Roman Rhetoric III
by: M. Horatius Piscinus

Pars III : Syllogism and the fallacies made through analysis and synthesis

Where I have been moving towards in my posts on rhetoric, and what I hope may prove most useful for our collegae, is in analyzing an argument. What I shall concern myself with are common fallacies made in arguments that you will want to avoid, and that you will want to discover in your opponent's argument to use against them.

In presenting a logical argument in an oration syllogism and/or induction are employed. For a short oration, or part of a longer oration, deductive reasoning might be used; "eliminating all other possibilities we can only conclude that. . . " However this method gives your audience too many other possibilities to think through, and does not necessarily lead then to the conclusion you wish for them to draw. Aristotle wrote of a syllogism as "discourse in which, certain things being posited, something else necessarily follows." Since his time the definition of a syllogism has been narrowed, analyzed into different categories with many rules on how to judge whether they are valid, but we may take his definition today to be that of inductive reasoning, with syllogism being one form. Inductive reasoning involves a conclusion that necessarily and directly follows from a premise. A proof will be composed of a number of syllogisms and inductive reasons, and an argument may be composed of a number of proofs supporting the various partiones of a propositio, so that the conclusion drawn in the peroratio follows directly from the propositio with which an argument is begun. It is the method of logic employed in an oration precisely because it tends to lead your audience through a series of reasons and persuades them to adopt your particular perspective.

A simple model for the structure of an argument is that found in Euclid's Elements, being the enunciation, the proof, and the conclusion. There are other parts of a Euclidean proposition which may be included, but this is the basic form which influenced ancient rhetoric. Most Euclidean proofs involve the use of syllogisms, a basic form of syllogism being, "If A is B, and B is C, then C must be A." Now I may be wrong, but I am assuming most of you have studied some Euclidean geometry and have been introduced to how to analyze a syllogism as to whether it is valid or not. What I would like to point to is the other type of Euclidean proof using analysis and synthesis that is a legitimate means in geometry and theoretical sciences, but forms a fallacy in an oratorical argument.

Analysis is an assumption of that which you seek to prove as being already admitted as true, and then passing through its consequences to something that is admittedly true. "We know Germanicus died. We know his bedroom was filled with curse tablets and magical charms meant to bring about his death. Let us assume Livia desired him dead and look at how she may have hired magi to invoke demons upon our beloved Germanicus." Such an argument is not based on any factual evidence but instead on a series of assumptions that amount to a speculation. A lawyer may attempt this form of argument, filling in details to coincide with circumstantial evidence that he has collected and can later introduce, to give an appearance of the validity of his argument. However his argument is still based on speculation, his conclusion does not "necessarily follow" from the circumstantial evidence he offers, and therefore his argument must be considered fallacious.

Synthesis is an assumption made from something that is admittedly true and passes through a series of its consequences to something that is sought to be true. This kind of argument usually works backward, taking what you want to prove as true and looking at possible antecedents that will lead back to a known fact. "How could Germanicus have been murdered by Livia? someone must have placed those charms in his room, someone must have put them up to it...and we know that on this day Livia's litter was seen in a street frequented by sorcerers and magi." Again, very little factual evidence and an argument based on pure speculation.

For a logical argument to be valid, using inductive reasoning, you must show a series of factual events that are each in a cause and effect relationship at every step, and can only lead to a conclusion that "necessarily follows" as a consequence. We will next look at a number of fallacies commonly made in arguments that try to avoid this step by step process.

If we take a logical argument to be a step by step process leading from a proposition, demonstrating a cause and effect relationship at every step, and completed by a conclusion that "necessarily follows" as a consequence, then we can see that at several points a fallacy can arise to undermine the entire argument. An initial fallacy can arise simply in the framing of the question to be argued. Fallacies arise when factual information presented for a proof are not verified, or when the premises of a syllogism is demonstrably false and invalidates other proofs that follow after it, where the causation between proofs can be shown to be fallacious, and when an argument is taken outside the series of proofs that support the different partitones of a propositio. A very common fallacy is made when the conclusion drawn at the end of the argument is totally unrelated to the proofs that have been offered and does not therefore "necessarily follow" from the line of reasoning that has been made. I recall a certain book on the American Civil War in which there was much valuable insight into the different aspects of warfare and how they had evolved under the influence of the field commanders of both sides in that war due to their previous experiences in the Mexican War, but then concluded that the South had lost the war because of their Celtic heritage. Although the factual information presented was well organized, attention to detail was well made, the conclusion was entirely unrelated to anything else provided in the argument.

The first type of fallacies we should be aware of is those which have to do with causation. The post hoc, propter hoc fallacy arises when two known but unrelated facts are held to result one from the other. "Caesar had an illicit affair with Servilia, and this caused their son Brutus to killed Caesar." The fact that Caesar may have been Brutus' father had nothing to do with the assassination of Caesar.

Another fallacy arises when an assumption is made that before a certain known event occurred that another event must have given rise to it. This is the pro hoc, propter hoc fallacy. "In the Late Republic the Rex sacrorum performed the religious duties once held by the kings of Rome, and therefore his office must have been created at the time the Tarquinians were expelled." Often this type of fallacy involves a projection back in time of later events. It is a type of fallacy we need to greatly concern ourselves with because many Roman antiquarians employed it as a means of justifying things of their own period. The Aenean myth can be taken as one example, the invention of Romulus appearing to Julian was made to support the political aims of Augustus, and although these particular examples involve using myth as history we should be aware that other examples passed off as history often involve the same form of invention.

There is also the cum hoc, propter hoc fallacy in which two unrelated events occurring approximately the same time are held to cause one another. There are other, similar fallacies of this nature where relations between events are assumed rather than demonstrated.

Other fallacies arise through generalizations, narrations, motivations, or analogy. All of these are due to assumptions being made rather than consideration of factual information. When researching a topic you may come upon a considerable amount of information, some quite interesting, but unrelated to your topic. When forming an argument you will have to decide what is significant and what is not. A special kind of fallacy is that of factual significance, where emphasis is placed on minute details of a circumstantial nature and necessary causes are overlooked.

A type of fallacy I have often seen on the internet involves semantical distortions where the words of a statement are analyzed for hidden meanings, and what is actually said is overlooked. This is more of a tactic of twisting your opponents words than a development of an argument. This argument is employed by Cicero and Varro among others, in attempting to explain ancient institutions or names of deities. Cicero arguing in De Natura Deorum, for example, has Ceres' name derived from gerere, "to bear." Such explanations found in ancient sources are, unfortunately, often accepted by modern writers who do not recognize their fallacious nature.

There is a whole category of fallacies called substantive distractions where the argument is carried away from the actual issues of debate. A better known one is the argumenta ad hominem in which attention is shifted into an attack on an opponent rather than over the issues of a debate. The form of an ad hominem can be (1) an abusive denunciation, (2) suggestive of ulterior motives or that an opponent holds a position only out of self interest, (3) by association, undercutting an opponent by referring to the company he keeps, "The Devil has a son, surely it is Palmerston," which was a tactic employed in the Joe McCarthy hearings of the 1950's (4) and the "tu quoque" argument that suggests an opponent once held the view he now argues against - Dr. Johnson overhearing a lady complain how she disliked London because there her fingernails always became dirty, replied, "Perhaps, Madam, you scratch yourself."

Popular with college professors is the argumenta ad verecundiam that is an appeal to authority, "I am the professor, you are not, therefore you don't know what you are talking about." This is an egregious rhetorical technique, arguing towards modesty or shame, that an opponent commits a sin of pride in continuing to hold a position against the opinion of other authorities. Often the argument is based solely on professional status, using pedantic words and phrases, references and quotations, lengthy arguments with attention to many details and specificity, or entering into mathematical symbols and other forms of arcana meant to show a greater knowledge of a subject than an opponent may have, but never addressing the merit of a position.

Some other forms of a substantive distraction fallacy can be briefly touched on. The ad femininem attacks an opponent for being a woman; the ad effemininem attacks an opponent for being like a woman, which was a popular argument among Romans against opponents who displayed Greek influences. The ad crumenam is the "if you're so smart, why aren't you rich" argument. The ad baculum is the threat of actual or implied physical force. Ad temperantiam appeals to moderation in style or substance. Ad antiquitam is an illegitimate appeal to ages past in order to justify the present or future, what Bentham called the Chinese argument, "Men so love old truths, and they love old errors as well." The ad novitam appeals to modernity, novelty, or youthfulness. Ad misercordiam appeals to pity, as when Servius Galba held up his ward in an appeal to the Roman crowd to care for his children after his death, winning himself an acquittal of charges brought by Cato. Ad metum is an appeal to fear. Ad odium is an appeal to hatred, as in the Dreyfus case. Ad superbiam is an appeal to snobbery or pride, where ad invidiam is an appeal to an audience's envy of an opponent. Ad superstitionem is an appeal to credulity, or, "Who are you going to believe, him or me." The argumenta ad modum admits to an opponent's position but argues for gradual application, due measure, or proportionate action. And where all else fails there is the argumenta ad nauseum where sustained repetition rather than reasoned proof is used to wear down opposition.

Before leaving fallacies, we should also consider the fallacist's fallacies. (1) "Fallacies exist independent of particular purposes and assumptions." (2) "Sound thinking is merely thinking that is not fallacious." (3) "An argument that is structurally fallacious in some respect is therefore structurally false in all respects." (4) "An argument which is structurally false in some aspect, or even in every respect, is therefore substantively false in its conclusion." (5) "The appearance of a fallacy in an argument is an external sign of its author's depravity." All of these propositions are profoundly wrong.

All of the fallacies that I have mentioned may be used in an oration. They are in fact rhetorical techniques used to "move the crowds." Oratory was once a form of entertainment, the debates between orators being a show which had to appeal to an audience's emotions as well as to their sense of reason. Romans, and other orators who followed after them, could become highly dramatic. "You shall not force down unto the brow of Mankind this cross of gold" (for all you William Jennings Bryant fans). Lucious Crassus reportedly once spoke, "Deliver us from our miseries! Deliver us from the jaws of the men whose cruelty even a torrent of our blood will never sate!" The ornamentation of an oration included such things as digressions into commonly known stories to illustrate a point, exaggerations, and fallacious appeals as we have seen here. The most memorable parts of many orations are precisely such statements of exaggerated appeals based in fallacious notions. Where a problem arises for the orator in presenting an argument is where he employs such fallacies in his line of reasoning, or draws a conclusion solely based on a fallacy. Let us recall the words of Zeno, "That which employs reason is superior than that which does not." Each of us may at times post an argument. All of us form an audience. We should make the core of our argument be a reasoned deliberation no matter how we may dress it up. We as an audience should also demand reasoned arguments be presented to us, and call down on anyone who posts solely using bombast, rhetorical comments, and fallacious arguments. Recognize the rhetorical fallacies so you may exclude them from your line of reasoning and become a more effective orator. Recognize them and become a more discerning audience.

© 2001-2018 Societas Via Romana