When arguments from analogy aren’t arguments from analogy; Or bad reasoning in the real world part 6

In light of Minister Conroy’s proposed new media laws we all got to see this great front page from the daily telegraph:

images_article_2013_03_13_Daily-Telegraph-Front-Page 4569440-16x9-940x529

Now as we know it’s typically hard to distill an argument from political opinion pieces, but here (surprisingly) is an argument. The argument goes like this:

P1. Conroy displays an essential feature of being a fascist – i.e. wanting to control the media.

P2. By showing this property he can be classed as a fascist.

C: By analogy he likely shares other properties of being a fascist.

This is indeed a disturbing conclusion, but it is easily challenged by attacking P1, are the proposed changes really that much like the laws under Kim? There are, of course numerous other ways in which we might challenge this or any other argument from analogy, and it may be possible to defend it from specific attacks.

What defenders of the analogy can’t do, however, is both defend the analogy and deny it at the same time. Well obviously! Who would do such a thing?

Well the answer is Piers Ackerman on ABC’s the Insiders this morning. The video is available here. Unfortunately the typed transcript isn’t up yet for me to quote from, I’ll link to it when it is.

So what do we see here from Ackerman? First is a return to the fascist analogy, with specific reference to the DDR, but then, in a response to challenges a denial of the analogy. The challenges, although glibly phrased, are interesting. The initial analogy itself is derided as an overreaction and the link to “murderous despots” described as silly. These objections can be read in two ways, first as the kind of challenge suggested above- the changes just aren’t that big-most likely in the form of the overreaction challenge, or second, as the presentation of a dis-analogy, regardless of the nature of the proposed media laws Conroy doesn’t show the other essential feature of being a fascist, namely murdering people, so contra P2 he can’t be classed as a fascist after all.

There are a number of plausible responses here (like giving up the analogy…), but Ackerman’s responses truly baffling. He says “I’m talking about free speech, I’m not [cut off]” around 7:50 then more clearly “What this whole thing was talking about was free speech, they weren’t talking about people in death camps and so forth…” around 11:30. In effect agreeing that the analogy doesn’t hold, but still trying to make use of it. If The argument isn’t meant to suggest that Conroy is a fascist then just work can it be doing? Well, nothing, that I can see. So why doesn’t Ackerman give up the analogy? Maybe he just hasn’t thought through his concession that Conroy isn’t showing other properties of fascists. So let’s put the implication generally. Arguments from analogy go like this:

P1g. X shows property Y which is essential for falling under class T

P2g. X can be classed under T

Cg. X will show other properties of class T.

Now P2g has been challenged by adding

R1. X doesn’t show property Z which is essential for falling under class T.

Now if R1 is true then P2g is false. Thus the argument from analogy fails and the conclusion (Cg) is unjustified and so must be given up. What Ackerman does on the insiders, however, is accept a version of R1, namely that Conroy isn’t going around killing people, but fail to realise that this falsifies P2. Ackerman thus holds an inconsistent position and shows an inability to think through a fairly straight forward analogy.

with love



One thought on “When arguments from analogy aren’t arguments from analogy; Or bad reasoning in the real world part 6

  1. Pingback: Week 8 Entry: Media Regulation: Enforcement of Ethics or Government Censorship? | Singapore Stormy Journalism

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