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Saturday, December 01, 2012

Well, We Know Rush Didn't Like the Idea!

"As Benjamin Rush said so incisively in 1808, believing in the 'great man' theory of history makes as much sense as believing in 'witches and conjurors.'" -- Madison and Jefferson, p. 620

I'm not sure what the point is of the above. Now, as noted here before, the "argument from authority" fallacy is not a fallacy when one is citing a legitimate authority. But is Rush an authority on philosophy of history? No, he was a doctor and a chemist. And the above certainly doesn't offer any argument against the great man theory, it simply mocks it.

Why not add, "Joe Blow from Kalamazoo also thinks the great man theory of history is dumb"?

8 comments:

  1. Are you sure it's being cited as evidence against the "great man theory"? Perhaps it's being cited as a memorable statement of the competing view point (which the author shares).

    This is a pet peeve of mine. Adopting someone else's words is, from a logical standpoint, never less legitimate than making the same point in your own words. If the author does not go on to justify his position, you can fault him for that (at least if the context calls for justification). But there's nothing wrong with using the Benjamin Rush quote.

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    1. "Adopting someone else's words is, from a logical standpoint, never less legitimate than making the same point in your own words."

      It is an illegitimate appeal to authority, as I noted. You haven't presented any counter-argument to that at all!

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    2. It is only an illegitimate appeal to authority if it is an appeal to authority. You can adopt someone else's words for their intrinsic merit, without leaning in any way on the prestige of the person who wrote them.

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    3. Yes, that is true.

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  2. Did Rush know anything about witches?

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  3. Huh? It's not an appeal to authority at all. It's attributing a quotation selected for its pithiness and intuitive appeal.

    Say I'm discussing Mobert R Purphy's strained misreading of Kaul Prugman on public debt. If I say "As Jesse Jackson put it, a text out of context is a pretext", I'm not citing JJ as an authority. I'm crediting him with an apt turn of phrase that I think fits the case at hand. I might I grant you be using his prestige in your eyes for rhetorical effect, but that's not the same. If the quotation came from Kalamazoo Jack not Jesse Jackson that might maker look foolish but wouldn't really be important would it? It fits either way.

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    1. Well, that is what Huff thinks as well, Ken. That is not how it struck me in reading, however.

      But I admit I may be wrong. I was wrong once before -- I recall that horrible day all too clearly!

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    2. That's why you should stick to refuting Bob Murphy. Then you'll never be wrong again! :)

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