An Informal Logical Fallacy

There is a discussion about my Restless Heart of Darkness essay here:

One comment I thought unintentionally revealing was this one:

I think it is very ugly.

Its author main contention seems to be that some sort of intrinsic beauty is left behind in a constant stream of new ideas. He briefly mentions these as “natural emotions and passions, honest human sentiments, patriotism, gratitude, appreciation of beauty and everything that makes us human” (paraphrased).

However instead of going into detail about the beauty of these things, the author instead uses his relatively fair control over the English language to go on a misanthropic crusade where it seems like only a wafer-thin veneer of politeness is masking extreme contempt for anything he finds disagreeable.

I can’t shake the feeling that what is thinly veiled by might even be more than mere contempt, and perhaps even dangerously close to hatred.

I found this to be a very disturbing essay. If it is a work of fiction, an imaginary monologue, it is very well done. If it is not I think its author should seek professional help.

Note that when asked about the ideas in the essay, the commenter instead speculates on the mental state of the author, me.

Apparently the reason I am polite is not that I have respect even for those with whom I have deep disagreements, but because secretly, unbeknownst even to me, my heart is filled with malice and madness. Hmm. Does this model indeed fit all the facts in evidence, I wonder?

I submit that my mental state is best apprehended by attending to the words which said mind concocts to express the ideas it contemplates. To that end, allow me to quote myself:

Being without a sense of the objective nature of reality, they are without a belief in objective morals. Being without a belief in objective morals, they lack honor, and, lacking honor, they lack courage, lack decency, lack courtesy.

Hence, their one, sole and only means of discussing their principles in debate is to accuse whomever dares question them of any and every thing they think evil….

(Including mental disorder)

The content of the accusation does not matter, only the relief of being able to accuse, and accuse, and accuse.

I wonder at the gay and blithe unselfawareness, if not hubris, it requires to read an essay describing a error in logic or manners or morals, to disagree sharply with said essay, and, while writing up the disagreement, to commit the selfsame error being denounced, and ergo unintentionally giving weight to the very point one meant to dispute.

I will ask a question, which I mean sincerely: what does it say about a worldview that rests so entirely on one informal logical error that its partisans are never found outside that error?


  1. Comment by gbaker:

    The short answer is that the worldview is fragile. Like so much of what passes for philosophy these days, it presents something of a paradox. The worldview is terribly fragile, subject to the first intrusion of introspection. At the same time, it is impervious to almost any form of assault, be it fact, reality, or rationality, that threatens that worldview. The only requirement is that the person holding the view agrees never to sincerely question their intentions or review the consequences of their actions. I am nowhere as skilled a writer as you, though I have made similar observations in the last few years. The result has been banning from more websites than I can remember and the loss of a few relationships that I thought would be strong throughout my life. As things continue to progress in America, and around the world, one of Christ’s questions resonates ever more loudly: “What does it benefit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” I intend to do my best to not find out.

  2. Comment by Krul:

    Meanwhile the commenter doesn’t even have a “wafer-thin veneer of politeness” to mask her “extreme contempt for anything [she] finds disagreeable”, such as essays that she considers to be “very ugly”. Perhaps she should seek professional help.

    As if it were unhealthy for people to dislike what they dislike. What a foolish comment.

  3. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    Thanks for this series of essays. I specially liked Part Three and am looking forward to Part Four.

    To try to answer your question here, I think that the reason for which the partisans of politically correct nihilism can never argue outside their basic informal logical error is their inversion of evil and good. Since it is nonsense, a defense by rational argument is impossible, hence their exclusive use of logical fallacies, or the avoidance of argument, or the denying of the validity, or possibility, of argument.

    Why this inversion though? Why do nihilists choose despair instead of gratitude, whether or not they have faith in God? I think one commenter had it in a very few words in the Part Two thread: Non serviam or Quis ut Deus? Serviam. This is the choice entailed when we make our “first act of freedom,” that is, our first real personal moral decision, usually at the end of childhood. This can be about a quite small thing, but the moral direction taken then is rather stable. (Cf. Jacques Maritain, The Range of Reason)

  4. Comment by distractedbrony:

    I cannot follow the link at the moment, so I cannot see what specific question this commenter was responding to.

    However, I think the commenter has not said that you are polite because you are malicious, but merely that you are both polite and malicious. (I do not think that you are malicious at all, but, whatever.)

    I also suspect that, for what it’s worth, the author of the comment was making a sincere statement without any conscious intent to slander. That does not excuse him from committing the logical fallacy of irrelevance if, indeed, he was using a personal assessment of your mental state as an argument against your thesis. But, the principle of charity suggests to me that perhaps the commenter simply felt at liberty to make an off-topic comment. In which case he might be guilty of bad manners, but not of a logical fallacy.

    I am not sure whether the generalization over empirical facts you have made (i.e. that there are no nihilists who do not commit the ad hominem fallacy) is either justified by a sufficient empirical basis, or that it would be significant even if it were true. Can anyone, whatever his philosophy, nihilist or Aristotelian, utilitarian or deontologist, swear before God that he has never even inadvertently committed an ad hominem fallacy in word or in thought? Let he who is without intellectual sin, etc.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I also suspect that, for what it’s worth, the author of the comment was making a sincere statement without any conscious intent to slander.

      That is worth nothing. If the commenter was making the sincere statement without any conscious intent to slander that my mother was a whore on the grounds that his honest assessment from the nature of what he’d read was that only the son of a whore would say such a thing, the wide-eyed innocence with which he makes the comment would not save the comment from being vile and unworthy of a man.

      That they have contempt for those of another worldview to the degree that they cannot imagine anyone having another worldview (except, of course, for someone in need of professional help for his severe mental disorder) betrays the insular nature of the worldview. And ‘insular’ is the kindest interpretation I can place on it.

  5. Comment by gbaker:

    I am more of a technical background than literary. I still have some of the reading to catch up on, but I enjoy the description of the progression through the “worlds” as it were. I see what you see in our society, though how such things can become common is a mystery to me. The values system seems inverted. Where once we were taught to enjoy and be thankful for our blessings, and repent and contrite for our sins, the order is now reversed. People are encouraged to be proud of their sins. They make movies and post them for all to see. They march in parades showing their pride whether it’s in their sexual lifestyle or the ability to kill children within the law. At the same time, even many churches hesitate to call for repentance, fearing that they will offend someone.

    On the other end of the scale, we are told not to relish the gifts and abilities that God has given us. We dare not show them, lest others feel bad about themselves in comparison. To go out and achieve is considered selfishness, but to claim the property of others is considered noble and charitable. We live in fear that a casual word may offend someone and call it enlightenment, and restrict the opportunity of millions and call it diversity. I look back to the late 60′s and early 70′s, and I remember thinking that we were just about to get past so much of the old wounds, and then everything seemed to go into reverse.

  6. Comment by Kelly:

    They don’t see the logical fallacy because, in their system of logic, it isn’t a fallacy; it’s a legitimate conclusion, if not an entailed one.

    They aren’t using the left-brained analytic logic that you and I do; they are using unconscious logic, what psychoanalyst Matte Blanco called Bi-logic, the logic of dreams and subjective reality. In this system – and it is one, a more primitive one (though they might claim more primal) – there are no distinctions between parts and wholes, and time flows both directions so that before and after and cause and effect collapse into one another. In this mathematics, the only operations are identity and opposition; something is either A or not-A, and if not-A then anti-A.

    In this more right-brained logic, if the personal is political then the political is also personal; if you have bad or unpleasant or inadmissible ideas then you must be a bad or unpleasant or defective person.

    Further, you can’t be ‘a little bit’ something; a thing is either entirely, or not at all. If you’re an expert, you’re an expert, and so authorities are never questioned or examined, and people with expertise in some specialized niche in the humanities can pontificate on technical or scientific or social issues. And since a part and a whole are the same, all truth must be total, and all true beliefs are (or should be) consensual; it’s simpler, and just as valid, to look for the consensus as look at the facts. And it’s illogical for theory and practice to be other than trivially different.

    Analytic logic is an acquired skill, like a trained muscle; if you’re not used to using it, it hurts – and you’re likely not very good at it. And good people, with high self-esteem, don’t do things that hurt themselves or others. Only bad people do that.

  7. Comment by Stephen J.:

    I think it may not be so much a logical fallacy as a basic axiomatic dichotomy.

    You note, “Apparently the reason I am polite is not that I have respect even for those with whom I have deep disagreements, but because secretly, unbeknownst even to me, my heart is filled with malice and madness.” But the problem here is that, at least on some of the topics discussed here in this blog, it is not considered honestly possible to disagree on those topics and yet simultaneously still be considered to “respect” the people with whom or about whom one is disagreeing. The simple fact that you are disagreeing is in itself a demonstration of malice, and therefore no amount of respectful speech conveying the expression of that disagreement can obscure or negate the basic disrespect, contempt and hatred of the disagreement itself. Indeed, the more a listener is convinced of the underlying truth of a speaker’s contempt for him, then the more formally respectful the speech tries to be, the more mockingly disrespectful it will come across as. (People like to blame this effect on the Internet’s lack of supporting visual and tonal cues, but the truth is the ‘Net only aggravates that problem — people can still suffer that mutual incomprehension even face to face.)

    The axiomatic issue here is: can one disrespect a belief without disrespecting the believer, or condemn an action without condemning the actor? Can one call an opinion foolish without necessarily stating that all those who hold that opinion are fools? Can one, in short, actually hate a sin and still love those sinners who habitually commit it, or even those sinners who do not think it a sin at all? If one does not believe this possible, then all protestations of respect will seem no more than hollow at best and mocking at worst; and even if one does, it is far too human a reaction to count how somebody criticizes us as far more “true” an indication of their feelings than how one praises us, even if the praise far outweighs the harsh words.

    • Comment by gbaker:

      As one with two daughters, I have no trouble believing that it is possible to hate a sin while loving the one who commits the sin. What I do imperfectly, I am sure God does much better. I also believe there was a time not long ago when people were less fragile and a good deal more could accept that truth. Of course, this was before such a great emphasis was placed on “building esteem” in schools as opposed to building knowledge. I believe the continuing trend of witholding criticism toward the young has produced a generation now barely able to comprehend it, much less respond to it as constructive. Combine that with a set of public figures more than willing to excuse such behavior, and other behaviors, on the whatever grounds are at hand and you set the stage where any comment not completely positive and accepting is considered a vicious attack.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      it is not considered honestly possible to disagree on those topics and yet simultaneously still be considered to “respect” the people with whom or about whom one is disagreeing

      This is not an axiom, but an emotion. The emotion is fanaticism, the passion of a true believer. It is utterly illegitimate. It is craven attempt to halt the process of honest inquiry, impose censorship, chill honest debate, and lie and lie and lie.

      I do not doubt you have identified with the precision of a doctor performing an autopsy the thoughts in a dying mind as it shuts down its critical facilities, shut down honest speculation, and never asks another question again. I cannot believe you or anyone honestly thinks this is a real philosophy, an honest worldview, and not a set of lies, rationalizations, and excuses to hate those who disagree with the True Believer.

      The axiomatic issue here is: can one disrespect a belief without disrespecting the believer, or condemn an action without condemning the actor? Can one call an opinion foolish without necessarily stating that all those who hold that opinion are fools? Can one, in short, actually hate a sin and still love those sinners who habitually commit it, or even those sinners who do not think it a sin at all? If one does not believe this possible, then ….

      … then one is utterly evil. The only unforgivable sin is never to seek forgiveness. The only utterly dishonest philosophy is one that says honesty is not possible.

      To believe that all disagreement is a sign of diabolical hatred is the same as to believe no honest thought, debate, contemplation or reasoning on the topic is possible. The topic, whatever it is, is sacred and to question it is blasphemy, and unforgivable. This is the same at to believe that all men outside one’s narrow political cult without exception are damned devils.

      If one believes, honestly believes, that all men outside one’s narrow political cult without exception are damned devils, then one becomes as close as it is possible to be to a devil oneself — because one throws aside reason, and hope of reason, and debate, and discussion, and human sympathy, and love, and all the faculties and passions that makes men human.

      So, no, in nowise is this merely an axiomatic difference of some honest philosophy that just so happens innocently to come to a conclusion different from that of sane men. This is a fanaticism that accuses everyone else of fanaticism, even people like me, who were once members of the cult and were talked — I said talked, not propagandized and not tricked and not brainwashed, talked by simple step-by-step logical questions and answers — talked into changing my mind.

      Now they cannot believe that I was talked out of being a libertarian and faithful partisan of the sexual revolution, because obviously all conservatives are damned devils, filled with hatred and bigotry and thisism and thatism and mad as hatters, and yet no one has ever heard of anyone being reasoned into damnation and insanity, has he? So the fact that I was talked out of my loyalty to these ideas has to be blanked out. It is a fact that does not fit the narrative. The axiom — as you so inaccurately call it — of the perfection of the Elect and the damnability of the Reprobate does not allow for that fact, ergo it does not exist. My courtesy does not fit the narrative, so it does not exist, and it is replaced with something else, an explanation to save the appearances: it is false courtesy. My attitudes and emotions do not fit the narrative, so they do not exist. Likewise they are replaced with something else, an explanation to save the appearances: I am motivated by hate which has overthrown my reason, not motivated by a dispassionate and clinical concern for truth. My personality does not fit the narrative. My existence does not fit the narrative.

      I am in good company. Most of the facts of Western History do not fit the narrative, and so do not exist. Most of the universe does not fit the narrative, most of life does not fit the narrative, all of God does not fit the narrative. Do you see what the True Believer has to give up in order to cling to his shrinking raft of unquestionable political slogans he uses instead of critical thought?

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        “I do not doubt you have identified… the thoughts in a dying mind as it shuts down its critical facilities, shut down honest speculation, and never asks another question again. I cannot believe you or anyone honestly thinks this is a real philosophy, an honest worldview, and not a set of lies, rationalizations, and excuses….”

        I don’t think it’s a real philosophy or honest worldview; I do believe it’s as close as some people can come if they are simply never given full or complete information, or taught to distrust key sources of information, before they can acquire the skills of critical thought needed to so speculate at all. It is, perhaps, a pre-axiomatic difference, if there can be a level even below that of axioms; in hindsight, you are right that I used the wrong word, but I knew of no term that went as deep as I meant.

        And much as I agree on the fundamental destructiveness of fanaticism of any variety, like all evils it only has its power because of the good on which it parasites: that mutual loyalty, friendship, affection and support that is one of the great carrot-rewards of all communities of belief — and the withdrawal of which is all too often one of the harshest sticks/punishments, to those who dare question in the way being here called for. It is cowardice to forsake Truth for Love, but those who have lost Love because of someone else’s opinions about Truth can find it very hard to see things that way.

        In the end, for the True Believer, I think it is not so much an issue of what he thinks he has to give up to keep his faith but what he fears he would give up if he abandoned it. (I am, myself, perhaps more sympathetic to this perspective because I understand the feeling that “if I let this go, I have nothing” — that very much describes my own feeling about my faith and the Church.) It can be awfully tempting to prefer a tragic narrative in which you are the hero to a comedic narrative in which you are Extra #2 / Man Who Gets Hit With Pie In Face, even if the latter has a happier ending — especially if nobody ever taught you to value laughter enough so as not to mind being the butt of the joke.

  8. Comment by sparrow:

    This comment makes your point well. I may be too cynical but I expect that most people who disagree with my Catholic worldview reflexively judge me either evil stupid or crazy. Now I might be all three , but it’s irrelevant. The substance of argument is separate from the character of the messenger and this is rarely seriously addressed. It’s a defensive technique that might be heartfelt but is still intrinsically flawed because it is incapable of correction. It’s easy to fall into this trap ourselves, by judging those who reject faith. That’s one of the reasons why your posts are so valuable; they point out the flaws charitably. So we pity those dragged down to despair by their beliefs, rather than merely castigate them (which is too easy as well as pointless).

  9. Comment by meunke:

    There is no mystery here as to why he responded thusly.

    Have any of you ever tried to debate with someone who believes in the Chemtrail conspiracy, or a 9/11 Truther?

    You can’t. There is no debate. If you will not accept their explanations at face value, you are treated as either a gullible fool, a liar, or a conspirator yourself.

    Same sort of thing as far as I can see. It is because they are either insane or so much of their personal identity is wrapped up in the chosen conspiracy that examining it rationally would be akin to cutting off their breath.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I agree there is no mystery here as to why he responded thusly. The real mystery is how and when did a frame of mind as absurd and loony-tuney-fruitlooperiffic as a Chemtrail conspiracy or a 9/11 Truther come to be the dominant paradigm of the Press and the Democrat Party (but I repeat myself) and the default assumption of thought behind every major institution in our society, from Hollywood to the Business World to Academia, to Town Hall to the Courts of Law — every institution, in fact, except the Church?

      • Comment by meunke:

        Because when you reject Truth, you go insane?

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        A couple of historical events suggest themselves (if I am not being too humourlessly literal about things), none of which will surprise anyone but which might be interesting when seen collected together:

        - The New Deal, which convinced a number of people not only that large-scale government economic intervention was morally obligatory but that it could be reliably and practically effective;
        - The Lambeth Conference, the Sexual Revolution and the Pill, which dismaying numbers of us (Christians and Catholics too) bought into as a viable basis for all relationship commitments, i.e. that they should be evaluated solely on how beneficial we find them and freely abandoned if they become unsatisfactory;
        - The Baby Boomers’ counterculture, where the standard generational reaction against predecessors was boosted by unprecedented personal luxury and freedom as well as unprecedentedly powerful and cheap mass media distribution;
        - The Vietnam War, which enshrined the self-deluded image of the Press as sober objective reporters of facts, and which proved to America and the world that (to quote blogger Neo-Neocon) all that was needed to beat America, and by extension any Western democracy, in an armed conflict was to turn domestic public opinion against that conflict;
        - Watergate, which enshrined the image (both self- and public) of the Press as noble government watchdog and exposer of corruption;
        - The scandals among both the Catholic priesthood and several major Protestant televangelists, which catastrophically tarnished public faith and credit in Christian beliefs in general;
        - The 2000 American Presidential election, which an astonishing number of leftists still believe was stolen by the Supreme Court;
        - 9/11, the Iraq War and the War on Terror, which had enough poor decisions by both factions for both sides to find fodder for further polarization.

        Stephen King once wrote that conspiracy theory paranoia was actually the last struggle of a mind to be rational: to say, “Something is going on here! These things do not just happen!” And one of the fundamental and most appealing elements of the mindset is the conviction that something can always be done about things; that Evil never has to be accepted as ineradicable, save at the cost of a greater Evil, and therefore forgiveness need never be required either. The American psyche has always resonated with such Miltonian defiance, I think, and that is a large part of why it has become so prevalent.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          I think you have correctly identified the major events which allowed the nihilist philosophy to prevail. The philosophy itself springs out of the Kant’s inability to refute Hume’s intense skepticism. Materialism, which had a more secure epistemology than metaphysics, eclipsed philosophy. His epigones, particularly Hegel, attempted to form a rational view of the universe without any supernatural elements; and his epigones in turn, Marx and Logical Positivists, attempted philosophy without any metaphysics. And then Sartre and Nietzsche attempted to form a view of the universe without the rational elements. And basically philosophy turned into antiphilosophy, an arrant rejection of moral norms, rational laws, objective reality, coherent knowledge, and so on.

          • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

            Very interesting and well said.

            I would very much like if you would expand a little on the word “secure” in the following assessment: “Materialism, which had a more secure epistemology than metaphysics, eclipsed philosophy.” What exactly do you mean with this qualifying term? In what is materialism epistemology “secure”?

            I am under the impression, from what I read in Maritain (again!), that the epistemology of Hegel and Marx is weak mostly because their philosophies are truncated. Hegel replaced metaphysics with dialectic, which is only a tool in logic, used to form an opinion. Maritain repeated time and again that dialectic is of no use to arrive at real knowledge. Only classic metaphysical demonstrations using proper axioms and syllogisms can lay the foundations of a sound epistemology of the different types of knowledge and the way to acquire them.

            I understand Hegel kept the appearance of metaphysics in his philosophy, but completely reversed: his philosophy was “waltzing on its head,” said Maritain. He added that Marx put it back on its feet with an apparently down to earth materialism, while giving it the appeal of some explicit Christian values. But Marx’s epistemology is still only dialectic. Maritain also said of every modern and fallacious philosophy that its underlying metaphysics is a “shameful” one: it is only implied. It is never stated, of course, because the edifice crumbles instantly under analysis with the proper tools.

            (cf. Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge and Moral Philosophy)

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              What exactly do you mean with this qualifying term? In what way is materialism epistemology “secure”?

              The epistemology of the physical sciences settles disputes by means of experimentation, or by means of appeal to a few elegant principles, such as Occam’s razor. Metaphysics requires more erudite and abstraction thought, and is not open to confirmation by the senses. Human beings are much more able to deny an obvious thought than to deny an obvious sight, if you take my meaning.

              Hegel denies fixed categories; Marx denies fixed human nature. Both are early stages of the decay of Metaphysical reasoning. Maritain is right about them.

        • Comment by luckymarty:

          Stephen, do you have a blog of your own? And if not, why not? This isn’t the first comment you’ve posted around these parts that would make an excellent post of its own.

          • Comment by Stephen J.:

            My thanks for the kind words, but as a reflexively argumentative sort I usually can only think of halfway sensible things to say when I’m reading other blogs and commenting to them; I don’t have the kind of independent inspiration, knowledge, time, and dedication real bloggers need to be successful.

            I’m also extremely thin-skinned emotionally, so I would most likely not be able to stick to a posting schedule in the face of the inevitable negative feedback — I’ve never had the ability most people seem to possess of shrugging off hostile words simply because they come from an anonymous or pseudonymous stranger. And it would be worse if it came from someone I knew; I periodically have to disengage from Facebook simply because it’s too unpleasant to be reminded just how much I differ from most of my friends and family, politically and philosophically.

            But, as I say, the kind words are much appreciated nonetheless.

  10. Comment by Centurion13:

    I shouldn’t let it bother you, Mister Wright. Poker forums don’t exactly attract the best of the best. Most of the remaining comments in that thread were casually dismissive. Really, one of the posters complained that there were too many words! Another responded with a snarky ‘Cliff’s Notes’ that was itself a put-down of your article without one tiny bit of evidence, rejoinder, etc.

    All they seem to have on that particular forum is flippancy. None of them appears to be clever or smart enough to make the actual joke anymore.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      It does not bother me, personally. But I used to be an atheist: these modern atheists are a disgrace to the forces of evil. They have lost the ability to argue. Instead they have an emotional reaction to something, but without ability to tell whether the emotional reaction is sane (logical, fit, proportionate, suited, appropriate to reality) or neurotic (illogical, unfit, disproportionate, unsuited, inappropriate to reality); they then attribute that emotional reaction to the person expressing the opposing opinion, and are herded by their emotions to imagining all fashion of unspeakable and diabolic evil seething in the secret hearts of the opponent (what psychiatrists call projection.)

  11. Comment by CombatMissionary:

    Perhaps this is an intrusion into your discussion, and if so, I beg forgiveness. However, I believe the viewpoints of a Noncommissioned Officer (a Staff Sergeant) who’s a combat veteran can give some insight into something germane to the discussion.
    You’re discussing philosophy. Some of it is over my head, as I am not a philosopher. However, when you talk about why we’ve arrived at this point in society in which we are a more polarized nation than at any point in our history, save perhaps the Civil War or the Revolution, philosophy is not the proper tool.

    While I lack evidence, my gut tells me that the root of the problem is that the Leftists have had success via their organized branches of militant feminists (as opposed to suffragettes), militant minority radicals, organized labor (particularly the teachers’ unions), the courts, the press, and, of course, in the halls of Congress and the Presidency. Mr. Wright made the observation above that these organizations were dominated by froot-loops (or at least froot-loopey thinkers). This is the natural result of dumbing down educational requirements, eliminating civics, eliminating any fixed morality, eliminating hard thought, and attacking the religious while elevating hedonism and self-esteem as the apex of human experience. In such an environment, only the most dogged of the faithful and the most dedicated of intellectuals could flourish. THIS is why we’re polarized now, and why even many conservatives rarely rise above emotional reactions in their intercourse. Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ is coming to pass before our very eyes; the only salvation we may have is that 1) the internet allows people to associate with like-minded individuals, and 2) it would seem that the Leftists are aborting themselves out of existence.

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