Monday, January 5, 2015

Fallacies and Final Authorities

There’s a fallacy in that argument somewhere.

Have you ever said that to yourself?  I have.  Usually my next thought is, but I don’t know where! 

I'm feeling verbose today so I have decided to hold forth on how to tell where the fallacy is. The fallacy for today’s lesson: Ipse dixit.  (True verbosity should always include Latin, right?)

Ipse dixit simply means, “He said it himself.”  The ipse dixit argument is an appeal to an illegitimate authority to settle an argument.  For instance, someone says to you, “Of course evolution is a fact!  Scientist Joe Schmoe said so!”  Now, Joe Schmoe may be a very good scientist, but he was not alive millions of years ago when evolution supposedly occurred.  Therefore, he cannot conclusively prove that evolution is a fact.

Homeschoolers run into the ipse dixit argument often.  “Your child should be reading by the age of ten.  The Experts say so.”  Well, the Experts may be able to say that about some children but they cannot say that about your child.  Probably the only person who knows for sure when your child is ready to read is YOU.  That is because you, as the parents, are the only Experts who have all the relevant data on your child.  Only you know how far along your child is developmentally and how much training he’s had in the alphabet and phonics.

Let’s consider another example.  “I should use XYZ curriculum.  My homeschooling friend Mrs. Smith uses it and says it’s wonderful!”  Now Mrs. Smith may be able to give you very valuable first-hand knowledge about XYZ curriculum, but only YOU know whether that curriculum is best for your child.  Mrs. Smith’s children may have different learning styles than your children.  Or Mrs. Smith may have a different teaching style from you.  Either way, the fact that Mrs. Smith says XYZ curriculum is wonderful for her children does not mean it is automatically wonderful for yours.

One final illustration.  (This one always drives me crazy.)  Your friend, Mrs. Flake, says to you, “Listen, dearie.  Homeschooling is much too hard for you.  I know, I tried it last year.  It’s just way too much work!”  Unfortunately, though Mrs. Flake may be an authority on her own ability to homeschool (or an authority on what’s most convenient for her), she is not an authority on your ability to homeschool.  Not only that, but with only one year’s experience, she is hardly qualified to be a final authority on homeschooling anyway. 

Does this mean we should never listen to Experts, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Flake?  Not at all!  (To plug your ears would be rude, after all.)  We simply need to consider this important factor: Is this person a good authority on this subject?  If not, take their advice with a grain of salt.

I, of course, being a Verbose Homeschool Graduate, am automatically qualified to be a funny authority on anything I talk about.  Er, wait, make that final authority.  

Written by Heather Sheen

No comments:

Post a Comment