Limbaugh's Logical Laziness
Lapses between premise and conclusion aren't uncommon, but Rush's have the biggest audience.
A GREAT deal of what passes for serious political discussion these days is plain old textbook-variety fallacious reasoning. Of course, the commission of logical fallacies occurs across the political spectrum, among liberals no less than conservatives. But the art of fallacious persuasion seems to have reached new heights in the realm of that recently rejuvenated medium - talk radio. Here the voice of Rush Limbaugh holds sway.Skip to next paragraph
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Rush is not unique in logical sin. Most of us commit fallacies (though not quite with Mr. Limbaugh's prolificacy). But with a weekly media audience of tens of millions (''dittoheads,'' as they are known), Limbaugh has the potential for enormous political influence. It's obviously desirable that he be held to the highest standards of reason.
In ''Logic and Mr. Limbaugh: A Dittohead's Guide to Fallacious Reasoning,'' I take Rush to task for more than a little sloppy thinking, and I try to impart a few lessons in the avoidance of logical legerdemain. Rush is not always wrong, of course. But he's not ''documented to be right 97.9 percent of the time'' (as he likes to say) either. Below, I offer a few modest examples - just for entertainment, of course.
Here's Limbaugh attacking Vice President Al Gore on the environment. This example provides a nice illustration of Limbaugh's stock in trade - the ad hominem (against the person) fallacy:
''There is something intrinsically anti-American about the way [Gore] flagellates the US over its environmental policies. He writes that cultures are like families, and 'our civilization must be considered in some ways dysfunctional [because of its brutal assault on nature] ....' This from a guy who gets lost hiking in a park with the Secret Service!''
There is Limbaugh levity here. But let's not lose sight of the logical thrust of the passage. Rush is using Gore's apparent ineptitude in the woods as a means of discrediting the vice president's theory about our civilization. The argument may be represented as: Gore says our civilization must be considered dysfunctional in its treatment of the environment. But he got lost hiking in a park. Therefore, we can dismiss his view that our civilization is dysfunctional (implied).
The attack on Gore, even if true, is irrelevant to the main point - Gore's ideas and arguments about our allegedly dysfunctional civilization.
(Note well, dittoheads, that the ad hominem fallacy is not simply a personal attack, as Limbaugh seems to think. It is an attack that, even if true, is irrelevant. If I argue that Joe Smith is dishonest because he cheats on his income tax, there is a personal attack but no ad hominem fallacy. But if I try to discredit Mr. Smith's ideas about, say, reducing the deficit by saying he cheats on his wife, I commit the ad hominem fallacy.)
Animals and kindness
Rush doesn't think much of the animal-rights movement. Here he argues that animals don't have a right to kindness:
''One woman called my show to protest that animals do at least have one right: to kindness. I told her she was mistaken. Look at what they do to each other. They tear each other limb from limb.''
He is arguing that animals don't have a right to kindness because of the way they behave toward one another: Animals tear each other limb from limb. Therefore, animals do not have a right to kindness.