The way to test your argument for validity is what we might call the that’s-like-saying test. You give me your argument, I provide an analogous argument – analogous in the sense of sharing what we call your argument’s argument form – and if the conclusion of the analogous argument doesn’t follow from its premises, then neither does the conclusion of yours follow from yours. 

Your argument is this:

  1. Relative to non-indigenous people, indigenous people are vastly under- represented in virtually every plum position one can name, so

2. indigenous people are obviously being discriminated against for these plum positions because of their race.

The analogous argument – an argument sharing the identical argument form – is this:

Relative to non-Jews, Jews are vastly over-represented in every plum position one can name, which is logically equivalent to saying that 

3. relative to Jews, non-Jews are vastly under-represented in every plum job one can name, so

4. non-Jews are being discriminated against for these plum positions because of their race.

Why does (4) not follow from (3)? Because there’s a perfectly serviceable explanation for Jewish over-representation in these plum positions, one that need make no appeal to discrimination against non-Jews. It’s that Jews are typically – ‘stereotypically’ if you prefer – inordinately better qualified for these plum positions than their non-Jewish counterparts. Is this because Jews are innately superior to non-Jews? No. It’s because of certain historical contingencies which can be, and have been, readily enumerated.

Are there historical contingencies which can be, and have been, readily enumerated as to why indigenous people are typically – ‘stereotypically’ if you prefer – less qualified than non-indigenous people for these plum positions? Obviously. So notwithstanding the truth of (1), (2) does not follow from it.

Does this mean that indigenous people are not being discriminated against for these plum positions because of their race? No. Do I nonetheless have an opinion on the matter one way or the other? I do not. My purpose here – my only purpose here – has been to call out a piece of bad inferencing. Why? Because that’s what professional philosophers are paid to do.   

Categories: Critical Thinking, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. You haven’t quite earned your keep as a professional philosopher. There is still more work to do.

    People who benefit from fallacious inferences have gotten smarter. Their arguments are not so easy to demonstrate as fallacies because they have blurred the edges of their categories and have implied more while claiming less. Here’s an example I recently read.

    1. In large corporations headquartered in Toronto the percentage of Black directors on their boards is less than 1% when the percentage of Black people in Toronto is approximately 10%.
    2. Therefore, these corporate boards are insufficiently diverse.

    The idea of negative discrimination is not explicitly mentioned. It is fudged in the nonspecific, unquantified claim of lack of “diversity”. It suggests, without saying, that the percentage of Black directors should approximate 10%, leaving it to the reader to draw that inference. That makes it more difficult to challenge because the fallacy has not been overtly committed.

    As well, there is the unarticulated but implied assumption that the other 9% of Black people in Toronto are qualified to be directors of such boards and, if qualified, want to be on those boards rather than doing something else with their careers. Again, this avoids making the fallacy explicit, leaving the reader to do so by inference.

    Your work is cut out for you.


    • 1. Blacks are under-represented in plum positions in Toronto. True. Therefore,
      2. they’re being discriminated against.
      (2) does not follow from (1), but Andrew Roman’s point is that (2) is (what professional philosophers call) an enthymeme, by which is meant an unstated premise or conclusion. And since it’s unstated, the arguer cannot be called out for a sloppy inference. Instead, what the arguer is relying on is that his listener will conclude (2). Okay Andrew, is that better? If so, pay up!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is way better. The world, or at least your readers, now know what an enthymeme is, and how tricky they can be.

    I hereby approve of your university giving you your full paycheque this month. You have earned it.


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