I was thinking about arguments, and Paul Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement. These thoughts weren’t spontaneous: I get accused of various bad forms of argument quite a bit; especially by people who believe themselves to be above such things, and usually right after they have committed one of the same.
For the most part, it doesn’t bother me, but it is quizzical. Not just for the hypocrisy (Hypocrisy is often closer to virtue than vice in my book.), but because my frame of reference for appropriate debate is how it’s done in scripture. It is full of name-calling and ad hominem. Jesus, and all the heroes of the Bible, seems to use the whole range of the argument pyramid in their arguments; even name-calling. In the first conflict between those of the Old Testament, and those of the New, the pharisees approach John the Baptist to be baptized and he quickdraws on them, “You brood of vipers!”
I guess John the Baptist never heard of Paul Graham.
One oft-considered fallacious argument that Graham does not rank is the appeal to authority; though he does sort of slide it under ad hominem. For what I hope are obvious reasons: I love the appeal to authority. It’s probably my favorite.
The remarkable thing about the rejection of authority is not so much, “Where would we be without it”, but, “Who would you be?” The closer we get to the basic facts about who you are, the less we really know and the more we just argue beliefs of ourselves on pure authority.
How do you know how old you are? Do you remember it? Do you know where you were born like you know where you were last week? You were surely there, but you just take it on authority that the month and date and place of your birth is what is actually recorded on your birth certificate.
On what grounds is your name, say, John? You answer to it. You tell people to call you that, but all you know is that people have been calling you that for a long time, and you respond to it. Sure, you can go to some bureaucracy and change your name, and then you can know that your name is Bubbles or whatever, but how can you know before that without resorting to pure authority?
There is at least one thing that is sure evidence of who you are: Your resemblances to your father and mother. If I’ve seen them, I can know whether you belong to them, or not. The entirety of your provable and demonstrable identity rests upon how well others can match you to your parents. And what is parentage but physical and mental authorship?
Turns out there’s a lot more, “You were thought of, and so you are”, than, “I think therefore I am”.