Tuesday, March 04, 2008

If not P, then Q

When Opposition members raised some objections to the generous Rs 60000-crore farm loan waiver in his Budget , the Finance Minister retorted with an obviously, well-rehearsed political poser, “Are you for the farmer or against the farmer? Stand up and be counted”. Implication being that if you are for the farmer, you won’t be opposing this waiver. On the other hand, if you are against the farmer, then stand up and say so, let the voters know….

Such arguments have been used before. The most famous one being that of George W Bush when he stated, “Either you are with us or against us in the war on terrorism”.

A form of logic or argument known as disjunctive syllogism starts with the premise that either condition P exists or condition Q exists, then goes on to claim that as condition P is not seen to be existing, therefore condition Q it must be then. You can either be pro-farmer or anti-farmer. As you are not speaking for the farmer, you must be against him.

As an argument, and if the premises are right, then disjunctive syllogism is a valid one. But, what Bush and Chidambaram did was to convert this into a false dilemma. one in which two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options, when in reality there exists one or more other options which have not been considered. In other words, even if the two options are mutually exclusive, they are not collective exhaustive. For example, I may be for the farmer, but against irrational, populist sops. This doesn’t make me anti-farmer.

Either you agree with me or you are a crook.

4 comments:

Sundar Narayanan said...

try this variation at work..

one of my old senior executives used to do this all the time and I hated him for it..

start a sentence with

"lets do what is right for our company.. " and add whatever you think you want to do at the end of that sentence..

you win! case closed! No one can argue!

Raj said...

Sundar, right. It's like starting an argument by saying, " I am sure that all right-thinking people will agree that...."

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