Summer Stromateis

  • Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela!
  • I’m working (in a certain sense, resembling “every now and then I entertain a random thought about”) on a presentation on technology, copyright, community, and theology, and in conjunction with the technology-and-copyright part of the presentation, I find this article from the Globe interesting (and predictable).
  • Jos Buivenga has issued an upgrade to professional-quality free typeface Fertigo.
  • Oh, I know! I had wanted to comment on David Weinberger’s and Ethan Zuckerman’s observations about the Kristof “Donate a Goat” article. David calls it the Fallacy of Examples”; I’m not sure I want to name it a fallacy, since if we read the story as an example, there’s nothing fallacious about it. It’s a narrative about a case. The problem arises when we base our general reasoning about charity, for instance, on one narrative example (and Ethan is quite right about this). At the same time, we ought to be cautious about the complexities of rhetorics of valid persuasion. I’ve always been strongly oriented toward [Western] logic (as a youngster, I was an early adopter of Wff ’N Proof); I reveled in the logic courses of my college philosophy major. But “logic” (including judgments about what constitutes a fallacy) functions differently in different cultural discourses. For some audiences, narrative examples constitute a sort of proof that trumps statistics, syllogisms, and mathematical probability. While I’m not ready to say “Anecdotal evidence is for this-or-that culture the equivalent of logical inference for Western culture,” my hesitancy can’t be separated from my immersion in the dominant discourses of Western culture.
    It’s a hairy problem that we oughtn’t try to dismiss with throat-clearing, hand-waving, and loud assertions that the kind of logical rhetoric I endorse is universal, self-evident, and compulsory.
    At the recent Ekklesia Project gathering, Victor Hinojosa made strong distinctions between the white rhetoric of statistics and analysis that constituted one stream of his talk about racial segregation in church congregations, and the Latino rhetoric of examples and anecdotes that constituted another stream. Victor is no anti-intellectual, nor a reckless postmodernist; we can’t just write him off as a sensational-faddist. The hard work involves negotiating the links, the overlaps, the influences, the priorities, and the forces by which divergent rhetorics effect their flavor of persuasion. I suspect that these negotiations may require that logical types such as I back away fro calling anecdotal rhetorics “fallacious.”

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. AKMA, thank you for the reflection. Your point about the way logic is embedded in culture is (as always) exactly right. That is, I agree with y7ou.

    Even so, I do think Kristof’s column is beautiful, moving, and fallacious. The column draws a conclusion from its story. Kristof cites J. Sachs: “small inputs can lead to large outcomes.” Kristof points us to places that will enable us to donate goats, etc. So, I’m pretty convinced Kristof doesn’t think he’s just telling us one story among many. He’s using the story to lead us to give goats. And, just because the argument is (imo) fallacious of course doesn’t mean that the conclusion is false. Indeed, as I noted, I’m proud to have given goats.

    There are so many good things to do, and so few good things that we do, that I feel at best mixed about critiquing an article that might move us to good action. Giving a goat may not be as good as donating to a political action group or to a fund that feeds the hungriest, but it’s a heck of a lot better to give a goat than to sit around doing nothing until you figure out what is the precisely best thing to do.

    Give a goat. Then figure out what’s better to do. In this case, the fallacious argument leads us to better action than most better-formulated arguments do.

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