Fallacies: Narcissan, pleonastic, and unnatural deceleration

Since February 1999, I’ve had a web page about fallacies. Rather than regurgitating all of the usual ones that one can find elaborated in critical thinking textbooks, I collect fallacies which an author names for just one occasion. These one-offs don’t appear on the usual lists. Authors usually do this to condemn some specific target, one who has committed not some generic error in reasoning but the specific if newly-named fallacy of such-and-so.

Prompted by John Holbo at Crooked Timber, I’ve added three new specimens. One is coined tongue-in-cheek by Holbo himself to mock a book review by David Bentley Hart, and the other two are coined by Hart in his would-be hatchet job on Daniel Dennett’s book From Bacteria to Bach and Back.

One problem with Hart’s newly named fallacies is that they are not obviously mistakes. Take the pleonastic fallacy of thinking that a difference in kind might only be a tremendous difference in degree. Nature abhors a dualism,  so there are almost always odd intermediate cases between any two things that seem utterly distinct. So it might be a productive move to insist that what seems like a binary distinction is in fact a continuum. Whether this pays off can only be settled in the details. Giving a name to it and calling it a fallacy adopts the pretense that we know how those details will work out.

This is the akin to Holbo’s response to Hart, perhaps, except that I made an argument where he provides ridicule. Holbo quotes a sentence which, when I read it at Crooked Timber, I thought must have been parody: “In every case, most of his argument consists in a small set of simple logical errors.” So here the line between mockery and fair reporting is a fine one.

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