Your analogy is broken, bcause *X is not exactly like Y*!

It is shocking how often this slippery trick is used when someone wants to evade the force of an analogy. Consider this post. The point of it, of course, was not to show that buying and selling children is equivalent to slavery! If that was what I wanted to claim, I would have simply claimed it. No, what I wanted to show was that the exact same sort of arguments Hall uses to justify buying and selling children could be used to justify slavery.

But of course, not one person who wanted to defend Hall's argument, here or on Facebook, tried to dispute the similarity between Praetorium's fictitious arguments in my post and Hall's real arguments. How could they? I basically just copied and pasted her arguments into my post, and then substituted "Africans" for "children"!

Since they couldn't dispute that the arguments are point-for-point in the exact same form, with just this simple substitution made, they tried a sleight-of-hand: they noted that buying and selling children is, in some ways, different than slavery! Wow, what a revelation! But since the (rather obvious) point of my post was not to show that they are exactly the same... so what? Well, it provides a nice distraction from the actual point.


  1. I have seen this a lot, and I think I have a theory about it (which may be too long for a comment, but hey, that never stopped me before...)
    I don't know if you've ever looked much into the MBTI 'personality inventories', but I find that you can usually get a grasp of how people will respond to arguments (especially in annoying ways) if you can get an idea of their dominant way of looking at stuff -- one of the middle two letters.

    Analogies are intuitive arguments. Usually, it is S dominant people who say "Well, that's different" to every sort of analogy you use. There is usually no point to making analogical arguments with them. They are just not intuitive (N) enough. Bob did the typical T dominant thing -- "this isn't logically consistent for X reason" and missing the point. And F dominant people will say "I think I get what you're saying, but you know, it just doesn't feel right to me." And of course, N dominant people tend to annoy everyone else by getting facts/details wrong.

    N people tend to really annoy S people (and vice versa) and F people tend to really annoy T people (and vice versa) because of the structure of their arguments more than anything. I find I just can't deal with S people, but then, I think I 'get' the problem and I don't hate them. But I think a lot the most heated internet disagreements boil down to "you don't think the way I do about things" rather than anything substantive.

  2. I'm sorry to spoil the party, but I would respond that I didn't do what you are accusing me of doing here, Gene. I took your analogy at face value, but made it closer to Hall's argument. Specifically, if the status quo were that chieftains in Africa owned slaves, and plantation owners in the Amerias owned slaves, and it was currently legal to donate African slaves to American plantation owners--perhaps even accepting compensation for the shipping costs--then an economist who said, "Maybe we should allow side payments too?" wouldn't obviously be wrong. Certainly, we couldn't object to that minor tweak in the arrangements by saying, "Slavery is evil!" The status quo already has slavery in both regions, and the thing under consideration is whether a side payment can accompany a donation of the slave.

    Scott, now that you've finished pscyhoanalyzing me, go look again at my debate with Gene. I was trying to respond to his analogy by saying why I thought it failed in its purpose. Then he came back with exclamation points and an f-bomb. What kind of personality type does that? In general, which side do you think might be not quite grasping what the other guy is trying to say?

    1. "Then he came back with exclamation points and an f-bomb."

      Are you serious?! Go back and look at the "f-bomb", Bob. It doesn't make any sense where it is. That's because Siri put it there.

      As far as exclamation points go: huh? If someone uses exclamation points, that is a sign of... what?

    2. "but I would respond that I didn't do what you are accusing me of doing here, Gene."

      Sure you did. You ALSO did this other thing you mention above, but you questioned whether what Hall was endorsing was "really akin to slavery?"

      But my analogy was about her arguments being of the same form as arguments that would support slavery. How close buying and selling children is to slavery is beside the point.

    3. Bob, you said --

      "Gene, the one major weakness in the baby article I saw was that it would encourage more babies to come into existence just to be "sold." "
      Gene's point was clearly that Enlightenment thinking 1) can and does often lead to justifications for the commodification of human beings, and 2) this is a big moral/ethical problem. He used an analogy to illustrate *this one isolated connection.* Question -- do you disagree with the idea that commodification of human beings is a bad idea?

      I presume you do not, because I know you to be a decent person. Therefore, you do not have a substantive disagreement with him. Whatever disagreement you have with him is 1) niggling, in perspective, and 2) most likely connected to *how* you think about it, not *what* you think about it.

      You defended the very article he skewered -- finding fault with it primarily on overlooking a point of economics! i.e., you missed the point -- his point was it is not okay to do this!

      The easiest way (for me) to understand this is that you were too busy logically analyzing it (T activity, because this is the toolbox you prefer to bring to the table) instead of taking it for what it was -- an analogy intended to invite you into a picture for viewing things, to see it a different way in a general relation to something else that you should understand very well. Instead of looking at how they *were* similar, you criticized how they weren't, in ways that weren't relevant to the point.

      If I had wanted to troll your comment, I could have said something like "Yeah, obviously, these are completely different. I mean, you don't have to nurse slaves or change their diapers. Come on." That also would have been psychoanalyzing you, but for some reason that kind of thing passes internet etiquette muster.

    4. To be fair to you also, though, you did actually think about it. The worst is when you use an analogy on an S-type. They will simply say "But that's different." And that's the end of it.

      To make my own analogy, imagine a squirrel you feed a few nuts to every day. Then one day you bring him a plastic toy (or something else) to play with, and he chomps down on it, doesn't like the taste, and says to himself "what's wrong with this guy? This tastes terrible!"

      He got too used to accepting things one kind of way, and decided that was the way to take everything. He did not recognize the need to take things as they are offered.

      Which, I confess, is hard, and I'm not very good at it myself. (I tend to be stuck taking everything as analogies...)

    5. To be more direct --

      -- you clearly did not get the point of his analogy, as evidenced by your non-response to the substantive issue, quibbling about irrelevancies surrounding the elephant in the room, and (quite innocently) engaging in exactly the mode of thought being criticized -- the commodification of humans, which understandably made Gene a bit angry
      -- Gene is probably an INTP, if you must know, who had his moral shins whacked (iinnocently) by a pal he cares about (if you are curious, you are almost certainly an INTJ, as Gene seems once to have been, in my reckoning) As part of his transition, Gene seems to have learned not to take otherwise logical systems quite so seriously, as they have a way of turning otherwise innocent people towards monstrous behavior. Like buying and selling people. You don't seem to have learned that yet.
      -- Gene almost certainly grasps your opinion better than you grasp his

  3. Yes. It reminds me of a time when someone argued: "you are obligated to pay taxes because it supports the social order that grants you the right to own property to begin with."

    I suggested that it was a weak argument because an argument of that form could be used to defend slavery: "you are obligated to remain a slave because it supports the social order that grants you food, shelter, and protection - rights that you would not have in a state of nature."

    But the responses I received fixated on how slavery and taxation are totally different issues!

    Point being, be more charitable to your interlocutors. Analogies can be tricky business, and someone poking at their limitations isn't always arguing in bad faith.

    1. I didn't mention "bad faith": we see what we want. Our minds our tricky. One can honestly think my analogy meant to prove that "selling children is just like slavery" because that is the more comforting thing to think it says, and honestly not notice that is why one is doing that.

    2. That is a helpful point, Matt. However --

      -- I do not think I mentioned bad faith. If it was implied, I'm sorry. I tried simply to say directly what I meant. I did not mean to imply it.
      -- It is perfectly okay to object to analogies, but the way to do it is to address the relation being argued. For example, "OK, I can see how slavery is commodification of people, but a baby market is not because..." or "I think this analogy is better..." because it captures the essence of the relation better, or something along those lines. Picking at the edges mostly just shows you are taking it wrong (uunless maybe you think the other guy has pushed it too close to that particular edge.) I don't know you well, or remember the particular argument, but I would suspect the problem is again taking things too analytically, becauase it is not generally so much about the structure of an argument, as you are pointing to, but the picture of the situation. I suggest to you that perhaps you see a parallel where they don't because you havr already implicitly commoditized yourself, so that you see a claim against your output as a claim against your person (as with an asset, the value and worth of the asset just is the valur and worth of the output.) If they think that casting of the relation rings false (a human is not an asset, and the claim to your output emerges for other reasons) they are right to object completely to the analogy, and perhaps suggest taxation is more like payong dues to a club (but if you are not okay with that, of course you are fine to insist they are wrong. You just don't 'see' it the same way. But at least you can both put it out there how you 'see' it and get an idea.)
      Most likely someone using an analogy is doing it because the other guy isn't remotely on the same page, and needs a really big push to land in the ballpark of what you are thinking about. It's not usually the right kind of thing to start getting into details about.
      --in all seriousness, I thought I was being pretty generous with Bob. When one party is clearly intelligent and logical, has had something explained to him pretty lucidly many times, continues arguing illogucally, inappropriately, and clearly doesn't get it, well, where else is the conversation to go, or else to end altogether in futility and maybe anger? I thought a useful diagnosis might be helpful. I attributed it to a mental block/habit that was causing problems -- things being taken the wrong way. I don't think that is such a big deal. Like I said, I could have been mean and just trolled it, I just chose to state it plainly for anyone to inspect. If anybody disagrees, that's perfectly fine. It is just my theory. I find it helpful. If you don't, you can leave it be.