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Showing posts from June, 2017

Moral myopia: how to conflate (culpable) negligence with wilful murder

There's a worrying tendency today to equate wilful acts of murder (i.e. terrorism) with deaths due to (culpable) negligence or remission. I've heard people comparing jihadi terrorism to 1) boat refugees drowning in the Mediterranean 2) civilian casualties due to Western airstrikes in Syria, or even 3) the deaths of Grenfell fire. In a discussion on Twitter on the relative percentage of terrorist attacks carried out my Muslim extremists, Youssef Kobo rhetorically asked me to "name a single year where causalities by religious terrorist acts in EU/US outnumbered civilian casualties in the Middle East and North Africa caused by Western bombardments".* A journalist of the Flemish newspaper De Standaard recently argued that the Grenfell drama is in fact the "deadliest attack of 2017", which, just like jihadi terrorism, was caused by a "radical ideology", namely Thatcherian neo-liberalism and its relentless privatisation. This is serious case of moral m…

De waarheid, geheim wapen tegen al wat slecht is

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In 1938, toen Nazi-Duitsland een deel van Tsjechoslowakije annexeerde, besloot de Britse BBC om een Duitstalige radiozender op te richten. De oorlogsplannen van Hitler waren steeds moelijker te loochenen, en de BBC wilde met haar vertaalde uitzendingen de harten winnen van de Duitse bevolking, in de hoop dat die zich tegen het nazi­regime zou keren. Dat was geen eenvoudige opdracht, zeker nadat de Tweede Wereldoorlog daadwerkelijk uitbrak. Een decennium lang al werd de Duitse bevolking bestookt met nazi­propaganda, die voortdurend de superioriteit van het Arische ras uitdroeg, en de onoverwinnelijkheid van de Wehrmacht. Bovendien was luisteren naar radiozenders van de vijand strikt verboden. Duitse burgers werden ervoor vervolgd, in bezette gebieden riskeerde je executie. Recent onderzoek in de archieven van de BBC toont aan dat de Britten een geheim wapen ontwikkelden om door het propaganda­offensief van de nazi’s te breken: de waarheid. De BBC streefde ernaar om een betrouwbare bro…

Het islamdebat: dubbelinterview met Tom Naegels in Knack

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Leeft links nog steeds in een multiculturele droomwereld, of moeten rechtse politici dringend ontwaken uit hun fantasieën over onze superieure manier van leven? Filosoof Maarten Boudry en schrijver Tom Naegels raken er niet uit. 'Door heel hard te roepen waar wij voor staan, verandert er niemand van gedachte.'


Uit Knack van 14/06/17

'Ik ergerde mij vaak verschrikkelijk aan jouw columns over de islam', zegt Maarten Boudry halverwege het interview. 'Graag gedaan', antwoordt Tom Naegels met een glimlach. 'Ik heb een paar keer boze reacties naar De Standaard gestuurd om verhaal te halen', vervolgt Boudry met een grinnik. 'In bewoordingen die ik vandaag misschien niet meer zou herhalen.' Twee intellectuelen die zich allebei graag als nuchtere stem in het debat presenteren, komen tot wel heel andere conclusies over de islam. Boudry, die sinds zijn eerste boek 'de intellectuele kleinzoon van Etienne Vermeersch…

Escaping The Fallacy Fork? Straw-manning and circular reasoning.

Is it time to get rid of fallacy theory? Is there any use in having a laundry lists of labels for alleged reasoning errors, often with impressive Latin names, that are constantly thrown around? Several people have pointed to the “straw man fallacy” and the fallacy of “begging the question” (also known as circular reasoning or petitio principii) as counterexamples to our Fallacy Fork, a destructive dilemma for fallacy fetishists which we developed in this paper (see also my earlier blog post). In other words, they argue that these fallacies are (1) clear-cut and easy to define (2) regularly occur in real life, not just in logic textbooks. If this is true, then these fallacies escape the Fallacy Fork. As we didn’t discuss circular reasoning in our paper, and the straw man fallacy only very briefly, I’d like to address them here.
Reasonable examples of circular reasoning certainly exist. They are often characterized as instantiating "virtuous circularity", as opposed to "v…

The Conceptual Penis Hoax: Solid or Flaccid?

Last month, the philosopher Peter Boghossian and mathematician James M. Lindsay perpetrated a hoax on the journal Cogent Social Science, in an attempt to expose the academic field of Gender Studies. The paper, entitled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct", is a hilarious piece of satire, making the preposterous argument that the human penis is not so much an anatomical organ, but "a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct" that is damaging to society because it is "exclusionary to disenfranchised communities". After revealing the hoax in Skeptic Magazine, the perpetrators have received lots of encomiums for their efforts, but they have also taken quite some flak. By itself, this is not unusual, as it also happened to Alan Sokal when he pulled off his famous hoax on cultural studies in 1996. But this time, the criticism also came from within the skeptical community. Now Boghossian and Lindsay have published a point-by-point rebuttal of their…

The Fallacy Fork: Why It’s Time to Get Rid of Fallacy Theory

Summary: Fallacy theory is popular among skeptics, but it is in serious trouble. Every fallacy in the traditional taxonomy runs into a destructive dilemma which I call the Fallacy Fork: either it hardly ever occurs in real life, or it is not actually fallacious. ---------------- Why do people believe weird things? Why is there so much irrationality in the world? Here’s a standard answer from the sceptic’s playbook: fallacies. Fallacies are certain types of arguments that are common, attractive, persistent, and dead wrong. Because people keep committing fallacies, so the story goes, they end up believing all sorts of weird things. In popular books about skepticism and in the pages of skeptical magazines such as this one, one commonly finds a concise treatment of the most common types of fallacies. The traditional classification is widely known, often by its Latin name: ad hominem, ad ignorantiam, ad populum, begging the question, post hoc ergo propter hoc. Some of them are more obscure,