Perspectives: Arguing gun control like Aristotle

OPINION –Anytime a highly charged issue is being discussed or debated, our ability to remain clear headed can be challenged.

In a culture where perception is considered reality and many mistakenly believe that words create reality, it’s tough to think clearly. What we claim to know about the world too often consists of parroting short, carefully selected sound bites spoon-fed to us via the media. This means our viewpoint is often incomplete and the conclusions we draw may or may not be valid.

This is where general semantics and basic logic can be powerful tools to help us develop a perspective that isn’t based on mere emotional association.

Semantics sharpens our ability to see the world clearly. It begins with the recognition that language consists of symbols that relate to reality. Too many people forget that a word itself is not the same thing as reality.

So when someone refers to a semi-auto rifle as a “high powered killing machine” that doesn’t make it so. Words do not change reality.

Another key rule of semantics is that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are verifiable by others; opinions are always subjective evaluations of reality. There is also a world of difference between informed opinion and uninformed opinion.

So often today we hear people state their opinions as fact that are not based on knowledge. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continuing debate over so-called assault weapons and the Second Amendment.

So many of the pundits and politicians who are stumping for violating the Second Amendment are simply parroting anti-gun propaganda that’s become stuck in their heads. They’ve stopped distinguishing between what they know and what someone else has told them.

Charley Reese used to write that two phrases that help keep us honest are, “as far as I know” and “at this time.” They remind us that we don’t know everything and even what we do know may not be true tomorrow.

It’s natural to have an opinion, but we should do our best to keep them based in reality. This means we must be able to reason effectively.

Aristotle is generally credited with the invention of classical logic as a means of reducing faulty reasoning. He taught the value of defining our terms, classifying statements, and using syllogisms, meaning argument structures that by design appear to be indisputably valid. He also recommended using proofs by which an argument could be tested.

Let’s use Aristotle’s Square of Oppositions tool to provide a contemporary example of why logical thinking is relevant to the issues we discuss. We’ll start with two universal statements:

-A gun’s sole purpose is for murdering people.

-Guns are never used to commit murder.

Would a rational person argue that these statements of absolutes are perfectly true? Not likely. However, when we argue the statements as particular forms, they become much more credible:

-Like any tool, some guns are misused for criminal purposes.

-Many guns are properly used to provide food and protect life, liberty, and property.

Using particular forms to argue requires thinking in broader and more accurate terms than simple absolutes. It also offers more valid arguments than their universal counterparts. Those who prefer to think in black and white find this kind of logical thinking extremely challenging. They’ll often resort to verbal darts when someone points out an exception to their absolute statement.

It’s important to remember that logic cannot tell us what is true or false in reality, it cannot create a valid argument, and it cannot make an argument more convincing. It can, however, tell us if an argument is valid or not.

Logic will not win every argument for us, but it helps us order our thinking and instinctively test statements for validity without simply buying into them. It also allows us to examine our own arguments with greater precision and to express our viewpoints more effectively.

When Abraham Lincoln was a struggling law student, a professor told him that until he could demonstrate his arguments he would never be a lawyer. Lincoln went home and studied Euclidian geometry until he could give the first 173 proofs at sight. This ability to use proofs gave Lincoln an indisputable logical edge over opponents. Stephen Douglas, in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, often found himself in complete disagreement, but entirely unable to respond to Lincoln’s points because of the logical manner in which they were presented.

With logical thinking and general semantics, you still won’t always be right. But you won’t be wrong very often either.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc., 2013, all rights reserved

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4 Comments

  • Mike January 14, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you!

  • Dan Lester January 14, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Mike, you’re correct, of course. However, getting people to deal with emotional issues logically is much like herding cats. Perhaps not impossible, but pretty darn difficult. Good luck with that, but I’ll be on your side.

  • Roy J January 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Mike: I second that.
    Dan: you are so right.

    On a technical note, though Aristotle explains the nature and method of syllogistic reasoning in the first four parts of the Organon, he only really begins to deal with the difficulties of convincing argument in the last work, the Topics. It seems to me that Aristotle’s concept of the use of reasoned argument lies in the Rhetoric: here he describes the arguments of statesmen and demagogues before the masses, or public debate. And in that work, Aristotle suggests, to my mind, a really wild idea about the duties of the public orator. For the purpose of public oration is not to move an audience towards one or another courses of action, but to bring that audience to an evenness of thought and spirit (a neutral emotional state), for the purpose of making the decision for themselves. In simple terms, to allow those who must be bound by the decision, to make the decision. It is the idea of catharsis, which Aristotle talks about in the fragmented Poetics, and uses as the jumping off point for every philosophical work he ever wrote, so far as I know.
    Thanks for writing this aricle, Bryan. Always love to see Aristotle in print, as long as he isn’t followed by Onassis.

  • Ta'ir Lanier August 14, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Greetings, I m glad you approached this subject, though only in slight. However I would make a suggestion, to have proposition in the place of (fact) as that standing in contrast to Opinion. Opinions do not require facts or evidence to be held or asserted. A proposition is a declarative Statement that is either True or False, and Logic concerns its self, or as Jurisdiction over propositions, Not Opinions or Belief. However, explaining this to others, short and sweet would defeat the purpose to begin with. The trouble is in that, Most of those engaged in what appears, though is not, dialogue…Do not agree to there being rules of discourse, or rules of valid thinking. Anything goes in the argument so to say. I am uneducated, having not attended Schooling, but drew my understanding of dialogue from my free access to the Harvard Classics I read as a Boy in Brooklyn. This Classical approach to discourse is not merely forgotten. It has been intentionally attacked by the Collectivist agenda. Reason is the enemy of Freedom to the Collectivist, the absurdest, the subjectivist.

    None the less, some still pursue Areté. Perhaps the natural Aristocracy will climb back up some day, and surely such a climb will be accompanied by the AR.

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