An Aside – The Tyranny of Logic

Cause I feel like it.  That’s why.

Logic can be a very confusing word.  It’s held up as the gold standard of reasoning, yet oftentimes one person’s logic doesn’t match, or even contradicts, another’s.  The implication of the term, often unstated, is that there is one correct logical path and by claiming it, an individual is correct.  In this way two intelligent people with sound thinking skills may defend their view points as “logical” and thereby suggest that the other person’s thinking as “illogical”.  Here’s the thing: They both can be right.

Logic isn’t a term for the correct argument.  Logic is a chain of reasoning that leads to an answer.  Good logic is a chain of reasoning wherein each argument supports each succeeding argument ultimately supporting a comprehensive conclusion to an answer.  Note that there’s nothing about exclusively owning the right answer.  In a world of imperfect information (i.e. this one), it is quite possible to have to lines of equally strong logic that disagree on the answer to the exact same question.  Consider the following example:

A man is lurches down a sidewalk.  He reaches a lamppost, vomits, then stumbles into an alleyway before passing out.  What’s going on here?

 

Logic A: The man is drunk.  Alcohol neatly explains his poor walking, vomiting, and unconsciousness.

Logic B:  The man is sick.  His illness could cause all of the symptoms described.

 

Both are equally plausible lines of logic with equally strong supporting evidence.  One may be right, or even both could be wrong, but the logic that underpins them is roughly equivalent.  Yet I’ve often seen (and occasionally participated in) arguments where two or more people are vehemently defending their equal lines of logic to the exclusion of others.  The problem often stems from two misconceptions: exclusivity and confirmation bias.

The exclusivity problem is the one I’ve outlined above.  Logic has grown to include a Highlanderesqe principle.  THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.  If you don’t accept my logic, then you must be denying my argument.  We never explicitly state it that way, but when someone else proposes an alternative line of logic, the presumption is that they’re undermining our own.  If we accept that, absent a conclusive answer, multiple lines of logic can be equally valid, then we can hopefully work to find the answer instead of just arguing about it.

Just kidding; we still have to deal with confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is the mental shortcut wherein humans overvalue supporting information for our beliefs and discount contradictory information.  The more committed we are to a particular belief, the more pronounced the confirmation bias becomes.  Even if we accept that there are multiple, plausible lines of logic, we will still try to prove our particular line simply because it’s the theory we came up with.  This is the tyranny of logic.  The, often subconscious, belief that our logic is the right logic and the lengths we’ll go to prove it.

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