"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Political Commentary and Rhetorical Fallacies: Kathleen Parker Invokes Plato and Aristotle in Discussing Trump: Is She Begging the Question?

Here is the teaser for this posting:
Which of the following statements are true?

A. All political rhetoric follows only the rhetorical rules of Plato.
B. All political rhetoric follows only the rhetorical rules of Aristotle.
C. All political rhetoric follows (elements of) both the rhetorical rules of Plato as well as of Aristotle.

Of course, only the last statement - C -  and ONLY C is true. But tell that to Kathleen Parker, author of a political commentary in the Washington Post that Plato would be horrified by Trump’s rise.

Journalist Kathleen Parker is not part of our normal political reading spectrum (if we read "right" at the Washington Post, we read Charles Krauthammer), but someone sent us the above-cited piece about Plato, Aristotle and Donald Trump. We found it to be "Quixotic!" so we took a closer look at the writer.

We discovered that Parker's college education apparently began at the women's only Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina and some apparently see her as a conservative feminist. Nothing wrong with that. We all have our direction. Converse, not the shoes, is in NCAA Division II in the Conference Carolinas, competing as the Valkyries ("choosers of the fallen"). If you are a sports fan and never heard of them, it is because they (obviously) field no men's teams. We were unaware such colleges still existed.

Based on what we find online, it appears that Parker transferred from Converse to Florida State, finishing with an M.A. in Spanish Literature.

So far, so good. We have a picture. Trump has foolishly angered some of the ladies with stupid statements, and we do not just mean Megyn Kelly, and it has cost him lots of votes. Moreover, he is like a modern Don Quixote, fighting the windmills of the established GOP. Where is Sancho Panza?

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (Spanish: El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha) is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The book, published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, is an early masterpiece of Western Civilization, viewed by some as the first and best "modern" novel. Who knows, perhaps Don Quixote was a motivator for Parker to professionally find her way into the field of  "opinion-writing political journalism", which culminated in her winning the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, awarded by Columbia University, for "Commentary". Quite an honor, actually.

Parker surely has battled windmills too on her gauntlet run to journalistic success. Indeed, her personal Rocinante has taken her far afield from the knight-errant of La Mancha, as she now blissfully ventures into the foreign realms of Philosophy and Law (a guest lecture at Virginia Law School), whirling through the axiomatic caves of the philosophers, and in her above-cited article viewing Donald Trump via the rhetorical "rules" of Plato and Aristotle.

Let us take a look at Aristotle, who Parker dismisses as wrong on rhetoric.

Aristotelian Logic was a marvelous course that we enjoyed in our undergraduate days in college, taught by Cedric Evans, a fantastic teacher in whose name a memorial lecture is still held annually. Evans always urged us to create syllogisms of our arguments in order to test their veracity. That is why we have the teaser at the start of this posting. Look at it again.

Be sure of what is really true and what is actually being argued.
Is what Trump is doing so different than what is normal fare in politics,
or is it that he is doing it so much more brashly and successfully?

More than a century ago, William Minto, Scottish man of letters and Parker fellow journalist as editor of the Examiner, wrote in Logic, Inductive and Deductive, that "Aristotelian Logic can never become superfluous as long as men are apt to be led astray by words." We take that to include the ladies.

Cloaking one's personal political opinions in the camouflage of philosophical logic, is -- to apply a quote from Parker's article -- to put journalistic rhetoric "in the wrong hands".

People are entitled to their political opinions. Mixing them up with the writings of the founders of rhetorical logic, as if they were a recipe for fudge cake, is wrong. So our opinion. There are some honest professions out there -- very few, when push comes to shove. Politics is not one of them.

The rhetoric of any politician we choose is never neither/nor, either/or but rather some of this and some of that, and a mixture of everything between. All rhetorical practices, desirable and undesirable -- depending on your point of view, of ANY politician, are a matter of degree. That's politics. That's life. Much of what people say can often be "white lies". Get over it.

ALL politicians are guilty at some point of "invalid" rhetoric. That is in the nature of their profession. Some political candidates may just be better at this game of slight of hand than others, but singling out one political candidate as a departure from the others is simply politically preferential dishonesty. We happen to think Cruz is worse on this score. It is a matter of one's political decision-making. A quieter politician (e.g. Kasich) necessarily tells fewer fibs. He still may not get the votes.

Plus, some people believe their own hype. Does intent determine  "a lie"?

Aristotle in Sophistical Refutations and Prior Analytics discusses a rhetorical fallacy which Parker relies upon greatly and perhaps unknowingly, which has come down to us in modern times known as "begging the question", which can be defined as "assuming the truth of the thing to be proved".

Begging the question is a widespread rhetorical viz. "epistemic" means of argumentation in modern political writing and discourse, and we thus quote here a lengthier description from the Wikipedia:

"To beg a question means to assume the conclusion of an argument—a type of circular reasoning. This is an informal fallacy, in which an arguer includes the conclusion to be proven within a premise of the argument, often in an indirect way such that its presence within the premise is hidden or at least not easily apparent."

Since ALL politicians follow elements of both Plato's and Aristotle's rhetorical "rules", to one degree or another, then the conclusion of Parker in her article is preordained and we could find ANY politician sometimes guilty of the sins of which Parker speaks. It is all a matter of degree and political preference. Look at what all the politicians of both political parties are PROMISING -- and how much of that can they really deliver? It is mostly "white lies", to get votes.

How much change could President Obama deliver when opposed by a Republican-obstructionist Congress? Not what the rhetoric promised. The same holds true for any candidate. PROMISES are WISHES, and if wishes were horses, beggars could ride.... The "real world" always sets greater limits than what is rhetorically being promised....

In other words, the conclusion "arrived at" by Parker was already included "initially" with the premise of the argument and hence is logically invalid. It proves NOTHING, because Trump in his rhetoric should not rightly be set apart from other politicians. It is only a matter of degree, of personal style and success of argumentation, and an entirely different matter of political judgment, which is why we have elections, and winners and losers.

If elections were held just to choose the most honest candidate? Dream on.
Honest candidates are seldom if ever elected.
Most candidates say they will reduce taxes. The result is always otherwise.

All of Madison Avenue advertising and the entire world of capitalist commerce thrives on precisely the type of rhetoric that we find in Trump. Hype, and more hype. People want to be told what they want to hear. That is the way it is.

Now, just look around you and count all of the "brand" name products on your desk, or in your office, or in your home, or wherever you are.

You bought them simply based on quality and the honesty of the ads, right?
Rather than identical no-name clones... Right?

We have an octacore Chinese no-name smartphone that we bought online from China two years ago when octacore was not even being offered in Western stores. The interest in this phone in the West was otherwise zero, because it lacked the brand-name hype. People trust "their" brands.

So don't complain about Trump. He does not "decide" the market. YOU do.
In stores, it is your decision of what to buy. In elections, it is who you vote for. The principle is the same, and the outcome is similar.

Honest rhetoric has nothing to do with it as long as you get the product you want, and what you want, well, that is a broad science in and of itself....

To get to the bottom of that, we would have to discuss the human condition, .... sometimes Plato, sometimes Aristotle ... and that is a sheer endless book too voluminous even for the shelves of the U.S. Library of Congress....


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