Logic Does Not Care About Your Likes: An Analysis of a Viral Abortion Argument
Just like bad information can go viral, bad arguments can go viral as well.
On October 16, 2017, writer Patrick Tomlinson (PT) — who we can assume is pro-choice — wrote an argument against the pro-life crowd, using an analogy in which he claimed “in 10 years, no one has EVER answered it honestly”. This argument, consisted of 9 tweets, the first of which is shown below:
It continues for eight more tweets, each with varying degrees of virality as indicated by the number of retweets. The first half of the argument (tweets 2–5) set up the situation.
The second half of PT’s argument (tweets 6–9) uses the hypothetical situation to prove not only why pro-life activists are wrong, but why they’re disingenuous.
What’s fortunate about him separating his argument into several tweets is that, by looking at the likes, we can get a sense of what people agree with in his arguments, or what they think are the strong points of his argument. We can see that the final half of his argument was especially favored over the first half of his argument—his conclusions were compelling.
PT ends with the point of his story, which is that the value of a child is always greater than that of a human embryo.
Analysis of the Argument
If we were to judge the quality of PT’s argument based on popularity, this is a winning argument—nearly 80K people liked the argument over all nine tweets.
However, logic doesn’t care about likes.
Sure, it’s a winning argument in terms of likes, but does it win in terms of logic?
To answer this question, first recognize that this is an argument by analogy. PT is claiming that certain things in his hypothetical world correspond to thing in the real world.
So, if we put his claims about the hypothetical world in one column, and in another column we put his claims about what they correspond to in the real world, and if we represent his claims in predicate form, we get the following:
A Brief Aside about Predicate Form
Briefly, using predicate form you have objects (you, embryos, child, pro-life-activist, living-kids); predicates, which assert something about an object, e.g., Choose(child), Pregnant(woman); and rules, e.g., Choose(Child) → ¬Choose(Embryos). The “¬” means “not”, i.e., if you choose a child you cannot choose the embryos.
Predicate form may look complex, but all it denotes is that “you” in the hypothetical world correspond to a pro-life-activist in the real world, faced with a choice between an embryo-container (corresponds to a pregnant-woman in the real world), and a child (corresponds to living-kids in the real world).
It’s useful to represent an argument in predicate form because it: (a) forces you and your opponent to be specific about the terms of your argument; and (b) allows you to check the logical flow of an argument.
When analyzing an argument by analogy, it is also useful because it allows you to “see” whether things in the analogical world correspond correctly to things in the real world.
Where the Argument is Strong
The argument is logical ONLY IF: (1) you accept the correspondences and then (2) “stay” in the hypothetical world (first column). Then you are forced to conclude that the pro-life position is not only wrong, but dishonest.
Where the Argument Breaks Down
But when you consider both the hypothetical and real world, the argument is illogical for three main reasons:
- False Choice. The choice between the child and the embryo-container in the hypothetical space does not hold in the real world, because it would correspond to you having to choose between living-kids and a pregnant-woman, which is not the choice one makes in the real world (it’s a choice between carrying a child to term and aborting the child).
- False Consequence. In the hypothetical world, you die if you fail to choose between the embryo-container (pregnant-woman) and the child (living-kids). You don’t die in the real world if you fail to make a choice, or if you choose both.
- False Value Judgement. In the hypothetical world the value of a child is greater than the value of the embryos, which is why you choose the child. But in the real world, this value assumption corresponds to living-kids > pregnant-women, which you cannot conclude in the real world.
In short, the argument is not logical when you map the rules in the hypothetical world back to rules in the real world.
Kudos to PT for making the argument go viral, even though it isn’t logical. Although, the fact that so many people retweeted an illogical argument is highly disturbing.