September 22, 2012
It’s election season, and I feel accosted by bad political arguments from all sides through television and the internet. I offer this as a public service announcement, a guide for spotting typical bad arguments (largely copied from Wikipedia’s list of fallacies):
Red herring – irrelevant argument given in response to another argument to draw attention away from the subject of argument.
Ad hominem – attacking the arguer instead of the argument.
Poisoning the well – a type of ad hominem where adverse information about a target is presented with the intention of discrediting everything that the target person says.
Appeal to emotion – where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning.
Appeal to spite – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made through exploiting people’s bitterness or spite towards an opposing party.
Appeal to fear – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by increasing fear and prejudice towards the opposing side.
Appeal to pity – an argument attempts to induce pity to sway opponents.
Appeal to accomplishment – where an assertion is deemed true or false based on the accomplishments of the proposer.
Appeal to motive – where a premise is dismissed by calling into question the motives of its proposer.
Appeal to wealth/poverty – supporting or refuting a conclusion because the arguer is wealthy or poor.
Appeal to novelty – where a proposal is claimed to be superior or better solely because it is new or modern.
Chronological snobbery – where a thesis is deemed incorrect because it was commonly held when something else, clearly false, was also commonly held.
Straw man – an argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.
Mob appeal – where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so.
Admit it, we’ve all made these arguments and we’ve all been duped by them at various times. The important thing is to try to avoid it.
September 5, 2012
Subsection (a): “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”
Subsection (b) provides an exception for abortion consented to by the mother.
1. Murder only applies to killing a human, not an animal or non-human.
2. If a man walks up to a woman and, say, cuts off her arm (or any other bodily “tissue”) but it does not result in her death, it is not murder.
3. A man who walks up to an unsuspecting pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach, intentionally killing her unborn child but not killing the mother, has committed murder under the statute, even if she had planned on getting an abortion. It is not merely a tort or the crime of assault and battery; it is murder.
4. If the man punches a woman who is not pregnant in the stomach, it is not murder, and if he punches a pregnant woman in the stomach but it does not kill the fetus, it is not murder.
5. If the pregnant woman punches herself in the stomach and kills her fetus, or if she asks a man to punch her in the stomach to intentionally cause the death of the fetus, it is not murder.
So, killing an animal or cutting off a human appendage is not murder, and killing a human being is murder. Killing a fetus is also murder, except when a pregnant woman decides for whatever reason that her fetus belongs with the categories of “animal” or “human appendage” rather than “human being”.
As written, subsection (b) of section 187 is logically consistent with subsection (a) because subsection (a) expressly does not apply if subsection (b) applies. However, can the exception philosophically be reconciled with the rule? On what basis may a fetus be deemed the equivalent of a human being based on the intent of another person? Can a person truly decide and declare, based on any reason or no reason at all (i.e. randomly), whether another person is in fact a person or the equivalent of a person worthy of legal protection? Does it make sense that it’s murder to kill someone else’s fetus, even if that person planned on getting an abortion anyway? When would that fetus transfer from “human being” back to discardable tissue? When mom makes up or changes her mind (unless someone else decides for her without her consent)?
It’s one thing to attempt to justify legal abortions on the ground that an unborn child is not a legal person or the equivalent thereof. But wouldn’t that mean section 187 is incoherent? Would one prefer, in the name of consistency, to rewrite section 187 to honor the argument that unborn persons are not in fact persons, thereby recasting and/or reducing the criminal sanction against a man who walks up to a random pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach, causing an abortion? Is a “wanted child” more worthy of personhood and legal protection against killing than an “unwanted child”? Why?