Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Logical Fallacies - Appeal to Antiquity

I bumped into a post on facebook that led to a 115+ comment thread recently. During the discussion I was accused of committing a textbook example of tradition fallacy, also known as the appeal to antiquity. On the linked website listed above, it is defined as this:

"An appeal to antiquity is the opposite of an appeal to novelty. Appeals to antiquity assume that older ideas are better, that the fact that an idea has been around for a while implies that it is true. This, of course, is not the case; old ideas can be bad ideas, and new ideas can be good ideas. We therefore can’t learn anything about the truth of an idea just by considering how old it is."

I agree that age alone cannot judge veracity. With that being said, it cannot be entirely discounted as it is still an item of corroboratory evidence. I say this because if an idea survives thousands of years, there is clearly support for it. One must ask why it is supported and if it has been challenged seriously with directly opposing evidence. There are plenty of ideas that come and go out of public awareness so the ones that stick around are notable. This is because they tell us something about human psychology and speaks to the needs and perceptions of that slice of humanity in history. Therefore I disagree with the conclusion this quoted definition asserts because it states "We therefore can't learn anything..."

Going back to the reason this all came up, the trigger for the accusation of employing a logical fallacy was this:
"I understand that it is not conclusive empirical proof to quote a source in order to prove it. In the case of what we're discussing though, it is not the claims of authorship so much as the claims of legitimate historical account. We have thousands of years of a people group believing the source and it's continued propagation which again doesn't empirically prove but does at least deserve a benefit of the the doubt."

I can see where the reader could draw some associations between an appeal to antiquity and my assertion but I was not actually claiming proof due to age. I was asserting that the feat of surviving and thriving over thousands of years is not a small one. I was also asserting that the idea simply deserves more honest consideration. Granted I believe that proof can be found and will be found if it hasn't actually already, but I think it was clear I was not attempting to give longevity the entire burden of proof. Logically, there are quite a number of circumstances and actions necessary to preserve something over a single year let alone a thousand. 

In any case, the term "logical fallacy" seems to be a frequently touted one in debates in which a person's reasoning process is simply disagreed with. Fallacy is a strong word that has all sorts of negative connotations. I'd almost go so far as to say that the term "logical fallacy" is engineered specifically to add malice to a discrediting statement. Really there is either logic or the lack of it. The "fallacious" addition is really only the user's preference tag and in itself may not actually be logical regardless of the nomenclature used.

So there you have it. Call me crazy but I feel like I'm being reasonable!

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