Tue. Feb 18th, 2020

1 – How To Win Every Argument – Abusive analogy

The fallacy of abusive analogy is a highly specialized version of the ad hominem argument. Instead of the arguer being insulted directly, an analogy is drawn which is calculated to bring him into scorn or disrepute. The opponent or his behaviour is compared with something which will elicit an unfavourable response toward him from the audience. 

Smith has proposed that we should go on a sailing holiday, though he knows as much about ships as an Armenian bandleader does. 

(Perhaps you do not need to know all that much for a sailing holiday. Smith can always learn. The point here is that the comparison is deliberately drawn to make him look ridiculous. There may even be several Armenian bandleaders who are highly competent seamen.)  

The analogy may even be a valid one, from the point of view of the comparison being made. This makes it more effective, but no less fallacious, since the purpose is to introduce additional, unargued, material to influence a judgement. 

If science admits no certainties, then a scientist has no more certain knowledge of the universe than does a Hottentot running through the bush. 

(This is true, but is intended as abuse so that the hearer will be more sympathetic to the possibility of certain knowledge.)

The fallacy is a subtle one because it relies on the associations which the audience make from the picture presented. Its perpetrator need not say anything which is untrue; he can rely on the associations made by the hearer to fill in the abuse. The abusive analogy is a fallacy because it relies on this extraneous material to influence the argument. 

In congratulating my colleague on his new job, let me point out that he has no more experience of it than a snivelling boy has on his first day at school. 

(Again, true. But look who’s doing the snivelling.) 

While politicians delight in both abuse and analogies, there are surprisingly few good uses of the abusive analogy from that domain. A good one should have an element of truth in its comparison, and invite abuse by its other associations. All other things being equal, it is easier to be offensive by making a comparison which is untrue, than to be clever by using elements of truth. Few have reached the memorable heights of Daniel O’Connell’s description of Sir Robert Peel:  

…a smile like the silver plate on a coffin.  

(True, it has a superficial sparkle, but it invites us to think of something rather cold behind it.) 

The venom-loaded pens of literary and dramatic critics are much more promising springs from which abusive analogies can trickle forth.

He moved nervously about the stage, like a virgin awaiting the Sultan. 

(And died after the first night.)  

Abusive analogies take composition. If you go forth without preparation, you will find yourself drawing from a well-used stock of comparisons which no longer have the freshness to conjure up vivid images. Describing your opponents as being like ‘straightlaced schoolmistresses’ or ‘sleazy strip-club owners’ will not lift you above the common herd. A carefully composed piece of abusive comparison, on the other hand, can pour ridicule on the best-presented case you could find: ‘a speech like a Texas longhorn; a point here, a point there, but a whole lot of bull in between’. 

The above article is from the book How To Win Every Argument by Madsen Pirie. The article is only for educational and informative purposes to explain and understand formal logic and logical fallacies. It is a great book, definitely worth a read!

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