[I normally stick to technical issues on this weblog. This posting is about logic, which is sort-of related to tech; apologies in advance to anyone who came here hoping for a short break from personal pontification about current events.]
If you think there’s no moral justification for torture, would you accept the nuclear destruction of NYC (for example) to avoid torturing one known terrorist? (No fair extending my question to more ambiguous hypotheticals.)
Most people who commented objected to the question itself; as a result, today Adams declared himself the winner by a knockout and went on to insult his opponents:
… a scary number of people offered comments that were the logical equivalent of punching themselves unconscious in the first round. I don’t need to point them out because they’re somewhat obvious. The point is that most of those people are eligible to vote.
Let’s put aside the issue of torture, and simply look at the question itself. Adams has structured his question so that whether you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, you’re forced first to accept the premise that torture is an effective way to get information — in other words, there’s no way to answer the question directly without agreeing with him. This trick is called the Fallacy of many questions — the classic (somewhat disturbing) example is the question “when did you stop beating your wife” — and in a formal debate, it would result in a severe penalty.
To show how this fallacy distorts an argument, substitute a premise that (I hope) no one reading this posting would agree with, and try to come up with a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer:
If you think there’s no moral justification for murdering children, would you accept the nuclear destruction of NYC (for example) to avoid pushing one live baby slowly into a wood chipper? (No fair extending my question to more ambiguous hypotheticals.)
I do believe that it’s important to debate all issues openly, even touchy ones such as whether torture is an effective kind of interrogation — I believe that the answer is ‘no’ , but in my personal, offline life, I’m not afraid to hear legitimate evidence and reasonable arguments from people who disagree with me. I promise not to introduce any logical fallacies to try to trip those people up.
And I don’t plan an ad hominem attack against Adams either. He seems to be a smart guy, and I enjoy his comics. I’ll look forward to hearing his legitimate arguments on the torture issue.