Monday, August 23, 2010

Argumentum ad baculum

Argumentum ad baculum: literally 'argument to the stick' or as we say 'appeal to force'. Wikipedia gives an odd example in its article here, claiming it is not fallacious.

If you drive while drunk, you will be put in jail.
You want to avoid going to jail.
Therefore you should not drive while drunk.

Surely it is fallacious? If you want to avoid going to jail, then it probably follows that you want to avoid driving while drunk (assuming that you know the consequences of driving drunk, and that you are rational enough to not want anything that is a consequence of what you don't want). But it doesn't follow that you shouldn't drive when drunk. 'Should not' or 'ought not' expresses a moral conclusion. This does not follow from any psychological assumption such as wanting or desiring. Now, the following version of the argument is probably valid

If you drive while drunk, you will be put in jail.
You should not be put in jail
Therefore you should not drive while drunk.

But that is different, because the second premiss contains an explicit moral judgment. I say it is 'probably' valid, because it relies on the assumption that if B is a consequence of A, and if you should not do B, then you should not do A. Which could be questioned.

As for the rest of the article, it made no sense at all. Many things in Wikipedia are well done. What is it about philosophy and logic that Wikipedia finds so hard?


AC said...

"What is it about philosophy and logic that" - a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit - "finds so hard"?

You were, um, expecting... what?

Edward Ockham said...

Well, Wikipedia doesn't have a problem with many subjects - it is fairly good on mathematical logic, mathematics and the hard sciences. It's still a puzzle for me why philosophy is *quite* so bad.

AC said...

Given the nature of Wikipedia, we can only meaningfully speak about the accuracy of it's content in the mean, right?

After all, what content may be quite accurate today may not be tomorrow.

Wikipedia is a fascinating experiment as far as I'm concerned.

I've contributed somewhat in the field of my expertise (Electrical Engineering and Physics) but have discovered the raw reality which is that contributions, in general, have a short shelf life.

However, there is value in Wikipedia. I find the content of the discussion pages as, and maybe more, informative than the article pages.

Of course, if you try contributing to Wikipedia with the mistaken illusion that you're going "fix" a broken article, you *will* come away bitter.

Wikipedia doesn't work that way and some just don't 'get' that.

I don't contribute much anymore but I do occasionally check my "watch list" and fix the occasional vandalism or good faith nonsense.

Every once in a while though, I get involved in a major edit and/or edit discussion and have never failed to come away the better for it.

For that, I'm grateful for the Wikipedia experiment.

Edward Ockham said...

AC, apologies your last comment ended up in the spam filter.