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Daniel Dvorkin's Journal: Because I clearly need to do this more often

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

Dear Internet:

Some aspects of your style of argumentation have recently caused me some concern, and I thought it would be best to address them now, before they get out of hand.

If I insult you, I am not necessarily using an "ad hominem" argument. This phrase (literally, "to the man") refers to a specific logical fallacy, that of assuming that when someone you dislike or consider beneath you makes an argument, it follows that the argument is wrong. "You're a moron, so I don't have to listen to anything you say" is an example. "Only a complete idiot would say what you just said, so you must be only slightly smarter than the average flatworm" is not.

In fact, it's probably best to stay away from Philosophy 101 lists of common logical fallacies all together. Just as not all insults are ad hominems, not all citations of experts are "arguments from authority." Not all "slippery slope" scenarios are fallacious. And for the sake of all you hold holy, if you don't understand in gory mathematical detail what correlation and causality actually mean, and the different uses of the verb "to imply" in different contexts, please stay away from any version of A Maxim I Will Not Utter Here, But Which You Can Probably Guess.

All that being said, there is one fallacy to which you fall prey on an alarmingly regular basis. If you disagree with what I say, you have the right--in some cases, the duty--to voice your disagreement. Free speech is a wonderful thing, and it is easier to exercise in the modern world than it has ever been before. By all means, speak up.

However, please make sure that when you're voicing your disagreement, you are disagreeing with what I said. Replying instead to what someone else said, or what you think I'm "actually" saying, or what you think I or someone else might say in the future, are examples of the "straw man" fallacy, and although I have not performed the analysis necessary to test this hypothesis, I strongly suspect that this poor overworked scarecrow is to be found in greater numbers in online discussions than any other type of fallacy ... which, now that I think about it, is a pretty impressive accomplishment.

Thanks for your attention to these matters. Hopefully now that I've explained the error of your ways, we can move on from here and enjoy friendly, well-reasoned discourse on a wide variety of topics.

Sincerely,
That Guy Who's Always Right On The Internet

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Because I clearly need to do this more often

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