August 3, 2011

Logic Lessons: Genetic Fallacy and Poisoning the Well

I have a pair of fallacies for you, where the person is attacked rather than discussing the ideas presented on their own merits. This pair works well together, and sometimes the distinctions are blurry (even some of my sources disagree, since the ad hominem can merge with the "red herring" distraction). Since I have been subjected to this kind of "reasoning" lately, I can draw from my own experiences.

But I have to be careful, because I have been known to mix up the Genetic Fallacy and its close cousin, the Fallacy of Composition

First, the Poisoning the Well fallacy. To "poison the well", someone wants to discredit a person and ignore whatever he or she is about to present; a pre-emptive strike, if you will. You look bad before you even begin to speak. When discussing Creationism and showing the flaws in evolution, people have said that "Your Creationist sources are all disproved". Also, my news sources in other articles have been rejected out of hand because they are by Christian organizations, or Fox News. My references are not even examined by most of the critics, and they poison the well against anyone else who may have been considering checking them.
Meet its cousin, the Genetic Fallacy. This says that something is true or untrue because of its source, instead of its merit. It is a kind of red herring argument, because the user seeks to distract from the points being raised. Two points to make this more confusing: It is not always a fallacy to question the source of an argument or proposition, and sometimes the Genetic Fallacy is an ad hominem, but not always. To stay with the Creationism example, I have had my arguments rejected simply because I am a Creationist. Also, my statements have been rejected because I am a Christian.
Two fallacies. The genetic fallacy is the arbitrary rejection of something because of its source, poisoning the well happens when attempting to negate what the opposition has to say before it is said.

Both Poisoning the Well and the Genetic Fallacy are often used as manipulations in an argument. Watch for them, and call "Foul!" because good reasoning, presentations, ideas and logic are rejected. If something is untrue or invalid, it should be discussed instead of the idea, its origin or its presenter being ridiculed, capice? To me, this stinks of intellectual cowardice.

Even if you cannot exactly identify if the fallacy is Poisoning the Well or the Genetic Fallacy, you will still be able to point out the fact that the other party is not exactly playing fair.

Now I have a bonus for you. Remember Norman the Paranoid Troll? (His response to me giving him that name was to call me "Norman" right back.) Take a look at this:
Your assignment: Spot the ad hominem, Poisoning the Well and Genetic Fallacies. Be forewarned, though. They blend.

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