Sunday, April 03, 2011

Logical Fallacies 101 (Part 3 Of 6): Argumentum Ad Misericordiam and Moving Goalposts

.:Logical Fallacies 101 (Part 3 Of 6): Argumentum Ad Misericordiam and Moving Goalposts:.

Feeling sorry for him makes him right?!?

Ad Misericordiam is an appeal to one’s pity or emotion. Essentially, instead of focusing on the issue at hand, one sidetracks the discussion by talking about how you should feel bad for the other side of the argument, as if this makes the argument any stronger. Normally, people use this when they want to plea for leniency after admitting to some kind of guilt, thinking that they should be entitled to some kind of special consideration out of pity.

Have they ever considered the flipside of this argument? If, for example, a murderer is being sentenced to life, should we feel sorry for them and not give them that sentence? Why are we feeling sorry for him, but not the victim? I mean, the victim is dead, for crying out loud! Why should we cut the murderer some slack for no other reason than pity? Appealing to one’s emotions muddles the issue because one’s emotions should not impede the rational process of argumentation. It shouldn’t, but we all know that it’s very difficult to truly not do so.

In this particular case, @DonVitoCorleone was trying to express how Manny Pacquiao is an icon, and as such, we should be more considerate of him. Really? What about the feelings of the people he insulted? You can say that he may have just said something in jest, but why are you dismissing the feelings of the other people who did not take it just as a joke? You have no right to impose upon another person how they are supposed to feel about a statement. One man’s jest is another man’s slur, and you must respect these differences in temperament, or be prepared to have your own sensibilities similarly dismissed by others.

On the other hand, moving goalposts is a debate tactic of backpedalling and changing one’s arguments whenever one avenue is soundly refuted. Initially, @DonVitoCorleone was railing against Manny’s “haters” wholesale (Which is also another logical fallacy: hasty generalization. What makes you assume that anyone who does not worship Pacquiao is automatically a “hater?” Maybe there is a middleground somewhere?). As I continued to argue with him over the issue, it became pretty clear to him that he can’t debunk my point, which was the fact that Pacquiao was called out on Twitter because he failed to do his job as Congressman. At that point, he moved the goalposts, and attempted to derail the discussion by using a tone argument, attacking the poor choice of words of one particular Tweet that called Manny out.

The problems are threefold: one, the tone argument does not invalidate the content of the argument, only the delivery. Two, well, two wrongs don’t make a right: Manny responded with something that was inflammatory, given the situation. The least he could have done was to either leave the discussion altogether, or to avoid using a flippant statement like “Magsumbong ka sa lolo mong panot,” which clearly doesn’t add anything to the debate on whether or not Manny failed at doing his job as a Congressman. Worse, it is conduct unbecoming of someone we’re supposed to call “Honorable.” And thirdly, the tone argument was originally not the debate: it was flat-out @DonVitoCorleone’s disgust that his hero, Manny Pacquiao, left Twitter because of a few people who didn’t worship him the way he expected everyone to.

What @DonVitoCorleone did was he moved the goalposts. He changed the argument from whether or not Manny failed to do his job (Clearly, he did fail to.) to whether or not the choice of words used to call Manny out was appropriate (No, it wasn’t, but that’s irrelevant to the original issue.). If you followed the thread of discussion between myself and this guy, you will see that he does this again when I debunked his tone argument, by saying “it’s all relative, so since I don’t see anything wrong with what he said, it’s okay.” It may be okay for you, but that doesn’t mean it should be okay for everyone. I don’t even know how many logical fallacies are contained in that hasty and ill-advised conclusion alone.

Moving the goalposts is a clever tactic, but it’s easy to watch out for the symptoms: it’s someone who will keep changing their arguments when they realize that there is no way they can defend their current position.

Ultimately, if you have to beg for mercy or understanding before you begin your brilliant treatise on what it means to be an upright human being, you should really rethink why you even signed up to talk about it, in the first place.

Dogbert is the master of moving the goalposts. Or not.

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