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Critical Thinking & COVID-19 IX: Straw Person, Steel Person and Just Kidding

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During a White House press briefing President Trump expressed interest in injecting disinfectants as a treatment for COVID-19. In response  medical experts and the manufacturers of Lysol warned the public against attempting this. Trump’s defenders adopted two main strategies. The first was to interpret Trump’s statements in a favorable way; the second was to assert they were “fact checking” the claim that Trump told people to inject disinfectant. Trump eventually claimed that he was being sarcastic to see what the reporters would do. From the standpoint of critical thinking, there is a great deal going on here involving rhetorical devices and fallacies. I will briefly go over how critical thinking can sort through this situation and how it can be used in analogous situations. When interpreting or reconstructing claims and arguments made by others, philosophers are supposed to apply the principle of charity. Following this principle requires interpreting claims in the best possible light and reconstructing arguments to make them as strong as possible. There are three reasons to follow the principle. The first is that doing so is ethical. The second is that doing so avoids committing the straw person fallacy, which I will talk more about in a bit. The third is that if I am going to criticize a person’s claims or arguments, criticism of the best and strongest versions also takes care of the lesser versions. The principle of charity must be tempered by the principle of plausibility: claims must be interpreted, and arguments reconstructed in a way that matches what is known about the source and in accord with the context. For example, reading quantum physics into the works of our good dead friend Plato would violate this principle. Getting back to injecting disinfectants, it is important to accurately present Trump’s statements in context and to avoid making a straw person. The Straw Person fallacy is committed when one ignores a person’s actual claim or argument and. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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