Thursday, December 29, 2011

Part 1 (b): Style and treatment - Humbug! 2nd Edition

The writing style of Humbug! is not disinterested and scholarly, it is deliberately assertive, "over the top" and declamatory. We frequently resort to the use of irony, overstatement and over-simplification in order to emphasize salient features of the fallacy under consideration. For this reason we will no doubt cause offence to most readers at some point. So be it. (It should be noted, besides the real examples, none of the scenarios described or characters sketched or depicted in this book are based on actual persons or real institutions.) For each fallacy, there is a cartoon which relates directly or indirectly to that fallacy. The cartoon should not be regarded as part of the substantive commentary on the fallacy. It is provided as light relief, and it may also function as an aide memoire and serve to prompt recall of the specific flaw.

The goal of the critical thinker is not to "win" an argument at all costs, but to "seek the truth". In this book, the skeptic or critical thinker is described variously as a detached enquirer, a doubter, a reasonable person, a dedicated debunker. All these labels are appropriate in the specific context described. However the commonest alternate label for critical thinker or skeptic used throughout the book is "seeker after truth". This seemingly long-winded usage is quite deliberate. A person claiming to know the Truth about any issue invites endless and unresolved controversy when engaged in argument or debate. A seeker after truth on the other hand, is one who believes that reasoned enquiry can move a debate forward towards a better understanding of an issue. While Ultimate Truth on many issues may be unknowable, we can at least move forward from egregious ignorance and error by using skilled, dispassionate, disinterested reasoning.

In this book we use the generic descriptor "the advocate" to label the proponent who engages in fallacious reasoning. This descriptor is often qualified with an appropriate adjective which captures the type of fallacy put forward by the advocate. Thus we have deceitful advocates, deluded advocates, devious advocates, ignorant advocates, superficial advocates, arrogant advocates, pompous advocates, stupid advocates and so on. Note that according to us, we should not use such terms to denigrate individuals (see Ad Hominem). However we decided to use these abusive terms anyway in order to demonstrate that we are at times capable of breathtaking hypocrisy.

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