TIP of the day (logic): Conductive logic ... the most common form of Commentary

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Mar 15 2016 2:52 PM


A comparison of these texts with Gen 1 shows that the antecedent clause of the formula corresponds to the content of Gen. 1:2*, and the final clause to that of Gen 1:3*. Gen 1:2*, which is positive in its formulation, “The earth was without form and void,” corresponds in content to the temporal clause, “When … was not yet,” and the introduction to the creation command of v. 3*, “And God said …,” corresponds to the final clauses where the work of creation begins. P alters the form of the introduction so that (a) the negative formulation becomes positive (this also occurs elsewhere), and (b) a sentence is prefixed to the whole which has no parallel in other creation stories, but is a construction of P himself (Gunkel had recognized this).
The sentence in 1:1* is not the beginning of an account of creation, but a heading that takes in everything in the narrative in one single sentence—and it is much more than a mere heading. It speaks of the creation of heaven and earth in the same way as do the hymns of the praise of God. One could say that the formula which is predicated of God, “Creator of heaven and earth,” has been reshaped into a verbal sentence. It has often been said that Gen 1 has echoes of a hymn or that as a whole it is very like the praise of God. The reason for this is that the first sentence itself is really a cry of praise.
The explanation of v. 1* given here has two points of departure: its relationship to other creation stories and the position of P in the history of these stories. It is supported by two main arguments: (a) The content of Gen 1:2* corresponds to the sentences “When there was not yet” in the other creation narratives, and this is in direct opposition to any interpretation of v. 1* as a temporal subordinate clause; (b) There is no parallel at all to v. 1* in the other creation stories; this indicates that v. 1* is a creation of P and has been put at the beginning deliberately.

Claus Westermann, A Continental Commentary: Genesis 1–11 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 93–94.

Mind you Westermann goes on to provide a history of opinion for and against his position stated here... but the structure of his argument begins with his (proposed) conclusion which is supported by two main arguments. See the last paragraph above where he makes this structure clear.

Other names for conductive (as in conduct = bring together) logical arguments include:

  • cummulation of consideration arguments
  • balance of consideration arguments
  • good reason arguments

The basic form of a conductive argument is very familiar:

  • a proposed conclusion that you wish to prove as reasonable to accept
  • multiple reasons for accepting the proposed conclusion that are unrelated to each other and are not in and of themselves sufficient justification to accept the proposal
  • optional but very common, counterarguments against the reasons for acceptance

In Trudy Govier's A Practical Study of Argument she states:

"Conductive arguments are common in reasoning about practical affairs, where a number of separate factors have a bearing on decisions about what to do. They are also common in contexts where there are disputes about the interpretation of human behavior, historical events, or literary texts."

To evaluate such an argument:

  1. Identify the proposed conclusion
  2. Identify the individual supporting premises.
  3. Identify the counterattacks and the premise to which they belong.
  4. If any of the premises are not acceptable i.e. you do not grant that they are true statements, you may ask for a subargument proving the premise. Note that the proof by the deductive, inductive, abductive, defeasible ...
  5. Verify that the premises are positively relevant to the conclusion; irrelevant premises are tossed out; negatively related implies a counterattck that got mislabeled. Make an evaluation of the strength of the argument.
  6. If any of the counterattacks are not acceptable, like premises you may ask for a subargument proving the counterattck.
  7. Verify that the counterattacks are relevant to the premise they attack and are negatively relevant. Make an evaluation of the strength of the counterattack.
  8. If the premises as a whole outweigh the counterattacks as a whole, then the premises provide good reasons to accept the proposed conclusion and you have proven the argument to be cogent.

The most prominent fallacy that people follow in this type of argumentation is "confirmation bias" 

Wikipedia: Confirmation bias:

Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

A series of experiments in the 1960s suggested that people are biased toward confirming their existing beliefs. Later work re-interpreted these results as a tendency to test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives. In certain situations, this tendency can bias people's conclusions. Explanations for the observed biases include wishful thinking and the limited human capacity to process information. Another explanation is that people show confirmation bias because they are weighing up the costs of being wrong, rather than investigating in a neutral, scientific way.

Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Poor decisions due to these biases have been found in political and organizational contexts.

It follows that it, in the conductive argument we are evaluating (as in commentaries), if we already agree with the conclusion we must be very deliberate in seeking out the counterarguments and, if needed, the subargument behind them

Why go to all the bother of formalizing the argument?

  • if you dispute or are challenged on the conclusion, it is usually only one or two premises that are disputed; one can quickly get to the root of the disagreement.
  • it is easy to be lulled into accepting the word of a good author; this forces you to actually think about what the author said.

The start of an argument map for a conductive argument. Note this software does permit indicating the relative strength of reasons and objections ...

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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