What’s Logic Got to Do, Got to Do With It?

What’s logic but a second-hand consideration? In this post, Bridget Welch explains that understanding logic should be central to forming opinions, theories, and research methods.

My adorable son, whom I’ve introduced before, is now in the stage where he is fascinated by cause and effect. He turns the light switch off, then flicks it on, smiling like he invented the world when there is light. He plays peek-a-boo over and over and over again just to see the faux-surprise look on my face. Slowly he is learning that causes have consequences.

This is the basis of theorizing. We are interested in creating a set of ideas that explain how, when, and/or why a particular outcome occurs. Generally, what this will consist of is a statement of relationships that take the form of something you may be familiar with … the transitive property.

Remember this from high school? If A = B, and B = C, then A = C? In theory, it is frequently: If A -> B, and B -> C, then A -> C. Take for example this mini theory about Fast & Furious presented by Colbert:

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Let’s bust out some of our critiquing skills to analyze the logic of these politicians and media pundits:

First, we give Mexicans’ American guns through this Fast & Furious program (A)  -> Then Mexicans drug runners use the American guns in crime (B)

If the Mexicans drug runners use American guns in crime (B) -> Then Americans will conclude American guns are too easy to obtain (C)

And then finally, if Americans conclude American guns are too easy to obtain (C) -> Then Obama will use this to justify extreme anti-gun legislation (D)

Seductive, isn’t it?

In logic, anything that goes before in a logic claim can form the basis for a logical hypotheses. As such, each above statement is a hypothesis. But so too could be B -> D, A ->C, and most importantly here, A -> D.

It is this A -> D, or:

If we give Mexicans’ American guns through this Fast & Furious program (A)  -> Then Obama will use this to justify extreme anti-gun legislation (D)

Sociologists would then take each of these hypotheses and examine if there is a causal relationship (meaning does the evidence show that A -> D). Determining causal relationships is important when conducting research. In order for there to be a causal relationship, it has to meet three criteria.

1. The cause must correlate with the effect.

This means that each of the causes and effects have to move together (increase together or decrease together). And, this has to be true for the entire logic train. Evidence indicates this is not the case.

First, the idea that the ATF gave guns to Mexican drug runners (A -> B) is actually really problematic as a recent CNN report revealed. Second, as Colbert points out, Obama has not actually moved against gun ownership, contrary to the long history of  people assuming he is going to have an anti-gun agenda (making C->D questionable).  Already we have a problem with the logic chain. But let’s continue on.

2. The cause must happen before the effect.

Well this is where the whole argument actually turns from logic to the brain candy born of syphilitic madness. These pundits are not arguing that A -> D, what they are really saying is that Obama always wanted to justify extreme anti-gun legislation (D), and therefor he implemented the Fast & Furious program (A). They are thus trying to use the above logic to say that D -> A.

This is what is referred to as a fallacy. A fallacy occurs when the logic detailed is not legitimate. Specifically, this argument is fallacious (not phallic! — that means something else entirely) because it reverses cause and effect. It is called “argument from final consequences.” Want another example? Watch Law & Order (or 1 of the other 5 trillion police investigation shows)?

Andrea is murdered (A) -> Her life insurance pays out (B)

Her life insurance pays out (B) -> Her husband Jim gets millions (C)

Therefore A ->C.

Argument from final consequences would say that Jim killed Andrea in order to get those millions (C -> A). While it may be the case, it may also be untrue! It certainly is not enough to prove murder in a court of law (it’s even called circumstantial evidence). And, in the case of Fast & Furious, the logic is even more convoluted. In the murder case, at least there was the outcome (millions were gotten). The talking heads of Fast & Furious are basically creating a conspiracy theory about something that hasn’t even happened yet (and may never!). Further, the idea that Obama wanted to make anti-gun laws so started the Fast & Furious program is even more logically flawed because BUSH started the program!

3. You must rule out alternative explanations.

All of this being said, if were to win a second term and to attempt to tighten gun legislation, this argument would have to find evidence that it was the Fast & the Furious program that lead to this decision. The rates of gun use in murder could be reason enough on its own. Heck, 190 nations are meeting now to try to restrict gun flows across borders. Perhaps international feelings could result in Obama changing his mind? Any of these things could cause him to act. With what level of certainty could these pundits truly argue it was Fast & Furious and not one of these other factors?

A little bit of logic goes a long way to understanding the credibility of any argument. This doesn’t all mean that Fast & Furious wasn’t a HORRIBLE idea. What is does mean is that the argument that Obama put it into place to enact some kind of voodoo change on gun rights is down right questionable. It should also make you wonder about the credibility of the type of person who would attempt to convince you in this crazy way.

Dig Deeper

1. Another logic rule is: If A = B, then ~A = ~B (~ means not). Watch this video from the same episode of Colbert. Write out the logic map for all three arguments made by Joe the Plumber and his campaign manager.

2. Review this list of logical fallacies. Which logical fallacies did the Joe the Plumber video make? Explain.

3. One of the most common fallacies that sociologists create in their own research is “confusing association with causation.” What is this fallacy? How is this cartoon making fun of this fallacy?

4. Go to this free online course about fallacies. Select one type of fallacy. Watch the video. Explain what the fallacy is and give an example that is not included in the film.