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Thread: Iron Sharpening Thread

  1. #1

    Lightbulb Iron Sharpening Thread

    The recent Mises Caucus sweep in the LP is the first substantially favorable breeze in the direction of liberty that we've seen in quite some time. My hope is that RPF may attract new folks from MC or other big-L and small-l libertarians and foster coordination, communication and even growth of the liberty movement. To that end, I will be posting here on subjects related to reasoning, debate, philosophy and organization in order to share tools that can act as force-multipliers for individuals in the liberty movement, whether they are working directly in the MC or contributing in a more indirect way. Of course, these tools will help anybody but the point is that we need to spread a generous layer of fertilizer to help boost growth in the movement and really turn this liberty wave into a liberty tsunami. These tools will pay life-long dividends so, no matter who you are or what you do for a living, you can benefit from investing some time into increasing your personal effectiveness with these tools.

    The first tool in the toolbox is thinking (reasoning). If you have a problem, the way to overcome that problem is to solve it. But you can't solve a problem if you don't think about it properly. We take the skill of thinking for granted, as though thinking is just "obvious". Even worse, we often treat thinking as some kind of inscrutable, God-given gift that is completely unlike any other skill and cannot be improved through deliberate study and practice. You were either born an Einstein or one of the Stooges and no amount of applied effort can change that. In fact, thinking is no different than any other basic skill and can be improved by deliberate practice.

    The first step in improving your reasoning ability is to learn to identify logical fallacies. We've all run across these fallacies countless times in life. Most political whoppers out there ride on one or more of these basic fallacies. So, learning to be able to spot them quickly will not only help you reduce the accidental use of those fallacies in your own thinking and speech, it will help you quickly spot them in the arguments made by political opponents, and call them out on it. The goal here is not to become the world's best lint-picker... throwing a flag on every single fallacy that someone employs is a fast-track to losing a debate. Rather, you need to learn to spot the core fallacies that form the main support column of their bad argument, and then detonate those by simply pointing them out and asking them to justify their reasoning at those crucial points.

    Here's a video that covers a selection of fallacies to get you started:



    For more in-depth research, you can start with these lists of logical fallacies:

    RationalWiki list of fallacies

    Wikipedia list of fallacies

    It is helpful to be able to put a name to the major fallacies and so I encourage you to memorize the names of at least the fallacies on the following chart (click for full-resolution):



    Fallacies tell you how not to think, but they don't tell you how to think. In the next post, I will give some informal discussion on logic and reasoning in general.

    LICENSE: The text of this post (click "Reply with Quote") is CC0 license -- No Rights Reserved, copy and share without restriction



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  3. #2
    Introduction to Logical Argument

    Every man is, by birth, a philosopher and an ethicist. You know what truth and falsehood are, you know what right and wrong are. In the 20th and 21st centuries, modern and postmodern philosophers and other academics have mounted a herculean project to convince us that nobody can really know what is right or wrong, or what is true and false. And I think one reason that many of us are reluctant to dive into the intentional study of logic and ethics is the feeling that it's all just a bunch of useless argument over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. That is, anyone who can assert, in all seriousness, that they do not know what is real or true is practically insane, and if this is the fruit of studying philosophy, then philosophy is clearly a waste of time.

    But the enemy has set a trap here. Philosophy is extremely powerful, in fact, it can be argued that all the notable achievements of humanity have been built on philosophy. I would argue that, apart from God, philosophy is not a sufficient foundation. However, it is a necessary foundation and if the enemy can persuade you not to study philosophy, he can weaken you and leave you vulnerable to all kinds of attacks that would not otherwise be possible for him. You're right to be suspicious of the agenda of many modern academics, but don't be suspicious of learning itself. Learning is the gateway to self-determination, and self-determination is an essential ingredient of liberty. A public that lacks the capacity for self-determination can never be free, no matter what legal rights it supposedly has under its system of government.

    Before jumping into what logical argument is and some of the methods you can employ when making logical arguments, let me first distinguish between logical argument and other forms of persuasion. In the opening scene of The Godfather, Michael Corleone tells Katy the following story:

    MICHAEL
    Well, when Johnny was first starting out, he was signed to this personal service contract; with a big band leader. And as his career got better and better, he wanted to get out of it. Now, Johnny is my father's godson. And my father went to see this band leader, and he offered him $10,000 to let Johnny go. But the band leader said no. So the next day, my father went to see him; only this time with Luca Brasi. And within an hour, he signed a release, for a certified check for $1,000.

    KAY
    How'd he do that?

    MICHAEL
    My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

    KAY
    What was that?

    MICHAEL
    Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.
    Obviously, he's making a word play on the idiom "an offer you can't refuse" meaning, an offer too good to be refused. But in this case, it's an offer too violent to be refused. The story vividly illustrates the difference between persuasion and logical argument. A logical argument is an argument that any reasonable person ought to find persuasive. But because people are self-interested, they will often refuse to acknowledge the conclusion of a perfectly valid argument based on true premises. Or, they can be forced to accept an argument that does not follow logically as happened to the poor band-leader when he was faced with the choice to either sign or get shot. The band-leader was in the right, but Corleone was a big man so he could get his way by force.



    Whenever persuasion involves some element of carrot or stick, it is often a form of non-logical argument. This is not always true -- "You should eat more green vegetables because it has health benefits and you will feel better." Reason and personal biases can align; morality and self-interest can align. But in general, the good philosopher is always suspicious of personal biases, popular opinions and self-interest, whatever form these may take.

    Because we want to believe certain kinds of things (for example, "I am attractive" or "I am funny"), we should raise the bar for the kinds of arguments that we will accept as valid for those things in particular.

    And since it is human nature to desire applause, we should be automatically suspicious of popular beliefs and opinions... affirming what people generally believe is something we naturally want to do because that is one way to get applause. That doesn't mean that society is always wrong about everything. It is often right about many things. But when society goes off the rails, it frequently goes way off the rails because of the broad desire of people generally to have each other's applause.

    Whenever something is in our interest, or against the interests of those we oppose, we should raise the bar for belief in those things even further because our lower mind instinctively wants to be persuaded by them. I may want to believe that you wouldn't care if I don't mention the $100 bill that just dropped from your pocket but how likely is that to really be true? Of course, we know that it's not very likely at all to be true; since it is in my interests to believe it, I should raise the bar for believing that much higher.

    We even acknowledge this in our social conventions. When someone who is not a relative or close friend gives you a valuable gift, it is considered polite to refuse the gift at least once. Why? Because the assumption is that the individual may have felt some kind of social pressure to give such a generous gift. So it ought to be refused once and, only if they persist, accepted.

    So far, we have touched on persuasion and logical arguments. Another kind of argument that frequently sits on the boundary between these two types of discussion is the ethical argument. An ethical argument or moral argument (sometimes, normative argument) is an argument about what people should or should not do. Obviously, ethical arguments involve questions of truth and they are frequently made in the context of persuasion. So ethical arguments often rely on the conclusions of logical arguments and, in real social discourse, are usually made in order to persuade people to alter their own moral outlook and behavior. But in this post, we will just be focusing on logical arguments as opposed to persuasion and ethical arguments.



    In general, when making a logical argument, we're assuming that our opponent (if a debate) is rational and open to persuasion by logical argument. This isn't always true, but this is the unstated assumption that pertains to any logical argument. There is no point in stating a logical argument to a rock, a tree or a dog, for example. What we're attempting to do is move from some common ground -- things we both agree on -- to some conclusion that is is logically entailed by the things we agree on, and which I want to persuade you to believe.

    Note that most of the debate that an ordinary person will see in their life is political debate. While political debates frequently ape the form of logical argument, the fact is that valid logical arguments are rarely, if ever, used in political debate. For this reason, I think that most people have a wildly erroneous idea of what a logical or philosophical debate is. Ideally, a philosophical debate would have little or nothing to do with who "won the crowd" since crowds are easily moved by many non-rational factors. The lesson of modern propaganda in the 20th-century can be boiled down to this crucial insight: non-rational factors are generally far more effective in persuading crowds than rational factors are. This post is about logical argument, not politics and propaganda, so I will leave detailed treatment of those things to a future post. Suffice it to say that there is no reason to despair of using logic and reason in the public square but it is important to align logic and reason with the many non-logical factors that can easily distract a crowd away from the substance of the argument at hand.

    For the purposes of introducing the subject of logical argument, we categorize arguments into one of two varieties: deductive argument, or inductive argument. In practice, most arguments are not purely deductive or inductive, but rely on a combination of these elementary types of argument. But we study them separately in order to better understand their use.



    A deductive argument starts from a set of assertions or claims (called premises) that we both agree are true, and then applies deductive inference to derive a new assertion which must also be true. A particular form of deductive argument is called the syllogism and is used in philosophy classroom to introduce students to some of the technical considerations in deductive arguments. I will skip those details in this post.




    Inductive argument is the kind of argument we usually use when reasoning about the real world. Mathematical arguments tend to be purely deductive but we do not often have an occasion to use that kind of reasoning in our daily life or we use it in ways that are so mundane that explaining them quickly becomes tedious. For example, if there were three oranges on the table when you went to bed, and now there are two oranges on the table, then it follows that someone ate an orange while you were sleeping. That's a deductive inference, not an inductive inference, even though you are reasoning about something in the real world. Inductive inference typically involves a conclusion that starts from uncertain premises and derives an uncertain conclusion. For example, "I see thick, black smoke billowing from my neighbor's window. Therefore, I believe there is a fire in my neighbor's house." Clearly, there exist other possible explanations for why there is thick, black smoke billowing from my neighbor's house. But the most likely explanation is that there is a fire in their house that is causing that smoke to billow out the window. This is an example of inductive inference.

    Deduction is frequently presented as operating only on certainties. However, deductive arguments can also operate on probabilistic beliefs, so long as we separate between the probabilities in the premises themselves, and the probability of the deduction itself. For example, consider the following argument:

    There's a 50% chance that it's raining
    Whenever it is raining, I will get wet if I go outside
    ---------------
    There's a 50% chance I will get wet if I go outside
    This is a perfectly valid deductive argument -- it is not an inductive argument even though one of its premises is probabilistic. In the mathematics of probability, for example, we frequently engage in this kind of hybrid logic, where we are using absolute deductive reasoning to manipulate probabilistic statements. There are a lot of ways to get this wrong and intuition is often a feeble guide in this kind of hybrid reasoning -- this is one of the reasons why statistics are so notorious for leading people astray into all kinds of false beliefs.

    There are many technical details in the types and techniques of both deductive and inductive argument. However, my goal here is simply to give an elevator-pitch presentation to explain the various types of logical argument and to separate them from other kinds of persuasion, and ethical arguments. For more details, watch the following two videos from Crash Course Philosophy:





    LICENSE: The text and embedded images in this post (click "Reply with Quote") are CC0 license -- No Rights Reserved, copy and share without restriction. The linked videos belong to their owner.

  4. #3
    Metals make good inductors
    It's all about taking action and not being lazy. So you do the work, whether it's fitness or whatever. It's about getting up, motivating yourself and just doing it.
    - Kim Kardashian

    Donald Trump / Trump Jr 2024!!!!

    My pronouns are he/him/his

  5. #4
    There's a 50% chance that it's raining
    Whenever it is raining, I will get wet if I go outside
    ---------------
    There's a 50% chance I will get wet if I go outside
    To be precise, there is a >50% chance you will get wet if you go outside, unless you take this assumption quite very literally "Whenever it is raining, I will get wet if I go outside"
    It's all about taking action and not being lazy. So you do the work, whether it's fitness or whatever. It's about getting up, motivating yourself and just doing it.
    - Kim Kardashian

    Donald Trump / Trump Jr 2024!!!!

    My pronouns are he/him/his

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by TheTexan View Post
    To be precise, there is a >50% chance you will get wet if you go outside, unless you take this assumption quite very literally "Whenever it is raining, I will get wet if I go outside"
    Good point. The chance that you will get wet if you go outside is not less than 50%. And your point goes to illustrate just how easy it is to make mistakes when reasoning with probabilities. Just because we have some "toy model" in our heads in which the only cause of getting wet is rain (e.g. sprinklers don't exist, car tires splashing in mud puddles don't exist, etc.), doesn't mean that reality conforms to that toy model. And this exact problem accounts for a huge amount of the fallacies you will see in political debates. "Oh, you don't want to increase school funding? You must oppose children's education and basically you hate children."

  7. #6
    It's June in Oklahoma. When it's not raining, the temperature is in the high nineties and the humidity in the seventies.

    There's a 100% chance. Maybe 110%.
    "Stupidity got us into this mess. Why can't it get us out?"--Will Rogers

    "All I know is what I read in the newspapers, and that's an alibi for my ignorance."--Will Rogers

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by ClaytonB View Post
    Good point. The chance that you will get wet if you go outside is not less than 50%. And your point goes to illustrate just how easy it is to make mistakes when reasoning with probabilities. Just because we have some "toy model" in our heads in which the only cause of getting wet is rain (e.g. sprinklers don't exist, car tires splashing in mud puddles don't exist, etc.), doesn't mean that reality conforms to that toy model. And this exact problem accounts for a huge amount of the fallacies you will see in political debates. "Oh, you don't want to increase school funding? You must oppose children's education and basically you hate children."
    I was actually referring to the state of being "outside" as a continuous state. Thus, if you stay outside for a sufficiently long enough time, your chance of getting wet will either be 100% or approach 100% depending on the variability and frequency of the rain.

    If, on the other hand, you read the 2nd assumption literally, it can be interpreted that is the act of going outside (when it is raining) is what causes you to get wet. Perhaps your umbrella is out in the middle of the yard. In which case it depends on whether or not it is raining, at the time you "go outside", that determines whether or not you get wet. This can reasonably be interpreted as a discrete event (vs continuous), in which case there would indeed be exactly a 50% chance. (and not >50% chance)
    It's all about taking action and not being lazy. So you do the work, whether it's fitness or whatever. It's about getting up, motivating yourself and just doing it.
    - Kim Kardashian

    Donald Trump / Trump Jr 2024!!!!

    My pronouns are he/him/his

  9. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by TheTexan View Post
    I was actually referring to the state of being "outside" as a continuous state. Thus, if you stay outside for a sufficiently long enough time, your chance of getting wet will either be 100% or approach 100% depending on the variability and frequency of the rain.
    OK. Well, it's just a toy example and the idea is that you would get wet while walking through the parking lot to your car, or whatever.

    If, on the other hand, you read the 2nd assumption literally, it can be interpreted that is the act of going outside (when it is raining) is what causes you to get wet. Perhaps your umbrella is out in the middle of the yard. In which case it depends on whether or not it is raining, at the time you "go outside", that determines whether or not you get wet. This can reasonably be interpreted as a discrete event (vs continuous), in which case there would indeed be exactly a 50% chance. (and not >50% chance)
    Yes, that's something like what I was describing with the toy example.

    A proper introduction to logical argument would cover 5 or 10 examples of the most important kinds of logical arguments, but the purpose of giving that specific example is that I want to lay the groundwork for a kind of knowledge frequently used in Austrian social science called synthetic a priori knowledge. We can -- and frequently do -- apply deductive methods to facts of the real world but mainstream academics generally hold this to be impossible, that is, it's always a subtle mistake of reasoning. Deduction is widely held to be more like a "game" that can be played (as in a game simulation) and which might be useful for your own purposes but can never actually say anything definite about the real world, because the real world is inherently probabilistic but deductive methods only operate on certainties. I'm skimming over a small ocean of details and I'm intentionally oversimplifying, but this is the single biggest methodological disagreement between Austrian social science and other approaches to social science.

    The other problem I plan to address is the problem of causation. In mainstream academia, it is widely held that causality can never be established with certainty or even with a meaningful probability. We believe that the world operates according to laws because we have always seen it operate according to laws, but there is no law (and can be no law) that guarantees that the world will always operate in the future according to the laws we have seen it operate according to in the past. This is the famous problem of induction. In fact, there is a solution to the problem of induction and, while certain aspects of causality can never be established with certainty, it is possible to give causal factors a meaningful a priori probability. By calculating the a priori probability, we can apply Bayes' rule to causal reasoning in a meaningful way, that is, without hand-waving or "subjective probability". This fact has important consequences to science, law, economics and any other field where causality (especially human causality) is significant.



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