Thread: On Not Looking
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Old 01-02-2012, 10:33 PM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Originally Posted by AutumnalTone View Post
It's rather difficult to be harsh to an idea. I commented on the idea without any suggestion that he might be deficient for offering it up. His response was, at best, a simple logical fallacy (strawman), and at worst, aimed at me instead of the ideas in play.

Criticism of an idea is AOK.
Criticism of the person isn't.
In truth, the point of my ribbing was aimed at neither the idea nor at the person, but rather at the logic of the response.

As it happens, I was not, in my original post, making a general claim about what is best for everyone, simply describing an approach that makes sense to me right now.

Your response seemed to assume I was making a general claim and, instead of offering an argument, you offered what amounts to a series of anecdotes - your own experience - as conclusive falsification of that supposedly general claim.

It is as if I said: I am going to go looking for a black swan, because I would enjoy seeing one. And you replied: Hah! Not that black swan nonsense again! I've only ever seen white swans!

Following the analogy, my (too snarky) reply would have been: Well, if you've never seen a black swan, I guess I should stop looking right now!

A better reply might have been to point out that "data" is not the plural of "anecdote". If one person - or even a million people - have only ever seen white swans, in the course of their ordinary, casual experience (that is, anecdotally), there is still the possibility that I may someday see a black one, if I keep looking. That there are black swans is a fact established by the more systematic collection of observations by natural historians and, later, ornithologists.

Even if the existence of black swans had not been substantiated, it is still the case that no amount of anecdotal evidence would be sufficient to rule out the possibility that black swans exist.

(Oh, and technically, there is no sense in which my response was either a straw man or an ad hominem. It was mere sarcasm, an attempt at an Oxford-style logical put-down of which I am still not proud.)

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" - Charles Darwin

"Mystical explanations are considered deep. The truth is that they are not even superficial." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 01-03-2012 at 01:52 AM. Reason: clarity
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