1. Parameters of political debate
Political deliberation is a problem-solving activity. The following interrogative framework groups the most general questions that must be answered before deciding whether or not to adopt or reject a measure of general interest
Is this measure legal? Just? Honorable? Timely? Useful? Necessary? Safe? Possible? Easy? Pleasant? What are the foreseeable consequences? (After Nadeau 1958, p. 62).
This framework functions on different modes.
— On the interrogative-deliberative mode, it guides a practical decision process:
If you are considering such a measure, look at whether it is just, necessary, feasi- ble, glorious, profitable, and whether it will have positive consequences.
In this case, the set of questions is used as a heuristic. One can take up a re- sponsible political position on a given issue by examining each point and providing a well-argued answer to each question.
— On the prescriptive-justificatory mode, it helps to develop a global, positive or negative persuasive argumentative script about an issue:
If you want to support (or to attack) such measure, show that it is (or it is not) just, necessary, etc.
— On the analytical-critical mode, it serves to test the completeness of an argumentation
You argue that this measure is just, necessary, glorious; but you say nothing about its consequences and the practical modalities of its realization.
In practice, this simple, robust and effective topic applies to any practical public or private decision.
2. Arguments/fallacies of parliamentary debate:
In The Book of Fallacies , Bentham focuses exclusively on fallacious arguments in parliamentary debates. This collection is strongly oriented towards the refutation of conservative discourse, S. Collection (II). In the same spirit, Hirschman has analyzed The Rhetoric of Reaction (1991).
In politics, sophists are accused of indulging in obstructive or manipulative maneuvers, producing bad arguments in bad faith, rejecting legitimate discussion, and serving dishonest or anti-popular purposes.
Bentham distinguishes four main categories of fallacies: fallacies of authority, of danger; of delay, of confusion.
(i) Fallacies of authority
— “The wisdom of our ancestors, or Chinese argument; ad verecundiam.” (p.69)
—“Irrevocable law; ad superstitionem”.
— “Fallacy of vows or promissory oaths; ad superstitionem”
“The object of this fallacy is the same as in the preceding; but to the absurdity involved in the notion of tying up the hands of generations yet to come is added, in this case, that which consists in the use sought to be made of supernatural power.” (p. 104)
—“No-precedent argument; ad verecundiam”
“The proposition is of a novel and unprecedented complexion: the present is surely the first time that any such thing was ever heard of in this house.” (p. 115)
— “Self-assumed authority; ad ignorantiam; ad verecundiam” (p. 116)
— “Self-trumpeter’s fallacy”
“There are certain men in office who (…) arrogate to themselves a degree of probity, which is to exclude all imputations and all in- quiry.” (p. 120)
— “Laudatory personalities; ad amicitiam”
“The object of laudatory personalities is to effect the rejection of a measure on account of the alleged good character of those who oppose it.” (p. 123)
(ii) Fallacies of danger, appealing to fear (ad metum) or hate (ad odium)
to repress discussion
— “Vituperative personalities; ad odium” (p. 128).
Attacking the person: “Imputation of bad design; of bad character; of bad motive; of inconsistency; of suspicious connections; imputation founded on identity of denomination.” (p. 127-128)
— “Hobgoblin argument or: No innovation!; ad metum” (p. 145)
Innovation leads to anarchy.
— “Fallacy of distrust
What’s at the bottom?” (p. 154)
— “Official malefactor’s screen (ad metum)
Attack us, you attack Government.” (p. 158)
— “Accusation-scarer’s device.” (p. 184)
(iii) Fallacies of delay
These fallacies play for time, with the intention “to postpone discussion, with a view of eluding it”. Some are based on stupidity and laziness (Lat. socordia):
— “The quietist, or ‘No complaint’ (ad quietem)
Nobody complains, therefore nobody suffers” (p.190); so, no need to change.
— “False consolation (ad quietem)”
“Look at the people there, and there: think how much better off you are than they are.” (p. 194)
— “Procrastinator’s argument (ad socordiam)”
Wait a little, this is not the time!” (p. 198)
— “Snail’s pace argument (ad socordiam])”:
“One thing at a time! Not too fast! Slow and sure!” (p. 201)
— “Artful diversion (ad verecundiam)”
“Why that? (meaning the measure already proposed) — Why not this? — or this?” (p. 209)
(iv) Fallacies of confusion
— “Question-begging appellatives (ad judicium)”
The use of “eulogistic terms” and “dyslogistic or vituperative terms.” (p. 214)
— “Impostor terms (ad judicium)”
“For instance, persecutors in matters of religion have no such word as persecution in their vocabulary; zeal is the word by which they characterize all their actions.” (p. 221)
— “Vague generalities (ad judicium)”
A fallacy “resorted to by those who, in prefer- ence to the most particular and determinate terms and expression (…) employ others more general and indeterminate.” (p. 230)
— “Allegorical idols (ad imaginationem)”
“substituting for men’s official denomination the name of some fictitious entity, to whom (…) the attribute of excellence has been attached. Example: Government, for members of the governing body.” (p. 258)
— “Sweeping classifications (ad judicium)”
“ascribing to an individual (…) any prop- erties of another, only because the object in question is ranked in the class with that other” (p. 265) “Example 1: Kings; Crimes of Kings (…) criminals ought to be punished; kings are criminals, and Louis is a king: therefore Louis ought to be punished)” (p. 266)
— “Sham distinctions (ad judicium)”
“Declare your approbation of the good by its eulogistic name, and thus reserve to yourself the advantage of opposing it without reproach by its dyslogistic name (…) Example 1: Liberty and licen- tiousness of the press” (p. 271)
— “Popular corruption (ad superbiam)”
“The source of corruption is in the minds of the people; so rank and extensively seated is that corruption that no political reform can ever have any effect in removing it: This was an argument brought forward against parliamentary reform.” (p. 279)
— “Anti-rational fallacies (ad verecundiam)” — “When reason is found or supposed to be in opposition to a man’s interest, his study will naturally be to render the faculty itself and whatsoever issues from it an object of hatred and contempt” (p. 295)
— “Paradoxical assertions (ad judicium)”
“When of any measure, practice or principle the utility is too far above dispute to be capable of being impeached by rea- soning, a rhetorician (…) in a sort of fit of desperation (…) he has assailed it with some vehement note of reprobation or strain of invective” (p. 314). “Ex- ample: Good method, a bad thing.” (p. 316)
— “Non causa pro causa (ad judicium)”
“When in a system which has good points in it you have a set of abuses (…) to defend; (…) take the abuse you have to de- fend (…) and to them ascribe the credit of having given birth to the good ef- fects” (p. 328)
— “Partiality-preacher’s argument (ad judicium)
A discussion of the maxim: “From the abuse, argue not against use.” (p. 339)
— “The end justifies the means (ad judicium)” — A discussion of the maxim (p. 341).
— “Opposer-general’s justification (ad invidiam)”
“it is not right for a man to argue against his own opinion. (…) If a member of the House of Commons, and in opposition, a measure which to him seems a proper one is brought on the carpet on the ministerial side, it is not right that he should declare it to be, in his opinion, pernicious, and use his endeavours to have it thought so, and treated as such by the House” (p. 344), and reciprocally.
— “Rejection instead of amendment (ad judicium)”
“this fallacy consists in urging in the character of a bar, or conclusive objection against the proposed measure, some consideration, which, if presented in the character of an amendment, might have more or less claim to notice.” (p. 349)
Bentham does not express the fallacies under any “logical form”, but presents them in the form of statements that are condensed argumentations, sometimes in the form of a slogan. The topoi are getting closer to the discursive clichés.
Bentham condemns these maneuvers as prima facie fallacies, and discusses them further under the corresponding heading.