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Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric by Howard Kahane and Nancy Cavender


Howard Kahane and Nancy Cavender argue that good reasoners avoid indifference and rationalization, wishful thinking and wallowing in evil thoughts. Good reasoners compare ideas with experience, figuring out unstated assumptions and implications. Looking for the strongest versions of arguments, they do not assume all important, relevant information is within an argument. They simplify to increase understanding, not out of a craving for feel-good, groupthink, media-bombardment solutions. They apply lessons of history and human psychology to reasoning.


Among the general ways bad things happen in arguments, there exist irrelevant premises (including ad hominem attacks), inadequate premises, (for example: Flat out false claims), and premises given wrong weight by readers.


The arrangement of fallacies herein is not concise enough. Some of the authors' fallacies are forms of more general fallacies. The slippery slope is a form of false cause. Guilt by association is an ad hominem, suppressed evidence a straw person. The authors’ subjectivism surprises, considering they seem to relish telling unpopular truths.


This work includes a nifty summary of flaws found in the media and textbooks--better than many works of media criticism crammed with subjectivism, literary theories and postmodernist jargon. (Image, access, power, money, trivia, infotainment, simplification, laziness, novelty, bad habits and interest groups, write the authors, drive media and textbooks.) The authors claim exaggeration is often morally acceptable when used for satire. This work includes hilarious, well-chosen cartoons. Worth skimming.


Book review by JT Fournier, last updated July 5, 2009.


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