Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why would a Good Person make a Bad Argument (Supporting a True Conclusion)? (Recycled)

Originally posted  9/5/08 5:20 PM:

We encounter a similar situation in poetry. The goal of those who teach mechanics and construction of poetry is to implant in their students the ability to compose poetry that is as perfectly balanced and technically correct as that of a born poet. Those who are naturally gifted poets, however, compose beautiful poetry without instruction; they would be stifled by the technical terms and mechanical concepts of formal instruction. (Metzudah Kuzari, page 7)

To say [that only the student of logic can reason well or correctly] would be as mistaken as to say that to run well requires studying the physics and physiology involved in that activity. Some excellent athletes are quite ignorant of the complex processes that go on inside themselves when they perform. And, needless to say, the somewhat elderly professors who know most about such things would perform very poorly where they to risk their dignity on the athletic field…But given the same native keenness of intellect, a person who has studied logic is more likely to reason correctly than one who has never though about the general principles involved in that activity. (Introduction to Logic, Copi, page 4)

Quite often, on any number of issues, a person may believe something that is true for reasons which are faulty or insufficient. It should not be too surprising that some of these individuals prove gifted in presenting their “arguments” in a persuasive manner influencing others to accept their fallacious reasoning. While it is obvious that one presented with such an argument need not accept it, it is quite another thing to dis-affirm the conclusion.

Often the difficulty with various arguments for the existence of God (or other conclusions) is that they are presented in a form that they are not. An argument which the arguer believes to be persuasive is presented as a deductive argument when it is really inductive. Rather than correctly presenting an argument as sufficient reason to accept the existence of God ,the arguer over reaches and implies that God’s existence is the only possible conclusion. Implausible alternatives are deemed impossible. I believe that this tendency is found among the Philosophers who sought absolute proof of the existence of God, and I believe that this is one of the reason the great Sages of Israel largely abandoned the philosophical approach in favor of Emunah Peshuta. Our world is one of concealment of God, and anything else would negate free will. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t reason to believe in God, but that there must be room for an unbeliever to equivocate.

I cannot claim that I am an intellectual purist who would always protest against someone for holding a correct view for the wrong reasons. I suspect that in many instances everyone involved may benefits from turning a blind eye to such logical transgressions. Nevertheless when it comes to defending our faith I think we must be extremely cautious with our choice of arguments. If someone becomes a Ba’al Teshuvah based on reasoning that they latter find to be faulty, then there is great potential for them to become despondent and forsake observance (ח״ו) when they learn of their error. At very least it can become a nagging doubt which the yetzer hara will exploit.

And when we see someone great offer up a problematic argument I suggest that we should approach it the same way as is done in halachah, with a polite צ״ע and a recognition of the Rambam's admontion that, "whenever the words of a person can be interpreted in such a manner that they agree with fully established facts, it is the duty of every educated and honest man to do so."(The Guide for the Perplexed, 3:14, transl. Freidlander page 279)

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