paralogism

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Paralogism for the month of June, 2011

Each month I will post my favorite paralogism from the previous month. I usually find these when reading articles about politics or religion. Maybe that’s why you’re not supposed to discuss those things at family gatherings.

The NY Times ran an article exploring the idea that human reasoning is nothing more than a weapon for winning arguments. The title goes so far as to say, “Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth.”

Aside from the irony of the ensuing debate, the paralogism in this purportedly legitimate news story is simple:

Mr. Sperber wanted to figure out why people persisted in picking out evidence that supported their views and ignored the rest—what is known as confirmation bias—leading them to hold on to a belief doggedly in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

Like all paralogisms, at face value, this one seems logical. After all, if employing reason implies employing confirmation bias, then it makes sense reason would be a weapon for winning, and not a method for discovering truth.

But reason is:

…the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Thus, confirmation bias, while a very real and common practice (see said article or any episode of the View), is not an implicit part of reasoning. In fact, quite the opposite–confirmation bias is a refusal to employ reason.