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A Freeper's Introduction to Rhetoric (Part 8, Accident and Converse Accident)
Introduction to Logic | Irving M. Copi & Carl Cohen

Posted on 12/31/2003 8:20:58 AM PST by general_re

Accident and Converse Accident

The fallacies of accident and converse accident arise as a result of the careless, or deliberately deceptive, use of generalizations. In most important affairs, and especially inpolitical or moral argument, we rely on statements of how things generally are, how people generally behave, and the like. But even where general claims are entirely plausible, we must be careful not to apply them to particular cases mechanically or rigidly. Circumstances alter cases; a generalization that is true by and large may not apply in a given case, for good reasons having to do with the special (or "accidental") circumstances of that case. When we presume the applicability of a generalization to individual cases that it does not properly govern, we commit the fallacy of accident. When we do the reverse, and carelessly or by design presume that what is true of a particular case is true of the great run of cases, we commit the fallacy of converse accident.

Experience teaches us that generalizations, even those widely applicable and useful, often have exceptions against which we must be on guard. In the law, principles that are sound in general sometimes have very specifically identified exceptions. For example, the rule that hearsay testimony may not be accepted as evidence in court is not applicable when the party whose oral communications are reported is dead, or when the party reporting the hearsay does so in conflict with his own best interest. Almost every good rule has appropriate exceptions; we are likely to argue fallaciously when we reason on the supposition that some rule applies with universal force.

In a dialogue with the young Euthydemus, who planned to become a statesman, Socrates drew from Euthydemus a commitment to many of the conventionally accepted moral truths: that it is wrong to deceive, unjust to steal, and so on. Then Socrates (as recounted by Xenophon in his report of the dialogue) presented a series of hypothetical cases in which Euthydemus reluctantly agreed that it would appear right to deceive (to rescue our compatriots) and just to steal (to save a friend's life), and so on. To all those who may try to decide specific and complicated issues by appealing mechanically to general rules, the fallacy of accident is a genuine and serious threat. The logician H. W. B. Joseph observed that "there is no fallacy more insidious than that of treating a statement which in many connections is not misleading as if it were true always and without qualification."

Accident is the fallacy we commit when we move carelessly or too quickly from a generalization; converse accident is the fallacy we commit when we move carelessly or too quickly to a generalization. We are all familiar with those who draw conclusions about all persons in a given category because of what may be true about one or a few persons in that category; we know, and need to remember, that although a certain drug or food may be harmless in some circumstance it is not therefore harmless in all circumstances. For example: Eating deep-fried foods has a generally adverse impact on one's cholesterol level, but that bad outcome may not arise in some persons. The owner of a "fish and chips" shop in England recently defended the healthfulness of his deep-fried cookery with this argument:

Take my son, Martyn. He's been eating fish and chips his whole life, and he just had a cholesterol test, and his level is below the national average. What better proof could there be than a frier's son!

Converse accident is a kind of fallacious reasoning whose error is plain to everyone once that error has been exposed; yet it may serve as a convenient deception, on which many persons are tempted to rely when they argue inattentively or with great passion.


TOPICS: Education; Miscellaneous; Reference; Science; Society
KEYWORDS: argument; crevolist; fallacies; fallacy; logic; reason; rhetoric
Previous installments:

Part 1 - Introduction and the Argument From Ignorance
Part 2 - the Appeal to Inappropriate Authority
Part 3 - the Argument Ad Hominem
Part 4 - the Appeal to Force and the Appeal to Emotion
Part 5 - the Irrelevant Conclusion
Part 6 - Fallacies of Presumption and the Complex Question
Part 7 - False Cause and Begging the Question

1 posted on 12/31/2003 8:21:01 AM PST by general_re
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To: longshadow; PatrickHenry; Woahhs; P.O.E.; No More Gore Anymore; jigsaw; Snake65; RobFromGa; ...
Part 8. The fallacy of converse accident is also occasionally known as the "hasty generalization".

This closes the discussion of fallacies of presumption. Part 9 will begin the discussion of fallacies of ambiguity with an examination of the fallacy of equivocation.

2 posted on 12/31/2003 8:23:04 AM PST by general_re ("Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith, but in doubt." - Reinhold Niebuhr)
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To: *crevo_list; VadeRetro; jennyp; Junior; longshadow; RadioAstronomer; Physicist; LogicWings; ...
PING. [This ping list is for the evolution side of evolution threads, and sometimes for other science topics. FReepmail me to be added or dropped.]
3 posted on 12/31/2003 8:27:41 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: general_re
It may be that the "No True Scotsman" fallacy is related to this "Accident" fallacy. The mistaken one declares (committing the fallacy of accident): "No Scotsman puts syrup on his haggis." When presented with the example of Angus MacPherson, who always puts syrup on his haggis, the mistaken one should simply recognize that he was wrong. But if he won't, then he compounds his original fallacy, and claims: "[Harrumph!] No true Scotsman puts syrup on his haggis."
4 posted on 12/31/2003 8:47:43 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: PatrickHenry
It may be that the "No True Scotsman" fallacy is related to this "Accident" fallacy. The mistaken one declares (committing the fallacy of accident): "No Scotsman puts syrup on his haggis."

Well, to be an example of the "Accident" Fallacy, there would have to be a preceding line of reasoning (which isn't there): "Andrew, Robert, and Charles are Scotsman; Andrew, Robert, and Charles don't put syrup on their haggis. Therefore, No Scotsman puts syrup on his haggis.....

But in the "No True Scotsman," the assertion is originally made gratuitously, hence it isn't the "Accident Fallacy".

I still believe it's a combination of equivocation ("Scotsman" is quickly redefined as "true Scotsman" to avoid refutation, which is clearly an example of equivocation) and petitio principii (one assumes that no real Scotsman wouls put syrup on his haggis in order to justify the equivocation of who is, or is not, a "Scotsman."

5 posted on 12/31/2003 9:15:26 AM PST by longshadow
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To: PatrickHenry
Thanks for the ping!
6 posted on 12/31/2003 9:24:17 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: longshadow
Well, to be an example of the "Accident" Fallacy, there would have to be a preceding line of reasoning (which isn't there): "Andrew, Robert, and Charles are Scotsman; Andrew, Robert, and Charles don't put syrup on their haggis. Therefore, No Scotsman puts syrup on his haggis.....

Yeah. In my (admittedly sketchy) example I omitted the phrase which is usually understood in all blowhard declarations: "In my experience ..." which would have salvaged the situation; but still, your formulation is more rigorous.

But in the "No True Scotsman," the assertion is originally made gratuitously, hence it isn't the "Accident Fallacy".

No. I think "no true Scotsman" usually asserted as a hasty retreat from the original, all-inclusive claim ("no Scotsman"), once the original claim has been rebutted with a counter-example. Sort of a moving of the goalposts.

I still believe it's a combination of equivocation ("Scotsman" is quickly redefined as "true Scotsman" to avoid refutation, which is clearly an example of equivocation) and petitio principii (one assumes that no real Scotsman woul[d] put syrup on his haggis in order to justify the equivocation of who is, or is not, a "Scotsman."

Continue to contemplate, grasshopper.

7 posted on 12/31/2003 11:32:43 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: general_re
read later
8 posted on 12/31/2003 12:59:42 PM PST by LiteKeeper
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To: general_re
Please consider posting the next installment (and all subseqent threads in this series) in the main forum, and when you do so, click on the "philosophy" topic category. I'm afraid that no one is noticing this stuff here in "Chat." This series is too good to be missed. And I promise not to nag you any more about this.
9 posted on 12/31/2003 1:36:28 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: PatrickHenry
****But in the "No True Scotsman," the assertion is originally made gratuitously, hence it isn't the "Accident Fallacy".****

No. I think "no true Scotsman" usually asserted as a hasty retreat from the original, all-inclusive claim ("no Scotsman"), once the original claim has been rebutted with a counter-example. Sort of a moving of the goalposts.

Allow me to rephrase mu original statement, thusly: "But in the "No True Scotsman," the original assertion [meaning "No scotsman would..."] is originally made gratuitously, hence it isn't the "Accident Fallacy," as it is not asserted as having followed from some general principle.

We are in agreement on the balance of your analysis: it IS "goal post moving" -- which I call a form of equivocation in this instance, one which is rationalized by begging the question of just what a "true Scotsman" would or would not do. Please accept my apologies for the lack of clarity in my previous reply.

10 posted on 12/31/2003 2:02:08 PM PST by longshadow
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To: longshadow
Please accept my apologies for the lack of clarity in my previous reply.

No true participant in the evolution threads would ever apologize for anything. Nor, in this case, is an apology required anyway. We're in agreement, and that's what counts.

11 posted on 12/31/2003 2:16:56 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: general_re
A mathematician examines all numbers up to 99 and clams all numbers are less than 100.

Physicist divides 60 by 1,2,3,4,5,6 and concludes 60 is divisible by all numbers. Then because of shortage of funding, a check of 10,12,15,20,30 is made for confirmation.

An engineer checks, 1 is prime, 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is prime, 11 is prime, 13 is prime and concludes that all numbers are prime (9 must be an experimental error.)

A computer scientist concludes 7 is prime, 7 is prime, 7 is prime, 7 is prime....
12 posted on 12/31/2003 3:25:25 PM PST by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: sauropod
read later.
13 posted on 12/31/2003 3:42:41 PM PST by sauropod (Excellence in Shameless Self-Promotion)
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To: PatrickHenry
No true participant in the evolution threads would ever apologize for anything.

Okay; you're a poopy-head!

;-)

14 posted on 12/31/2003 5:42:20 PM PST by longshadow
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To: longshadow
Okay; you're a poopy-head!

I can't deny it.

15 posted on 12/31/2003 6:35:11 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: PatrickHenry
I think I'll just hang out here awhile and try to absorb all the big words!
16 posted on 12/31/2003 6:40:37 PM PST by LisaMalia (Buckeye Fan since birth!!)
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To: LisaMalia
No guarantee that they're being used correctly.
17 posted on 12/31/2003 6:53:13 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: PatrickHenry
Oh, I'm sure they are.
18 posted on 12/31/2003 6:56:13 PM PST by LisaMalia (Buckeye Fan since birth!!)
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To: PatrickHenry
I just ready your profile. Do I need to sign something to be here...?......:)
19 posted on 12/31/2003 6:58:25 PM PST by LisaMalia (Buckeye Fan since birth!!)
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To: LisaMalia
*read*....so much for the preview option!
20 posted on 12/31/2003 6:59:42 PM PST by LisaMalia (Buckeye Fan since birth!!)
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To: LisaMalia
Do I need to sign something to be here...?.

No. That's a bit obsolete. We had a problem a few months ago with some deranged disruptors, and we were working on a code of conduct to handle it. Ultimately the problem was solved when the worst of them were banned from this website.

21 posted on 12/31/2003 7:02:58 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: PatrickHenry
We had a problem a few months ago with some deranged disruptors,......

"Flaming Blue Tractionless Troll" Memorial Placemarker; dedicated to all the deranged disruptors who have departed FR.

22 posted on 12/31/2003 8:23:50 PM PST by longshadow
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