throughout the thread (please read it yourself).

Yet killing and stealing are not actions that can be found in total freedom (“the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”). Killing and stealing are actions that can be found throughout the animal kingdom. Does this make animals free?

Of course not, and this is because freedom is a distinctly human notion. Rules and agreements do not diminish total liberty. There is the possibility that total liberty can be diminished by rules. Nobody disputes this. To suggest that (capital-L) “Libertarians generally” do dispute this is disingenuous. It’s also convenient for Marvin’s fallacy.

Total freedom will not be achieved in our lifetimes. It will not be achieved in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. This doesn’t mean it should not be held up as an ideal to aspire to. Ignoring or ceding the ideal of total freedom means that the Marvins of the world will continue to get their Social Security checks in the mail.