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Is Trump a Tyrant? Part III: False Equivalency

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Fallacies and rhetoric are common tools in political debates for the same reason hammers and saws are common tools in carpentry: because they work. In the case of politics, “working” means that they enable one to “win.” And “winning” in this context means persuading someone to believe, whether the claim is true or not. Philosophy, in the true sense, has a rather different victory condition: you “win” by having plausible premises and good logic—which tends to lose when it comes to persuasion. Unfortunately, people tend to believe what they are persuaded to believe rather than what has been proven, so it is no surprise that the standard counters to criticisms of Trump (or any politician) tend to be fallacies and rhetoric. I will go through a few of these fallacies to show how they do not refute the claim that Trump is a tyrant. One common way to reply to this sort of criticism is to make use of a false equivalency. The usual method of this fallacy is to treat a shared quality between two things as showing they are equivalent. This fallacy is very commonly used to argue that because of this shared quality, two things are equal in terms of their degree or magnitude (and this is usually in terms of badness). This fallacy is somewhat like a false/weak analogy in that an inference is made based on an alleged similarity that fails to hold. One way to formalize this fallacy is as follows: Premise 1: A is X (to degree D) because it has qualities A, B, and C. Premise 2: B has quality C. Conclusion: A and B are equivalent, so B is X (to degree D). This reasoning is defective because it does not follow that because two things have something in common that they are equivalent. To use an extreme example, while it is true that both Hitler and Trump were elected officials, this obviously does not entail that they are equivalent. It also does not follow that they are not equivalent.  What is wanting is a proper comparison of A and B to determine if they are. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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