Monday, 2 March 2009

The Fallacy of Chronological Snobbery

So named by Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis, this fallacy is a modern favourite, especially amongst self-declared rationalists, who are not just commonly prone to irrationality, but who have, in their doctrinal entailments, an uncanny instinct for irrationalism. The fallacy is as follows:

(1) It is argued that p implies q.
(2) That p implies q was argued long ago when people also believed such absurdities as r, s, and t.
(3) We are modern and up-to-date and thoroughly rational and do not associate with such stupid, primitive, pre-rational, superstitious, iron-age thinking.
Therefore,
(4) We do not deign to suppose that p implies q.
(5) That which we do not deign to suppose to be true is untrue.
Therefore,
(6) p does not imply q.

One may note the group-thought that greatly informs this fallacy. Mere conventionality to the prevailing intellectual climate of the age usurps the place and name of rationality, which is then made sacrosanct, whereupon the fear of appearing irrational — that is to say, of appearing out of step with the age — becomes greater than the initial motivating fear of being irrational. Guided by this conventionality, enticed by a progressive-historicism which sees the future as a bright light, and the past as a dark and terrible place, the fallacy is informed throughout by haughtiness and ignorance. The progressive-historicism of the fallacy often betrays itself in such epithets as “medieval logic”, spoken as though an instance of logical inference could somehow be invalidated and therefore ignored merely through association with a pre-modern source.
.....For near-daily examples, read the weblogs Overcoming Bias and Secular Right, wherein one may also enjoy the spectacle of what Arthur Schopenhauer called the secularised religion of reason, which has, as one may expect, much to do with passion.

19 comments:

dearieme said...

There is a kindred error, thus: the medieval Roman Catholic Church was an odious thing, therefore it must have believed that the world was flat.

robert61 said...

That's a swell argument...and one that will convince roughly 0.000001% of those to whom it is most applicable.

Out of curiosity, Deogolwulf, to which confession do you adhere, if any?

Deogolwulf said...

Dearieme, indeed the moderns have imputed all sorts of beliefs to the medievals which they did not hold. Good for the modern image, I suppose.

robert61: "and one that will convince roughly 0.000001% of those to whom it is most applicable."

Not sure what you mean.

"to which confession do you adhere, if any?"

None, I'm afraid. Something of a heathen.

argentum said...

Not sure what you mean.

That only precious few of those whose mode of argumentation you described will see the error of their ways.

Recusant said...

But, but..............surely history is a story with a happy ending? The new is better than the old. The fact that something has been done/thought for 2,000 years is proof positive that it must be wrong. The Whig view of history, in its limited way, is the only one worth giving shelf space to. Anyone who disagrees with this is an irrational, metaphysical fool and must have his arguments destroyed by the broad application of straw man arguments.

Etc., etc..

Deogolwulf said...

"That only precious few of those whose mode of argumentation you described will see the error of their ways."

Ah, Argentum, I wasn't sure if Mr 61 was being sarcastic. I was being a bit dim.

Indeed, Recusant. (It has been a while.)

robert61 said...

argentum's got it. Sorry, I wasn't trying to be obscure.

Deogolwulf said...

No need to apologise, Robert.

Laban said...

Has the fallacy which goes as follows got a title ?

a) Some people say "x" (usually 'things are getting worse, young people have no respect, going to dogs etc')

b) you can find examples throughout history of people saying "x".

c) therefore people have always said "x"

d) therefore "x" is not true

(Not that I wouldn't agree that there's a universal tendency to gild our youthful days. But in the most usual case the fallacy implies that at no time have things ever actually got worse for anyone at all)

Deogolwulf said...

Laban, I don’t have a name for it, but I wrote about it here.

James Higham said...

Antediluvian wisdom, sir.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Post hoc, if I may, ergo melius hoc.

Larry Teabag said...

(1) It is argued that p implies q.
(2) That p implies q is currently believed by assorted 'liberals' and lefties who also believe trendy absurdities such as r, s, and t.
(3) We are rationalists, in the true and timeless meaning of the word, and do not associate with poseurs and faux intellectuals.
Therefore,
(4) We do not deign to suppose that p implies q.
(5) That which we do not deign to suppose to be true is untrue.
Therefore,
(6) p does not imply q.

One may note the group-thought that informs this fallacy. Mere animosity to the prevailing intellectual climate of the age usurps the place and name of irrationality, which is then declared anathema, whereupon the fear of appearing irrational — that is to say, of appearing in league with the idiots of the age — becomes greater than the initial motivating fear of being irrational. Thus guided and enticed by a nostalgic-historicism which sees the past as a golden era, and the future as a dystopia, the fallacy is informed throughout by haughtiness and ignorance. The nostalgic-historicism of the fallacy often betrays itself in such epithets as “Guardinista”, spoken as though an instance of logical inference could somehow be invalidated and therefore ignored merely through association with a modern and fashionable source.

Deogolwulf said...

“Tu quoque” is also a fallacy, Mr Teabag, if it is believed to get anyone of the hook, though I cannot tell whether you do believe so, and whether you are directing it at me or someone else. The fallacy (1)-(6) is a form of guilt-by-association, which is common enough in its many forms. There is, however, a great difference between, on the one hand, rejecting some set of things as wrong, and thereby not wishing to be associated with them, and, on the other hand, committing this kind of fallacy. If, for instance, one believes that a particular age is poor in many respects, an age which one rejects on the whole, then one may be right, wrong, tasteful, tasteless, clever, stupid, well-informed, ill-informed, etc, but one does not necessarily commit a logical fallacy in believing so.

By the way, if one believes, say, that the eighteenth century was culturally superior to the twentieth century, it does not mean that one has “a nostalgic-historicism which sees the past as a golden era”. I cannot say that I have ever met anyone who thought of “the past” per se in such terms, though, no doubt, if one has eyes for the gray hue of modernity, one may rightly see that almost all eras of the past appear somewhat golden in preference.

Larry Teabag said...

I cannot tell whether you do believe so, and whether you are directing it at me or someone else

That's the wonderful thing about grandiloquent generalisation, isn't it?

Deogolwulf said...

Gosh. Perhaps in future I should stick just to particulars, or merely point to where many might be found, lest someone construe anything I might say as "grandiloquent generalisation". But I doubt even that would avail.

Yet, really, Mr Teabag, making silly comments on blogs can hardly be a good use of your time, and answering them is certainly not a good use of mine. So, if you have nothing interesting, instructive, or even faintly amusing to say, then please do go elsewhere.

Larry Teabag said...

Th point of my comment - and indeed of most comments I leave on this blog - is that your criticisms of 'progressives' are usually equally applicable to 'regressives' once a suitable symmetry has been recognised: interchanging stereotypical attitudes to the past and future, for instance.

I don't say they are then applicable to you individually, necessarily, but then there are plenty of intelligent thoughtful liberals to whom your criticisms don't apply. For the most part you ignore them, preferring to airily poke fun at caricatures, or convenient idiots (as in this post). Similarly you ignore the idiots massed on your side of the political fence (for near-daily examples, read the weblogs Duff and Nonsense or Ambush Predator), and scrutinise caricatures coming in your direction with rather more care than those you dish out. (Have I ever met anyone who thought of “the past” per se as a "a dark and terrible place". No I have not. Though I don't doubt that you have encountered thousands of such people.)

From my perspective idiotic regressives seem no less common (or idiotic) than idiotic progressives. So I don't see why I shouldn't point out this imbalance.

Deogolwulf said...

Mr Teabag,

Firstly, note that I have not disputed your mirror-fallacy. To whomsoever it applies, it is all well and good. Secondly, concerning: “there are plenty of intelligent thoughtful liberals to whom your criticisms don’t apply”, I am under no obligation to make every general and non-trivial criticism that covers many particulars cover all particulars in the diverse world of “intelligent-thoughtful liberalism”, howsoever that world and its denizens might be conceived by anyone; for I am under no obligation to perform what may well be the impossible. (I have said this before and I shall say it again: criticism applies to whomsoever it applies.) Thirdly, the target in this post was not liberalism or leftism per se, at least not in terms of the widely-accepted present-day conceptions thereof. (I would be surprised if those at Secular Right and many of those at Overcoming Bias would include themselves in the class of “intelligent-thoughtful liberals”, and I doubt that many “intelligent-thoughtful liberals” would be too pleased to find themselves grouped with self-declared rightists and race-realists.) Fourthly, regarding the accusation that I target “convenient idiots” in this post, I would say that the writers and commenters at the two aforementioned sites are hardly amongst the dimmest on the internet. Some indeed are very intelligent, though I would say that there is a great deal of shallowness on display. Quite why, however, I am not meant ever to target idiocy, which is, after all a very powerful force in the world, I do not know. Fifthly, I almost despair that no matter that I might choose to give the best or simply the most typical expression of a position, it will be construed as caricature. Here, in this post, I have given a general-formal expression of the fallacy that is more sophisticated — almost to the point of valid logical form — than it actually appears in the particular “arguments” of the people whom I am criticising, yet I am accused of caricature! Our shallow world is full of caricatures, Mr Teabag, living, breathing ones, bad copies of something they have read. A man such as Dostoevsky would struggle to depict them; for in his depth he would be tempted to give them redeeming features that they do not possess, to flesh them out, as it were, as characters.

argentum said...

Larry Teabags,


From my perspective idiotic regressives seem no less common (or idiotic) than idiotic progressives. So I don't see why I shouldn't point out this imbalance.


I have the impression it's commonly considered futile, or even in bad taste, today to remind interlocutors that, at heart, our disagreements are about the nature of reality, what is true. It's with that thought in mind that I tentatively point out that if 'regressives' often appear to revere the past it's because they consider 'the past' to have had a firmer grip on reality than the present, at least on matters that are most important to them. Thus idiotic 'regressives', unaware that is the case and looking up to the past qua 'the past', are right for the wrong reasons; whereas progressives, idiotic or not, are just wrong -- no matter what their reasons. No offense, but I just don't see why I shouldn't point out this imbalance. :)