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“Do You Personally Know Anyone Who Died of COVID?”

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As the death toll from COVID-19 rose, people on social media started asking if anyone personally knew someone who had gotten COVID or died from it. I first thought people were either curious or concerned but then I noticed a correlation: people who asked this question tended to be COVID doubters. It was evident the question was often not a sincere inquiry but a rhetorical tactic and perhaps an attempt to bait people into fallacious reasoning. In this essay I will look at this sort of question as a rhetorical tool and as fallacy bait. This sort of question can be raised about things other than COVID, so the generic question would be “do you personally know anyone who X?” Used as rhetoric, the purpose is to garner either “no” responses or no responses. If this succeeds, it will tend to create the impression that X is rare or does not occur at all. It can also be used to create the impression that X is not serious. In the case of COVID, one goal is to create the impression that COVID is rare. Another goal is to create the impression that it is not that bad. Rhetoric is logically neutral in that it neither counts for nor against the truth of a claim. Its purpose is to influence people, and this is often aimed at making it easier to get them to accept or reject a claim. To use an analogy, rhetoric is like the flavoring or presentation of food: it makes it more (or less) appealing but has no effect on the nutritional value. As flavoring and presentation is compatible with serving nutritional food , rhetoric is compatible with serving plausible claims and good arguments. A person could use this rhetoric to influence their audience when they are making a true claim. For example, a person who wants to protect sharks might address worries about shark attacks by asking the audience if anyone has been attacked by a shark. They are hoping that no one will say “yes” and plan on using that to make the audience receptive to their dull statistics showing that shark attacks are. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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