One way in which learning philosophy is supposed benefit the student is in the ability to tell good reasons from bad. This is a skill that would greatly benefit public discourse. Here is an example from today. Senator Hanson-Young posted the following two tweets this afternoon:
1. Govt has said they will use whatever force is “reasonably necessary” to remove refugees to Nauru. #senate #qt
2. What does “reasonably necessary” force actually mean? Frankly, no force used against refugee children who have fled war is reasonable
The second recieved this response from a facebook user:
“It means the minimum force necessary. Actually, I’m not sure it’s possible to put it any more simply.
Look, the fact that you don’t think refugees should be relocated is a separate issue from trying to figure out what words mean.
I am actually offended by the fact that a national politician stoops to this sort of emotional crap, to be honest. I might use “necessary force” to stop a 5 year old running in front of a truck. The fact that I used “force” against a child doesn’t make me some kind of cruel monster, though.
And the emotional crap thing may explain why the Greens did so badly in the local elections in NSW last weekend.”
First and most obviously this comment contains the kind of emotional manipulation which the user is accusing the Senator of using (I’m offended… doesn’t make me some kind of cruel monster…). In a way that’s hardly surprising, politics, and group identification in general, hardly brings out the best in people.
Looking at the post we do see one attempt at an argument, that being the analogy to using force to stop a child running in front of a truck. This argument is supposed to work by drawing an analogy from one instance where the use of physical force is necessary and moral (the child) to another ambiguous case (the refugees) and suggest that the use of force is also necessary and moral. However, the example is extremely poorly chosen as there are significant disanalogies between the cases. To be fair we should also state the analogies between the scenarios, the two most significant being that:
A1: Force is used
A2: It is used against someone under the care of the user of the force.
It is good that the example shares this feature with the refugee case. However, the disanalogy between the scenarios means that the inference that the force is justified and moral in both cases does not go through. Let us assume (because it is true) that force is justified in the scenario involving the child. The analogy can only work if the reasons justfying force in the child’s case also apply to the refugee scenario. Force is justified in the child’s case by a number of considerations: it is in the childs interests to use force to protect them from some greater harm, the child due to age may not be able to percieve the danger they are in, the user of force is fulfilling a duty of care to the child (and truck driver) and so on. But this is not at all like the refugee case as:
DA1: in the refugee case their welfare is not benefitted by being forcibly moved, nor is it intended to benfit them
DA2: the refugees are not in danger of falling to some greater harm if they are not moved.
DA3: the refugees are fully capable as recognising what is in their own interests
DA4: there is no duty of care which requires that they be moved.
All in all then it is clear that this argument by analogy does not justify the use of force against refugees. What is concerning is that someone, even a single person, apparently thinks it does.
You might think it’s cruel to pick on some guy on the internet like this, but the bigger picture I have in mind here is to consider bad reasoning that people actually do. The agenda is to promote education that trains people how to think.