Yet Another Bad Argument

For those of you not on Facebook, this image and others like have been making the rounds for the past couple of weeks.

It proves several things, at least to me:

  1. People are less and less interested in logical argumentation than they are in soundbites.
  2. The public is clearly unable to spot logical fallacies.

To be perfectly frank, this sort of argumentation doesn’t impress me one whit. It doesn’t serve to move the current debate over the definition of marriage forward at all, because it can’t answer some truly basic questions. First, at what point was marriage defined as “selling your daughter for three goats and a cow”? Where can I find documentation of said definition?

Furthermore, the number of fallacious categories it falls into are actually pretty stunning. It is a case of chronological snobbery, non sequitur. There are elements of both in just one sentence!

The statement is guilty of chronological snobbery in that the argument can be reduced to,

  1. It is argued that X,
  2. X is an old argument, dating back to the time when people believed Y.
  3. Y is clearly false,
  4. therefore X is false as well.

In this case, X represents arguments against so-called gay marriage, and Y represents selling your daughter for farm animals.

It is also guilty of being a non sequitur in that it doesn’t follow that we have redefined marriage because you cannot sell your daughters for farm animals. It has not been proven that selling your daughter for farm animals was ever, in fact, a definitional part of marriage. There is simply no logical connection between “selling your daughter for three goats and a cow” and “marriage”.

Yet again, don’t be fooled by bad argumentation. There is plenty of it out there (on both sides of the issue), and it’s easy to think that they “gotcha” element of some of these statements means you’ve won the argument, when all it has done is expose less than rigorous thinking.

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6 thoughts on “Yet Another Bad Argument

  1. To continue in the same vain as the author I think a critical examination of his own analysis is due. No attempt is made by the text to constitute a rigorous logical proof, it is a rhetorical argument, successfully made, I might add.

    What is attempted is to argue against variants of the position that the institution of marriage hasn’t changed, that it has an eternal essence, that there is only one definition of marriage. And in this they are quite correct. You show no genuine attempt at understanding when you ask to see where one included “selling your daughter…” in the definition of marriage.

    No one has seriously claimed this, not here, not anywhere. The argument is written in this way for rhetorical effect. And its greatest rhetorical effect comes from its basic correctness. It alludes to that the inclusion of a dowry (where goats and cows were sometimes included) paid by the parents (usually of the bride) was and still is a common custom in several cultures. Legal definitions of marriage have included the necessity of such a gift, thus rendering it a part of the institution of marriage as such. Since such a practice is no longer dominant in Western cultures, as it was, it is therefore correct to say that the definition of marriage has changed.

    Marriage is not an institution that has endured throughout the ages in the same format, it has changed and continues to change.

    When you are criticizing people for not being attentive enough it surprises me that your analysis makes no sense at all if scrutinized properly.
    1) Your analysis makes far too much out of a small point. No attempt is made here to prove that the opponents of gay marriage has got it all wrong, the only think attempted is to challenge the argument that there is an enduring essence to marriage.
    2) No attempt is made to criticise old positions as wrong. What is pointed out is that the way one has understood marriage has changed, nothing more.
    2) Even if one were to accept the scope of your analysis it is strange to think of this in terms of the categories true and false. The more obvious categories would be right or wrong.
    2) Your definition of X in this analysis does not make much sense. Do you mean that “so-called gay marriage” exists, or that it is wrong?

    And while am at it, you are linking to the wrong wikipedia page…

  2. Some thoughts on marriage.

    1. A marriage – in its most pure form – is an agreement, a contract, a pledge (etc) between two people.
    2. They can define and negotiate this contract (or have others negotiate and define it for them) as they see fit.
    3. Marriage in relation to the state only matters because of its legal ramifications
    4. These legal ramifications only exist because the state has a monopoly on defining and controlling the legal system, which it defines/ enforces through coercion and violence (AKA law)
    5. Laws are opinions held by government which it imposes onto society and enforces through the threat or use of violence (fines, imprisonment etc)
    6. Therefore a ‘law’ is an opinion with a gun (as distinct from contracts which we may choose to enter into and be bound by)
    7. Putting any religious belief aside, a marriage in a statist society is a contract between three parties: husband, wife and the state.
    8. Governments like to gain support by offering bribes to as many different sections of the voting public as possible.
    9. Recognising gay marriage can be thought of as a type of bribe. An attempt to pander to the desires of gay people to have the government recognise their contracts, while not infuriating the voters who are against gay marriage.

    10. Is it perhaps time we allowed each other to define our own contracts – including those relating to marriage – without needing to beg a third party violent monopoly called ‘government’ for permission?

    • You might have a point were it not for the legitimate state interests in adjudicating, upon the deaths of one or more parties to a purely contractual marriage, such probate issues as the distribution of estates, settling of debts, and the assignation of care of dependents (minor children & etc.). The civil court system has enough to do resolving two-party marriages. Additional parties add exponential complexity to probate cases.

    • Very well.

      Why the ‘next to kin only’ on the policy in hospitals never got changed. That could save us a lot trouble. I can’t imagine one can’t create the same safety contracts with another individual without being married to them.

  3. Exodus 21:7-11 clearly sets forth the terms of selling one’s daughters into marriage. That same passage also offers some insight into traditional Biblical polygamy. Even in the most generous interpretation, the Bible is ambiguous on the concept of one man-one woman marriage.

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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