Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning

By Douglas N. Walton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
IGNORING QUALIFICATIONS

In the experience of teaching courses on informal logic and argumentation, one finds that the fault of being overly rigid and absolutistic in thinking, of being too insensitive to the defeasible nature of much ordinary reasoning, is an important type of error. In a critical discussion, it is important for an arguer to be open to refutation, to admitting his or her argument was wrong, should convincing evidence be brought forward by the opposing side. It would be nice to have a name for this general type of failure in argument, and for the subfallacies or special failures that come under it. It is a fault that can occur in connection with all of the argumentation schemes identified in chapter three.

The idea of neglecting qualifications, or legitimate exceptions to a plausible generalization in a particular case, is a clear and simple kind of failure that covers this gap. It is quite clear to students, from their personal experience, at least in general, what kind of error this is.1

On some accounts, the traditional informal fallacy of secundum quid (originally from the Aristotelian fallacy para to pe, meaning "in a certain respect")2 fits this bill, referring to the fault of not paying attention to qualifications that would invalidate the use of a general proposition in a particular case. For example, in the Dictionary of Philosophy ( Runes, 1964) we find:

Secundum quid: (Lat.) Relatively, in some respect, in a qualified sense; contrasted with simpliciter, absolutely.--V.J.B.

Secundum quid, or more fully, a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid, is any fallacy arising from the use of a general proposition without attention to tacit qualifications which would invalidate the use made of it. A.C. (p. 287)

So far, so good. But the problem comes in when we consult the logic textbooks, and see this type of error mixed in with a lot of other kinds of logical errors and faults of various kinds, under the heading of accident, hasty generalization, converse accident, leaping to a conclusion, and so forth.3 The textbooks not only disagree with each other, showing a great proliferation of terms and classifications, but they introduce abstract terms like essence and accident that sound not only obscure, but also bizarre and antiquated to current students.

____________________
1
Generally, the goal of instruction in informal logic should be to use, and at the same time, improve on the already existing skills of the students in argumentation, by helping them to "look twice" at arguments that should be open to critical questioning.
2
Hamblin ( 1970, p. 28).
3
Hamblin ( 1970, pp. 28-31, 45-47).

-133-

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Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Lea Titles in Argumentation ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - Presumptive Reasoning 17
  • Chapter Three - the Argumentation Schemes 46
  • Chapter Four - Argument from Ignorance 111
  • Concluding Remarks 131
  • Chapter Five - Ignoring Qualifications 133
  • Chapter Six - Argument from Consequences 168
  • Author Index 212
  • Subject Index 214
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