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Rationalissimus of the Elenchus

'Loki's Wager'

The continuum fallacy occurs when a reasoner claims that the lack of a binary distinction between A and B means no useful distinction exists between the two. A related concept is Loki's Wager, which is the insistence that if a concept cannot be defined, it cannot be discussed.

Brok: I'm here to collect your head.

Loki: Very well, you may take my head. But you may take no part of my neck!

Except 'head' is a difficult term to define, because some parts of it are independent, but other parts connected to the neck. Yet, the dwarves in the story were forbidden from taking any of Loki's neck. Thus, they could not touch him at all.

By appealing to vagueness - the inability to define a term - we can avoid having a conversation entirely.

Here's a possible example:

Murray: People shouldn't make comments that are offensive to minorities. 

Christine: Who gets to define 'offensiveness'? If we cannot agree on what is 'offensive, the topic is irrelevant.

Are you convinced that this is a good example of the fallacy? Discuss.

asked on Tuesday, Jun 08, 2021 10:15:38 AM by Rationalissimus of the Elenchus

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Answers

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Monique Z
3

I can think of an example where this logic happens very regularly. When discussing the topic of morality, it's often argued in one form or another:

if an objective foundation for morality cannot be agreed on, then there is no way we can determine what's right or wrong. People will define right and wrong differently. So morality is not objective.

I think this is sort of like the ambiguity fallacy. The person is making a conclusion ("morality is not objective", "discussing offensiveness is useless") based on the asserted ambiguity of the term. However I think in both cases the conclusion is out of place. Just because not everyone agrees on what's ethical or offensive, it doesn't make asking those questions meaningless. The presence of ambiguity does not mean the inquiry is futile and isn't worth discussing. Its very possible that we just need to do more research into these areas in order for our understanding to improve, and having discussions about it is necessary to improve our understanding.

I like the name appeal to futility for this logic.

*Update* after some discussion, the fallcy that has come up that best describes these arguments is Inflation of conflict

answered on Wednesday, Jun 09, 2021 07:57:47 AM by Monique Z

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Arlo writes:

I see the " if an objective foundation for morality cannot be agreed on, then there is no way we can determine what's right or wrong. People will define right and wrong differently. So morality is not objective " statement as circular.  The first premise ( if an objective foundation for morality cannot be agreed on ) seems to get restated as the conclusion ( So morality is not objective ).  Of course, moral realists would have great difficulty with statements suggesting that "goodness" or "badness" is always open to divergent definitions.

I do agree with you in that just because it might be difficult to find common ground for a debate doesn't make having the debate meaningless or that the debate is not worth having.  The lack of common ground just makes the debate more difficult.  Unless we're into competitive debating, every debate doesn't need to have a winner ... agreeing to disagree is an OK result, especially if we can agree that our different understanding of basic elements is the cause.

posted on Thursday, Jun 10, 2021 11:14:38 AM
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Rationalissimus of the Elenchus writes:
[To Arlo]

Well-spotted.

"If an objective foundation for morality cannot be agreed on, then there is no way we can determine what is right or wrong"

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"So morality is not objective"

Our conclusion (objective morality cannot be agreed on) is a conditional in one of the premises.

Unless the person is making a distinction between something being agreed as objective and the thing actually being objective. But even that could be distinction without a difference.

[ login to reply ] posted on Thursday, Jun 10, 2021 07:59:50 PM
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Monique Z writes:
[To Arlo]

Interesting points. I'm not sure this counts as true circular reasoning. The argument is more like the modus tollens, albeit with the first premise missing:

P1. If morality is objective, we would all agree on the objective foundation for determining right and wrong.

P2.We do not all agree on a foundation for determining right and wrong 

Conclusion: Morality is not objective. 

[ login to reply ] posted on Friday, Jun 11, 2021 03:21:28 AM
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Bo Bennett, PhD
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insistence that if a concept cannot be defined, it cannot be discussed.

This makes sense to me in a loose sense—if interlocutors have difference understandings of a concept, they talk past each other. It makes sense to agree of a definition before engaging in a conversation/debate about it:

Murray: People shouldn't make comments that are offensive to minorities. 

Christine: Who gets to define 'offensiveness'? If we cannot agree on what is 'offensive, the topic is irrelevant.

Murray: Your point is well taken. So let's define "offensiveness" for our purposes similar to how the legal system defines "reasonable doubt," Granted, people will disagree, and there will be some grey areas that can go either way, but most importantly, this will help us to avoid those comments that are clearly offensive.

Christine: That makes sense. Perhaps a better rule would be "people should consider how their comments might affect others and consciously use judgement before making them in an attempt to avoid offending others," since we have no control over how other people respond to stimuli.

Murry: That sounds fine to me.

answered on Tuesday, Jun 08, 2021 10:27:04 AM by Bo Bennett, PhD

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Rationalissimus of the Elenchus writes:

This is sensible and why I was confused by the fallacy. I think it might be hinting at equivocation more than definitional vagueness.

posted on Tuesday, Jun 08, 2021 11:11:15 AM