2. I am presently working on my logic assignment.
Our professor asked us to select and analyse two arguments (sourced from anywhere): one an example of a “good” argument, the other, not. Being of a somewhat literary nature, I decided to select arguments from texts I’m reading for other classes. My first argument derives from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Not to get into too detailed a reading here, but Carson’s presentation of the evidence of the harmfulness of toxic insecticides/herbicides/fungicides on both human health, agriculture, and the environment, is terrifyingly well written: she presents grim factual evidence with compelling prose that is also logically valid. When it came to searching for an example of a “bad” argument, then, I found Carson’s text unusable. Luckily, Sir Joseph’s infamous claim “A British sailor is any man’s equal (excepting mine),” came to mind.
I present to you, dear readers, one half of my logic assignment:
“Sir Joseph: A British sailor is any man’s equal (excepting mine).” (Gilbert, W.S. HMS Pinafore. Act 1).
This is an obviously fallacious argument, that resists standard argument form. One might write that
1. A British sailor is the equal of every man.
2. Sir Joseph is a man.
3. Sir Joseph is not the equal of a British sailor. [conclusion]
The parenthetical conclusion directly contradicts the definition of the “any”: a term synonymous with “every,” and an encompassing category, which necessarily includes the speaker, Sir Joseph, without exceptions. When written out in standard form, we can see that the speaker’s conclusion does not follow from the two premises: the argument is invalid (which, of course, is the reason the argument is comical).
I think I’m entering the realms of absurdity. It’s fitting, somehow.
[i] logically sound. Logic, though a branch of philosophy, is concerned more with provable, testable forms. Thus we must distinguish between “validity,” which asks whether a conclusion can be made based on the information offered in an argument’s premises (and is thus a formal element), and “soundness”: whether we should accept the premises and conclusions as true. One might say Carson’s arguments are sound, because they are supported with evidence. Of course, soundness is often debatable.
14 September 2008 ~ St. Catharines