www.inside-politics.org

Analysis of and commentary on South African politics from a liberal perspective. Winner: Best Political Blog 2012.

Tag: Reason

On egalitarianism


TheThingAboutSERIES: In politically correct environments there often exists a strong compulsion to treat every idea as equal, or risk ‘offending’ someone by suggesting their argument weak or wrong. Because we are all equal before the law, the assumption is made everything we say is likewise of equal worth. That, of course, is not true. And we risk encouraging ignorance if we disallow critical interrogation of argument.

Read the rest of this entry »

10 steps to avoid moralising


AFEATURE: South African public discourse is awash with moralisers – people who care little for argument or reason, evidence or logic, but rather wish nothing more than to shout their position from the treetops, in the belief that it represents some universal truth. The effect of this on debate is damaging. It is also infectious. What follows below is a list of ten suggestions to avoid moralising. Hopefully, they constitute a helpful guide to some of the pitfalls inherent to moral indignation, and how best they can be overcome.

Read the rest of this entry »

On foresight


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. I am back and normal posting will resume from tomorrow. In the meantime, here is yesterday’s column, on the idea of foresight and how it works. The ability to foresee things can often be mistaken for guesswork. The difference between foresight and randomness is reason and being able to argue forcefully, the ability to use language and logic to present a prediction.

Read the rest of this entry »

Debate is about difference, not consensus


ARTICLE: There is a general and increasingly pervasive attitude that the purpose of debate is to secure consensus. That is, rather than a forum to determine which arguments and ideas are the most cogent or insightful, debate is seen as means to compromise and appease. That, however, is to denude debate of its greatest potential contribution: knowledge and understanding. When mere expression is the end, the means (rationality, evidence and reason) suffer in turn. For what is the point of trying to convince if just by speaking you are already fêted?

Read the rest of this entry »

The many-tentacled cash cow, and other mangled metaphors


FEATURE: Before there was Marius Fransman – the reigning king of convolution – there was Edwin Naidu, who would, week-in and week-out, generate for the Sunday Independent a series of metaphors so mangled they would produce in equal quantities much laughter and confusion. And not just mixed metaphors but a wide range of cliches, unoriginal and over-used, if that isn’t redundant.  In the 2008 article below, I look at some of them and set out just how bizarre and devoid of meaning many of them are. So, if you want to see why Vodacom is a many-tentacled cash cow, read on!

Read the rest of this entry »

The logical errors of Pierre de Vos


FEATURE: When personal bias fuels analysis, as opposed to facts and evidence, inevitably one falls prey to logical error – because reason does not support your position, you are forced to rely on illogical claims. In the article below, written in 2008, I look at some of the logical mistakes made in an argument put forward by Pierre de Vos, about Helen’s Zille’s opposition to the establishment of the Erasmus Commission. Ultimately, the Commission was found to be unlawful by the courts but, at the time, de Vos was convinced the Democratic Alliance was hiding something. The result was a rather messy argument.

Read the rest of this entry »

On exaggeration


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. What role does exaggeration play in public discourse? For the most part, a problematic one. Very often one’s instinict in countering exaggeration is to use some kind of greater exaggeration in the other direction. And, before you know it, everything is exaggerated and a state of hysteria exists.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rationality: our guide through the dark


ARTICLE: Why is rationality important? Well, for one thing, it allows us not only to understand principles (which are by their nature often counter-intuitive) but to apply them to those decisions we make in pursuit of the good life. That is not always easy, because emotion’s pull in the other direction can be powerful. But rationality and reason are the tools we can use to help exercise the best possible judgement.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sound judgement is a weapon against moralising


ARTICLE: Good judgement is not only the key to making good decisions but, by promoting and protecting it, the best way to ensure a society values its component parts: evidence, reason, logic and principle. Very often the urge to moralise about an issue means these important ideas are forgotten and, instead of trying to understand something, in order to best respond to it, we merely condemn it out of hand, the result of some unthinking emotional impulse.

Read the rest of this entry »

In conversation about tolerance


SERIES: Two heads are better than one, or so the saying goes. Jacques Rousseau is a lecturer in critical thinking and ethics, as well as a columnist for the Daily Maverick and, in discussion with him, the series In Conversation will look to explore a key concept or development in a few email exchanges. Few ideas get more attention than in South African public debate than that of ‘tolerance’ – and, with it, the seemingly omnipresent idea of ‘offence’. We get offended a lot. Too much perhaps? In response, tolerance seems to have become an excuse to avoid the proper critical examination of bad ideas and poor thinking. These, among others, are some of the issues explored this week.

Read the rest of this entry »

Moral outrage: the groundwork for authoritarianism


ARTICLE: Often South Africa seems willingly to throw itself into a fit of moral outrage about something incidental. We are currently in the process of doing exactly that, this time about the word ‘refugee’ and what it means. And so it is worth taking some time to try and objectively understand what moral outrage is, its nature and form. In the short piece below, I try to identify its general characteristics.

Read the rest of this entry »

What constitutes good argument?


ARTICLE: What are the structural characteristics of a good argument? Many of the key ingredients are well known: evidence, reason, logic, language, but how do they all relate? Also, what combination results in a powerful argument and what combination results in a weak argument? I have tried to answer some of these questions in the short piece that follows below.

Read the rest of this entry »

On sophistry


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Today, sophistry – the kind of crooked thinking that uses logical fallacy and deception to make an argument seem stronger – what is its nature, and how best does one indentify it?

Read the rest of this entry »

The ad hominem attack


SERIES: South African public discourse is awash with bad logic and poor reasoning. So much so that much of it is not even identified, let alone criticised. Illogical Logic is a series designed to look at the different kinds of crooked thinking out there, to identify and understand each in turn and, hopefully, to help promote better argument. We start with the ad hominem attack, possibly the crudist kind of sophistry.

Read the rest of this entry »

On critics and criticism


ARTICLE: Related to (and in many places overlapping with) this article, the piece below appeared in Rapport this past Sunday. Again, it is on criticism and critics, but it does have something aditional to say about pessimism and how it relates to critical comment. From those interested in the Afrikaans version, it can be found here.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: