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Welcome! This is the place to ask the community of experts and other fallacyophites (I made up that word) if someone has a committed a fallacy or not. This is a great way to settle a dispute! This is also the home of the "Mastering Logical Fallacies" student support.


Dr. Bo's Criteria for Logical Fallacies:

  1. It must be an error in reasoning not a factual error.
  2. It must be commonly applied to an argument either in the form of the argument or in the interpretation of the argument.
  3. It must be deceptive in that it often fools the average adult.

Therefore, we will define a logical fallacy as a concept within argumentation that commonly leads to an error in reasoning due to the deceptive nature of its presentation. Logical fallacies can comprise fallacious arguments that contain one or more non-factual errors in their form or deceptive arguments that often lead to fallacious reasoning in their evaluation.

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Jacob

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Jacob


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Sat, Jan 26, 2019 - 09:51 PM

Tone Policing vs Appeal to Emotion

I read a cartoon about tone policing recently and it struck me that this concept is at odds with the appeal to emotion fallacy. According to the cartoon, tone policing occurs when I ask someone to distance themselves from their emotions before I am willing to listen to their argument. The cartoon says this is wrong and that a person's anger, sadness, fear, etc are central to the issue. I get the impression this means the more angry a person is about an issue then the more that issue is wrong.

I feel that the concept of tone policing is an attempt to undermine one of the most important informal logical rules, that reason is more important than emotion in settling difficult problems. If tone policing is a reasonable idea then it is wrong for me to ask a person to stop screaming their opinions at me in order to have a civilized conversation.

Me: Let's look at this problem rationally. Try to remove your anger about the issue.
Person I hope I never get into an argument with: No thats tone policing...

Link to Cartoon
https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/12/tone-policing-and-privilege/?fbclid=IwAR0oYYWtpq9Ru5Bg4AEwVU61fvev4JlBrZXlzG0o2t7TFYcT8bVnkh_4Shg



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Bo Bennett, PhD
Author of Logically Fallacious

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Author of Logically Fallacious

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About Bo Bennett, PhD

Bo's personal motto is "Expose an irrational belief, keep a person rational for a day. Expose irrational thinking, keep a person rational for a lifetime."  Much of his charitable work is in the area of education—not teaching people what to think, but how to think.  His projects include his book, The Concept: A Critical and Honest Look at God and Religion, and Logically Fallacious, the most comprehensive collection of logical fallacies.  Bo's personal blog is called Relationship With Reason, where he writes about several topics related to critical thinking.  His secular (humanistic) philosophy is detailed at PositiveHumanism.com.
Bo is currently the producer and host of The Humanist Hour, the official broadcast of the American Humanist Association, where he can be heard weekly discussing a variety of humanistic issued, mostly related to science, psychology, philosophy, and critical thinking.

Full bio can be found at http://www.bobennett.com
Print Sun, Jan 27, 2019 - 07:09 AM
First the valid point that cartoon makes: emotions and experiences are very important and should not be ignored. Very few people have the ability to express strongly-held ideas, thoughts, and beliefs free from emotion (i.e. tone) and asking them to do so is frustrating to them. Now for the problems...

Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege

It could be, just like choosing vanilla ice cream over chocolate is just another way to express racism. Or sometimes, you just feel like eating vanilla.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Does displaying anger/strong emotion distract from the issue?

If the "issue" is one where facts and reality matter, then YES. There is no question that emotion interferes with the reasoning process. This is why the heuristic that people who display strong emotions are less likely to be thinking reasonably and, less likely to have their facts straight is a reasonable one. But as we know, most people are not interested in facts and reason, and strong emotion is more persuasive to them. This is why a handful of moms parading their children who are on the autistic spectrum around claiming vaccines made them this way is more convincing to many people than decades of research by the world's top scientists as well as formal statements by virtually all medical and health organizations. No matter how emotional one might be, it does not change the facts.

If the "issue" is the subjective feelings of the individual, then NO. If a person is sharing a subjective experience then their emotions are important.

"Tone Policing"

The term "tone policing" has been around for a long time and is a legitimate fallacy (I need to add it to this site!). As Wiki defines it...

Tone policing (also tone trolling, tone argument and tone fallacy) is an ad hominem and antidebate appeal based on genetic fallacy. It attempts to detract from the validity of a statement by attacking the tone in which it was presented rather than the message itself.

Everyday Feminism is attempting to redefine the term to support their ideological agenda. It has nothing to do with minorities, the oppressed, or feminism. It can certainly be used against these groups, but it can be used fallaciously BY these groups as well.

Right off the bat this cartoon got it wrong... the argument made by Person 1 about the 1200 Aboriginal women being murdered was responded to with complete agreement. Person 2 made no attempt to "detract from the validity of a statement." The suggestion to tone down the rhetoric, "e.g., 'our bullshit government'" was most likely an attempt to help the arguer appear more credible - NOT to shut down the argument.

Strong emotions are the fuel behind many of our most problematic cognitive biases, which are responsible for us ignoring facts and distorting reality. At the same time passion is a powerful force for change. The key is to develop the passion as a result of the facts and not start with an impassioned opinion based on subjective experience and cherry pick the facts that support your view.
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Michael Chase Walker
Screenwriter, producer, mythoclast

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Michael Chase Walker

Screenwriter, producer, mythoclast

Master Contributor

About Michael Chase Walker

Michael Chase Walker is an actor, author, screenwriter, producer, and a former adjunct lecturer for the College of Santa Fe Moving Images Department, and Dreamworks Animation. His first motion picture was the animated classic, The Last Unicorn.
Michael was an in-house television writer for the hit television series: He-Man, She-Ra, Voltron, and V, the Series. In 1985, he was appointed Director of Children's programs for CBS Entertainment where he conceived, shaped and supervised the entire 1985 Saturday Morning line-up: Wildfire, Pee Wee's Playhouse, Galaxy High School, Teen Wolf, and over 10
Print Mon, Jan 28, 2019 - 02:34 PM
I've often found that the most cliché or weakest arguments (especially those made by religious fundamentalists) begin initially by attacking the tone, terseness, or sarcasm of the responder. A case in point is the constant barrage of nauseatingly rote complaints made against the supremely genteel, compassionate, yet sometimes surly Richard Dawkins; or even the less refined, but equally blunt and straight forward retorts of the renowned, if not, controversial physicist, Lawrence Krauss.

Indeed, very often the first line of attack from the logically challenged or religious fanatic is to critique the style of the opponent over the substance of his or her argument - as if the style itself undermines the validity of the argument rather than the facts or science behind it.

Of course, any time a claimant diverts from the subject by attacking the arguer's style or character is either an ad hominem, Strawman or garishly Red Herring tactic that leads away from the truth of the matter rather than toward it - and thus by its very definition is a distraction or logical fallacy.


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Frances

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Print Sat, Jun 29, 2019 - 09:16 PM
"the more angry a person is about an issue then the more that issue is wrong"

This is not at all what tone policing is about. Tone policing is a concept that draws attention to the positions of privilege held by people who are discussing an issue. It just means that context is extremely relevant to any political discussion.

As a white man, there are many issues that you are able to consider and discuss as merely an intellectual exercise, because you are privileged from ever being personally affected by those issues. If you are discussing an issue with a person whose fundamental human dignity is at stake, it would not be appropriate for you to set the terms on how that issue should be discussed.

If you were talking about abortion with a woman, criminal justice with a person of color, gender identity with someone who is queer, or border policy with an immigrant, you would be entering the conversation from a position of privilege. Because you personally are not marginalized by policies relating to these issue, your privilege blinds you from being able to see the multitude of ways in which other people are affected by that policy. Presenting your own opinion on the issue as if it has equal weight to the experience of someone who is personally affected only serves to reinforce your relative positions of privilege and marginalization.

If someone accuses you of "tone policing" that would be an appropriate time to consider how you own position of privilege affects your perspective on an issue, and an appropriate time to speak less and listen more.


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Michael Chase Walker
Screenwriter, producer, mythoclast

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Print Sun, Jun 30, 2019 - 01:10 AM
It depends on the venue.

If it's a formal debate it is proper to monitor (police) the tone of an argument or discussion between the adversaries. Typically, it is the moderator's responsibility to moderate, but if they fail, then, yes, it is up to the debaters to make the charge.

Just watch the masterful way Sam Harris calls upon the borderline fanatical Deepak Chopra to "dial it down".

https://youtu.be/hU6TkfCGlX8}https://youtu.be/hU6TkfCGlX8

My personal experience is the more an argument requires "emotion" or ad baculum fallacy, the less control the arguer has over the rationale of their claim. At that point the more rational argument wins automatically.

Here's a wonderful example of the breakdown of a debate between the estimable William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. It's a little long, but well worth it.

By the way, the formidable WFB knew he lost the debate the second he lost it, and never ever lived it down for the rest of his life.

Vidal vs Buckley - Crypto-Nazi Debate (Best Quality) https://youtu.be/ZY_nq4tfi24 via @YouTube


Registered User Comments

DrBill
Sunday, June 30, 2019 - 09:48:15 PM
@Michael Chase Walker: One of the difficulties that I have observed on this site is the use of the Q/A forum to present (using my best tone) off-topic points of view as if they were illustrative, either of the major question or of fallacies in general. In my view, your answer met both objections, First, bringing in the impossible logical discussion of God, whereby both speakers revealed my argument about the impossibility (at least touching two key themes thereof), and Second, making a point about Buckley that was both incorrect (Buckley lost his temper, not the "debate") and in losing his temper actually countered the key point of this whole thread, to wit: that "tone" was a sign of privilege. The "privilege" I observed was that of Vidal, in calling Buckley a "crypto-nazi", for no other purpose than to anger him and insult him...and shut off the debate. Vidal's tone was evident to me, at least.

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Michael Chase Walker
Sunday, June 30, 2019 - 11:30:50 PM
"In my view...". Precisely, but you've already displayed your bias on the issue multiple times. SO, that's redundant isn't it? You have expressed and we know explicitly of that bias by your own admission i.e.: "the impossible logical discussion of God". Which, I totally refute and countered many times. "The logical discussion of God" is neither impossible nor beyond the reaches of intellect. In fact, it is almost existentially imperative for the survival of our species.

As per WFB, I am a great admirer and student of his writings and interviews. In fact, I am in awe of him in many ways, but that awe was gradually diminished by his own glaring religious limitations (Catholic). The fact is, by his own realization, he knew he lost that debate the minute he (ad baculum) physically threatened Gore Vidal. And that is the very subject and record of various documentaries and biographies about him. So, yes, it may have been a breakdown on both sides, but Vidal never physically threatened WFB. I maintain, that the reference to the argument is demonstrative of what can go wrong in any debate: ad hominem (crypto-nazi) or ad baculum ( I will knock your face off) or whatever.

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Jacob
Monday, January 28, 2019 - 12:25:31 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Thank you for the response.

So the cartoon does have it a little wrong. Wikipedia says it is tone policing when an argument is claimed to be invalid because of the tone of the argument.

So...

Cartoon: It's tone policing if you ask someone to calm down even if you agree with the argument.

Wikipedia: It's tone policing only if the arguee disagrees with arguer because of the tone.

I agree with you that emotion is difficult to remove from an argument. In some places it is perfectly legitimate to make subjective feelings the center of the issue, like in a relationship, where feelings really are more important than facts. In a courtroom facts are more important. I watched a few episodes of court TV. The judge never says, "Well the Plaintiff screamed more than the defendant, so the Plaintiff must be telling the truth".

Tone policing worries me because I see how it can be abused. Emotional appeals are convincing, especially to people who have not studied logic. A thoughtful logical argument can be countered by anger, crying, fear, and if I ask the other person to please calm down so we can have a civil debate then this can be labeled as Tone Policing. You said subjective feelings are relevant in some situations, but it can be a matter of opinion where emotions are relevant or not.

I will carry on a debate with someone who is a little emotional but if it gets bad enough I will step out. The cartoon said this is the right thing to do, although I see this the cartoon showing preference to irrational and screaming people over rational and level-headed people. The level of emotion is important which the cartoon does not discuss. Raising your voice seems okay, but screaming hysterically should not be okay.

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Ron Renaud
Monday, January 28, 2019 - 08:00:45 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: This was a great little thread. Thanks, Bo! Thanks, Jacob!

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