I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Right Reasoning, pt. III, The Dilemma

More in our study of valid forms of arguments...

I. The Dilemma:

A. Formally stated:

1. Either P or Q.
2. If P, then R;
3. If Q, then S;
4. Therefore, either R or S

The dilemma has a powerful rhetorical punch. It’s purpose is to present a clear dichotomist choice, a choice where either answer will imply or lead to negative or undesirable consequences.

B. 1. Illustrated from Scripture:

(This passage is taken from Matthew 21:23—27. The Sanhedrin comes to examine Jesus after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and the temple. The Sanhedrin presume to have the wherewithal to sit in judgment over Jesus’ words and deeds. The issue is a battle over warring ultimate authorities. Once we get through this series, I plan to revisit this passage and attend to some of the entailments for apologetics.)

The Sanhedrin came to Jesus in the temple asking, “’By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus answered them, ‘I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?’ And they discussed it among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From man,” we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’”

The argument follows thus.

i. Either John’s ministry was from (P) God or (Q) man.

ii. If we say (P) from God, then (R) we are reprobate for not believing him.

iii. If we say (Q) from man, then (S) the crowds may turn on us.

iv. Our choices are really between (R) confessing our reprobation or (S) facing an angry mob.

v. Neither choice is acceptable; therefore, we will suspend judgment.

B. 2. Illustrated from anthropology and jurisprudence:

i. Either (P) people are inherently good or (Q) people are inherently evil.

ii. If (P) people are inherently good, then (R) prohibitory laws are superfluous.

iii. If (Q) people are inherently evil, then (S) prohibitory laws are superfluous.

iv. Therefore, whether (P) people are inherently good or (Q) inherently evil, (R/S) prohibitory laws are superfluous.

C. The fallacy factor:

Even intuitively, whether or not one is conscious of it, a clear hazard in the use of this form is to create a false dilemma or false dichotomy in the original premise (i.e., Either P or Q). This is commonly called the Either-or fallacy. See my Master List of Informal Logical Fallacies, II:9, under “Making Assumptions.”

Obviously, the flaw comes by presenting an “either-or” choice between two propositions when in fact there are one or several other options. This is easy to do. One must be sure that he has exhausted the options so as to avoid this fatal flaw. Again, while the form my be valid, following the Dilemma perfectly, beginning with a flawed premise makes the whole argument unsound.

However, it is often the case that there are only two reasonable picks; either one or its alternative. This is transparently the case with Jesus’ argument—God or man.

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