Debating etiquette, part 3:  Arguments

People are opinionated. (In my opinion.)

To be opinionated is not necessarily a bad thing. Opinions are ideas, after all; the world needs more of them, assuming they are thoughtful, informed, insightful, and well supported.

But there’s the rub. Usually, when we describe someone as opinionated, we mean their opinions aren’t any of those things. They aren’t thoughtful, for example, because opinionated individuals won’t consider other peoples’ perspectives. And they aren’t well supported, which is the subject of this post.

Opinions aren’t valid just because they are clever, or because we would like them to be true. As I said in part 1 of this series:

Judging from what I read in the blogosphere, many people mistake assertion / counter-assertion for debate … Every debate begins with an assertion, but a series of assertions and counter-assertions is not sufficient in itself to constitute a debate.
Snaars expressed it very well in a recent comment:
I am troubled by the fact that people place their faith in certain radical ideas without testing those ideas. It seems much more sensible to withhold belief until one has sufficient evidence.
I agree with Snaars:  opinions have to be supported by the evidence. This is what I mean when I speak of arguments. An argument appeals to objective facts, then proceeds to make rational deductions from the facts, in a methodical attempt to substantiate an assertion.

Arguments are tricky. With respect to facts, it isn’t wise to trust one’s memory. Before offering an opinion, it is prudent to double check that you’ve got your facts straight. The smallest factual error can diminish your credibility.

With respect to deductions, we have to avoid fallacies. As I said in part 2 of this series:

A logical fallacy will sidetrack your argument. It’s like taking the wrong turnoff from a highway:  when you reach your destination, you discover you aren’t where you intended to be. If your destination is Truth, logical fallacies are a shortcut to la-la land.
Now that we have the above preliminaries out of the way, I want to turn our attention to an even trickier problem. Even when we take care to avoid fallacies, people may find our arguments unpersuasive.

The problem is particularly acute when we reason from analogies. What seems like a perfect analogy to me may be rejected as spurious by someone else.

When this happens, an opinionated person will begin to repeat himself. I see this all the time in the blogosphere. “A” makes an assertion and “B” dismisses it. “B” makes a counter-assertion and “A” dismisses it. Then “A” and “B” begin to repeat themselves, as if an argument becomes more persuasive by dint of sheer repetition. The only thing they “add” to their “arguments” is a liberal sprinkling of gratuitous insults.

Until this week, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about arguments. The debate over same sex marriage has brought things into focus for me. If it seems like I’m digressing, bear with me for a moment. I want to solicit your opinion — there’s that word again — on some analogies used in an actual debate.

As noted in my previous post, the Canadian legislature recently voted in favour of same sex marriage. The decision has received a lot of attention from political bloggers, and I’ve joined the debate on some of the conservative blogs.

Ken Epp, a Conservative Member of Parliament, recently contrasted same-sex marriage to the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States. According to the CBC Web site:

“Blacks in the United States,” said Epp, “never asked to be called white. They just wanted the same rights.” Epp then went on to say that women in Canada sought equal rights without demanding to be called men.

“And so I ask the question in this struggle for so-called equality for same-sex couple, why do they want to use the word that describes heterosexual marriage and has for millennia?”
Note that Epp is employing an analogy. In his view, when a gay man wants to call his relationship a marriage, it is analogous to a black man who wants to be called “white”.

ALW, a fellow Canadian blogger, comments on Epp’s analogy, Pretty legitimate point, wouldn’t you say? But I disagree, and I said as much.

ALW, I am trying to decide whether your concluding question — Pretty legitimate point, wouldn’t you say? — is intended as sarcasm.

Blacks don’t want to be called “white”; women don’t want to be called “men”; gays and lesbians don’t want to be called “straight” or “heterosexual”. They just want the right to marry — the same rights as everyone else.

So, no, I don’t think Epp’s point is legitimate.

I don’t understand what you are saying. We’re not talking about substantive rights here, we’re talking about a label. Men and women, blacks and whites, have the same substantive, legal rights. Marriage by any other name – so long as under the law it is treated equally – would not be discriminatory.

[Note:  I assume ALW is referring to “civil unions”, an alternative legal arrangement proposed by the Conservative Party of Canada. Under the proposal, homosexual couples would have the same legal rights that would accrue to them if they were married, but the actual label “marriage” would be reserved exclusively for heterosexual couples.]
Don’t conflate rights with labels -it’s intellecutally dishonest and oversimplifies the issue. Legal standing and word connotations are two completely different things.

Epp’s point is invalid because the examples he uses are not parallel.

Women don’t want to be called “men” because they aren’t men. You can’t make a woman a man by calling her one. Sex is a biological fact, not a mere label.

Gays and lesbians shouldn’t be called “married” because they aren’t married? It isn’t parallel.

Marriage is not a biological construct but a socio-legal construct. Society can change it at will, as the courts and now the Government of Canada have seen fit to do.

You say it isn’t a question of substantive rights. So you favour “separate but equal” treatment for gays and lesbians?

For example, if we provided swimming pools for gays and lesbians, we could ban them from swimming with heterosexuals?

Ah, but marriage isn’t just a social construct. It has its origins elsewhere.

Your swimming pool analogy is very weak. Gays don’t want entry into the institution as it exists. They want it changed to suit them. Hence, they want another, parallel swimming pool for themselves. And nobody objects to that: except some people don’t want it to be called a “swimming pool”.

More to the point, who cares what it’s called, so long as they have what is, functionally to them, a swimming pool?

The exchange intrigues me because both of us presented arguments, but the arguments didn’t bring us any closer to agreement.

We both employed a specific form of argument, an analogy. Ken Epp’s analogy (to call a same sex relationship a “marriage” is analogous to calling a black person “white”) seems valid to ALW, but I dismissed it as not parallel. Similarly, my analogy (civil unions are analogous to separate swimming pools for homosexuals) seems valid to me, but ALW dismisses it as very weak.

At this point, thoughtful reader, I invite you to weigh in. But please don’t misunderstand your assignment.

I’m not trying to start a debate on same sex marriage, though it may be unavoidable, given the examples I’ve used. (My previous post presents an opportunity for people to say what they will about same sex marriage.) And I’m not asking you merely to take a side — to vote in favour of ALW’s position or in favour of mine. (The only vote that counts is already past.)

Your assignment is this:  please explain to me which analogy is valid, and why. (Or why they’re both valid, or both invalid.) Help me to identify objective criteria for determining when an analogy is valid.

My primary purpose is not to win the debate on same sex marriage. My purpose is to help people think more accurately, so they can contribute substantively to public discourse, on this and other controversial matters.

Special bonus material:

In part 1 of the series, I used a Monty Python sketch to enliven the discussion of assertions. I can’t resist the temptation to do the same thing here. I therefore append, for the readers’ amusement and enlightenment, the Dead Parrot sketch.

Note the keen reasoning employed by the protagonists. The customer asserts that the pet store sold him a dead parrot. The shopkeeper offers a counter-assertion:  the parrot is merely resting, or (alternatively) pining for the fjords.

The customer appeals to a fact in support of his assertion:  the parrot had been nailed to its perch. The inference is, the parrot must have been dead; no one nails a live parrot to its perch. But the shopkeeper offers an alternative explanation of the data:  the parrot was nailed to its perch merely to keep it from flying away.

See how instructive Monty Python can be? A careful reader will learn much from an examination of the sketch. Study it closely, and increase in wisdom.

I wish to make a complaint!
Sorry, we’re closing for lunch.

Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.
Oh yes, the Norwegian Blue. What’s wrong with it?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!
No, no, it’s resting, look!

Look my lad, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.
No no sir. it’s not dead. It’s resting!

Yeah, remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, beautiful plumage, innit?

The plumage don’t enter into it – it’s stone dead.
No, no — it’s just resting!

All right then, if it’s restin’, I’ll wake him up! [shouts into cage] Hello Polly! I’ve got a nice cuttlefish for you when you wake up, Polly Parrot!
[jogging the cage] There, it moved!

No, he didn’t. That was you pushing the cage!
I did not.

Yes, you did! [takes parrot out of cage, shouts] Hello Polly, Polly [bangs it against the counter] Polly Parrot, wake up. Polly. [throws it in the air and lets it fall to the floor] Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.
No, no. It’s stunned.

Look my lad, I’ve had just about enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased. And when I bought it not half an hour ago, you assured me that its lack of movement was due to it being tired and shagged out after a long squawk.
It’s probably pining for the fjords.

Pining for the fjords, what kind of talk is that? Look, why did it fall flat on its back the moment I got it home?
The Norwegian Blue prefers kipping on it’s back! Beautiful bird, lovely plumage!

Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been nailed there.
Well of course it was nailed there. Otherwise it would muscle up to those bars and voom.

Look matey [picks up the parrot], this parrot wouldn’t voom if you put four thousand volts through it! It’s bleedin’ demised!
It’s not, it’s pining!

It’s not pining, it’s passed on. This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker.This is a late parrot. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot. …


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aaron
    Jul 05, 2005 @ 11:38:00

    That’s quite an assignment you’ve given us!

    In my book, both analogies are valid, and both critiques are valid.

    Analogies are not perfect, and never can be, for the simple reason that there are inherently differences between any two situations. While one person believes a legitimate parallel exists, another can believe the difference between the issue at hand and the analogy is substantive enough to render the comparison inadequate or invalid. The analogy and its critique are not necessarily wrong because of that disagreement — it’s a matter of the weight each gives to the facts of the situation at hand.

    I don’t know how it is in Canada, but in the United States, this is one of the big things taught in law school — to not only find precedent, but also to distinguish it when necessary on behalf of your client.

    When you’re engaged in a political debate, to me the only question in whether an analogy is relevant is whether there is enough similarity to merit the comparison. Similarly, one who challenges an analogy must be able to cite a difference between the two situations that is relevant.

    Example of a dubious analogy (and why I don’t feel that debating NeoCons is a constructive use of my time): In response to liberal assertions that Bush lied in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, I’ve seen a defense that basically is limited to — Clinton lied about Monica, so it’s ok if Bush lied about Iraq. To me, the differences between what Clinton did in his personal life (even if he gave false testimony about it) compared with the possibility that Bush’s lie has cost tens of thousands of people their lives, plus the U.S. billions of dollars, plus Bush entered office on a pledge to “clean up Washington,” etc. make the comparison absolutely worthless, but I’ve seen a number of arguments boil down to “a lie is a lie.”

    Example of a bad critique: If one person described the Darfur situation as genocide and compared it to Jews in Nazi Germany, there are a host of differences one could make to suggest that the situations are not parallel. However, if one’s rejection of the analogy was premised solely on the fact that there are no gas chambers being used in Sudan, that to me would be spurious — it wouldn’t matter whether a particular form of mass execution was used, if the killings were methodical, mass, based on a particular identifying trait, etc.

    Unfortunately, my answer fails to give you the objective criteria you’re seeking. While my examples (hopefully) give clear cases, honest political debate rarely offers up such examples. Usually, the real world offers up good faith belief on either side of an issue, and the participants disagree on how much weight to give the analogy and its shortcomings.

    Your Python reference is quite useful, because it brings up another important issue in considering analogies (and debate in general) — agreement on the facts. The gay marriage example you gave and the ones I give so far have been premised on both parties agreeing on the facts underlying the dispute. Often this is not the case, and when this happens, a perfectly legitimate analogy (or critique) is rejected because the critic disagrees with the assumptions/facts underlying the analogy (or critique). When it’s a clear-cut matter (is the parrot dead?), then bad faith is present and the criticism is not valid. But more often when facts are in dispute, there is a legitimacy to the criticism. For example, is it legitimate to compare Iraq with Vietnam? There are a host of similarities and differences, but much of the dispute stems from what the facts are — millions of Americans believe that the negatives going on in Iraq vastly outweigh the positives, and millions feel it’s vice-versa. In addition, who is the enemy — are the insurgents freedom fighters trying to free their country from a foreign invader, or are they terrorists hell-bent on destroying the Western/capitalist world? Etc.

    I don’t know if all this helps, but I feel that at the very least, I did a lot of thinking.


  2. Q
    Jul 05, 2005 @ 12:43:00

    Thanks, Aaron, your comments definitely are helpful. In particular, I appreciate your key point:

    Analogies are not perfect, and never can be, for the simple reason that there are inherently differences between any two situations … When you’re engaged in a political debate, to me the only question in whether an analogy is relevant is whether there is enough similarity to merit the comparison.

    That’s a helpful clarification.

    However … I suppose an expert in formal logic would at least try to establish objective criteria. Surely we can’t all rely on our subjective response: e.g., my analogy feels more right to me, so it’s better than the analogy affirmed by ALW. If we can only go by our subjective response, analogies don’t help us much in separating truth from untruth. (Do they?)

    I think you’ve actually pointed us in the direction of a solution. (Or at least a partial solution.)

    First, it is essential that we determine the specific point that is at issue. Second, we ask whether the analogy speaks to that specific point. Third, we ask how precise the parallel is. If the analogy speaks to the point at issue, and the parallel is very close, it is relatively persuasive.

    (I’m drawing the above points from your Darfur example: the Nazi Germany analogy is valid insofar as it speaks to the core issue, regardless of whether gas chambers are being used as a method of execution.)

    For ALW, the difference between civil unions and same sex marriage is merely a label. For me, more than a label is at stake: the issue concerns substantive rights. This is the specific point at issue between us.

    I think (and I’m formulating this thought for the first time, just now) that ALW’s analogy assumes the difference concerns only a label. My analogy speaks to the point at issue more directly: if civil unions are analogous to separate swimming pools, then the difference is a matter of substantive rights.

    Whether my analogy is persuasive is a separate question.


  3. Bill
    Jul 05, 2005 @ 15:11:00

    My opinion.

    Analyse the following argument (A) – A Black man is black. A White man is white. Analysis; a white man is never a black man and vice versa, because while there are similarities there is a perceived and (P) immutable difference. They are both men, and share attributes, however the difference in skin colour and race is immutable (or unchangeable). It is not strictly a label. It may be possible to invert or change the names but the difference exists. There is little or no difference besides physical appearance, but the physical appearance is different.

    Analyse the following argument (B) – A male and a female union, constitutes a marriage. A male and a male or a female and a female union do not constitute a marriage. Like the above analysis they are both unions, and share attributes, however the difference here is strictly one of labelling. Why; because while colour and race is an absolute, the definition of marriage is not. Marriage is a social construct. A social construct implies society created it and thus society can change it. It is not immutable.

    If I haven’t incorporated any fallacies in my analysis, this would make the argument in question an example of false analogy. (or an error in parallelism as Q stated)

    This is the definition of false analogy;

    In an analogy, two objects (or events), A and B are shown to
    be similar. Then it is argued that since A has property P, so
    also B must have property P. An analogy fails when the two
    objects, A and B, are different in a way which affects whether
    they both have property P.

    Looking at the argument above the property(P) lacking in this argument is an immutable difference.

    The properties of marriage as a social construct are mutable or changeable.

    Thus the analogy fails because they don’t hold the property needed to support the argument that is not the difference but its immutability.

    Point to Q…….

    There are ways to argue against same-sex marriages but I don’t think this is one.


  4. ALW
    Jul 05, 2005 @ 15:30:00


    This is an interesting thread. And you are right when you assume that I am assuming it’s only about a label and not a right – because otherwise I wouldn’t choose the analogies I do!

    Aaron is obviously right to observe that no analogy is perfect. I suppose when I am attempting to use one, I try not only to choose something that has characteristics which won’t complicate the analogy, but also try to apply the argument to the analogy in the same way as the case I’m trying to represent.

    It’s interesting to note that we both use the swimming pool argument, but in different ways. You treated it as in the apartheid-type “separate swimming pools” – and if we view the naming of “gay marriage” as “segregating” gays, then yes, I would agree with your argument. Labels can be used as a way to exclude people from an institution by creating another, separate one. And that would be, in the apartheid sense, discriminatory.

    Of course, such analogies – separate drinking fountains, back of the bus etc – I find invalid because they are by their nature “tiered”. For example, the types of facilities that blacks in apartheid South Africa had access to were of lower-quality, fewer in number, less hygienic. With the marriage/civil union label, all the legal rights which flow would be identical – hence why I tend to employ analogies of differentiated objects that have no implied “tier” (i.e. Honda or Toyota? Different, but ‘equal’)

    Why do we find it abhorrent, for example, that toilets might be sorted by racial restrictions, but not gender ones? It seems perfectly normal to have separate public toilets for men and women. It doesn’t mean one bathroom is better than the other, or that keeping women out of the men’s bathroom is discriminatory.
    I would argue that the reason that it’s acceptable for separation based on gender is that in the given context, gender matters (do we need more urinals, or more stalls?), whereas race does not (all men have a penis and thus will stand to pee, regardless of their skin colour). And this all comes back to basic “discrimination principles”: discrimination is okay, just not for irrelevant things (i.e. I can discriminate based on your qualifications for a job, because your qualifications matter).

    Interestingly: if part of the rationale for separating bathrooms by gender is because of the privacy issues surrounding exposing one’s genitalia, should there be separate bathrooms for gays?

    Back to the swimming pool analogy, I think it is problematic because it could be used in two ways: (1) do gays want into the same swimming pool, named “Marriage”? Or (2) do they want their own swimming pool to themselves, and thus the right to call it “Marriage”? If it’s #1, there’s no question – keeping them out would be discriminatory. But if it’s #2, I think the answer is less clear – because now it’s not even about having access to something, but the name by which you refer to it.


  5. Q
    Jul 05, 2005 @ 15:42:00

    Hi, Bill:

    There are ways to argue against same-sex marriages but I don’t think this is one.

    I agree with both halves of your statement. Even if readers agree that my analogy is superior, that would hardly be the final word on same sex marriage!

    The properties of marriage as a social construct are mutable or changeable.

    Your argument is more formal than mine, but you’re taking the same line I took with ALW. He replied, Ah, but marriage isn’t just a social construct. It has its origins elsewhere.

    I didn’t want to press him, because at a certain point it looks like you’re harrassing somebody on his blog. I figured I had made my point and I should give him the final word.

    But what did ALW mean, marriage has its origins “elsewhere”? He could mean, “It originated in God’s will” (e.g. Genesis 2:18-25). But, if I remember correctly, ALW is not religious.

    Perhaps he means it’s rooted in biology (sexual reproduction), just as race is?

    I don’t want to put words in ALW’s mouth, I’m just trying to make sense of the remark. I have let him know about this post, and I hope he’ll join our dialogue.


  6. snaars
    Jul 05, 2005 @ 15:42:00

    For the reasons you cite, q, I am of the opinion (there’s that word again) that arguments by analogy should be avoided. If there’s any way to make a point without the use of analogy, that way should be used.

    Analogies are rhetorically powerful because they work through images and associations of ideas. They allow the speaker to convey a lot of meaning in a few words. For these reasons, analogies are good places for fallacies to hide.

    Analogies work like this: say that situation A and B share the qualities of being p, q, r, … n. Situation A has another quality, that of being z. Therefore, I argue, quality z exists in situation B. (For “situation” we can substitute “thing,” “object,” “person,” or whatever.)

    The probem is that literally any two situations (things/objects/persons) are similar in some way. These similarites can be exploited, purposely or not, to construct an analogy that sounds convincing, but is unsound when analyzed. When arguments by analogy fail, it is usually because qualities p, q, r, etc., are not relevant to whether or not something has the quality z.

    The key to analyzing such arguments is to determine which factors are relevant to something’s being z.

    If an argument by analogy seems sound, but we can point to no logical reasons for it, then that is an indication that our thinking is not clear. When an argument by analogy is sound, then we should be able to point to the logical reasons that make it sound. But if we can do that, then there is no reason to argue by analogy – we can express our arguments through careful reasoning instead.

    I’ve noticed that arguments by analogy are used widely throughout the law. Many social and political and legal issues have not been thoroughly parsed; so, arguments by analogy (i.e., our intuitions) are all we have to go on.


  7. Q
    Jul 05, 2005 @ 17:13:00

    Hi, ALW. Apparently you posted your comment while I was composing my response to Bill. I’m glad you joined the dialogue.

    Such analogies – separate drinking fountains, back of the bus etc – I find invalid because they are by their nature “tiered” … With the marriage/civil union label, all the legal rights which flow would be identical – hence why I tend to employ analogies of differentiated objects that have no implied “tier” (i.e. Honda or Toyota? Different, but ‘equal’).

    Thanks for clarifying your point. We’re moving away from the discussion of analogies, back to a dialogue on same sex marriage, but I would like to respond.

    I chose the swimming pool analogy because of a court case in the USA I remember reading about. A municipality excluded blacks from the public swimming pool. A court ordered them to permit blacks to enter.

    Instead, they closed the swimming pool. This demonstrated the extent of their commitment to segregation — better to have no public pool than allow whites to swim with blacks.

    Another response would have been to open a separate, blacks-only swimming pool. The pool could have been every bit as nice as the whites-only swimming pool. But it would still demonstrate an entrenched commitment to segregation.

    I regard the same sex marriage debate in precisely these terms. If the Conservatives are willing to grant identical rights to same sex couples, why deny them the label, “marriage”? It suggests a deep-seated revulsion or repugnance, a feeling that homosexuals will defile the institution of marriage for heterosexuals.

    That’s why the label becomes the issue — it’s the only way to demonstrate full acceptance, instead of acceptance only if “they” stay in a separate compartment.

    I don’t share your cynicism about analogies. In general, this is the way we learn: we begin with what we understand and make comparisons which help us to understand things that are alien to us.

    You’re right about law. Law works by classification (or taxonomy). When a case presents a novel fact situation, judges have to decide how it should be classified. They reason from analogy: this case is similar to that other one, so our verdict should be similar to our verdict in that case.

    I wouldn’t describe it as relying on “intuition”. It can be done in a rational manner. It can also be employed cynically, so that judges hide behind analogy to justify anything they feel like justifying.

    Analogies also have emotional impact, which is a strength as well as a weakness. They can jar us into recognition of something we had been slow to appreciate; they can trigger a paradigm shift.

    But I agree with most of what you’ve said. Analogies can be misused.

    We could cease to use analogies because of the potential for abuse. But, in my view, they are a useful and constructive tool, as long as they aren’t employed cynically.

    This is one of my philosophical convictions: that the weakness of any instititution is typically the flip side of its strength, so that you cannot eliminate one without also eliminating the other.

    I think the above discussion of the swimming pool analogy is a case in point. When everyone has said their piece, I suspect ALW and I will still disagree on the implication of the analogy. But the discussion of swimming pools, Hondas and Toyotas has clarified the point at which we disagree.

    Perhaps we could have gotten there without the analogy, but, at the very least, the analogy functioned as a shortcut.


  8. ALW
    Jul 05, 2005 @ 18:52:00


    Just to clarify re: my point about the origins of marriage – you are correct that I am not religious, but I believe the institution of marriage has its origins in religion.


  9. Q
    Jul 06, 2005 @ 11:07:00

    I’ve gone back to review everyone’s comments, and I will try to sum up now.

    Aaron made the point that analogies can never be perfect, because no two situations are parallel in every respect. If the correspondences are few and weak, the analogy is suspect.

    If differences inevitably exist, those differences may undermine the analogy. This is the approach Bill takes:

    An analogy fails when the two objects, A and B, are different in a way which affects whether they both have property P

    — where property P is the point the analogy is intended to establish.

    In other words, one way to undermine an analogy is to point to a difference between the two situations and argue that it is directly relevant to the point at issue.

    Aaron’s Darfur example will serve as an illustration. “A” says that current events in Darfur are analogous to historic events in Nazi Germany. “B” responds that they are not analogous: no one in Darfur is using gas chambers as a means of execution. “B” is assuming that this difference is relevant to the point “A” is trying to establish.

    Snaars suggests a different line of attack. We may concede that certain correspondences exist, but undermine the analogy by arguing that the correspondences are irrelevant:

    When arguments by analogy fail, it is usually because qualities p, q, r, etc., are not relevant to whether or not something has the quality z.

    My exchange with ALW illustrates Snaars’ point. ALW says that civil unions and marriage are analogous to providing Hondas for heterosexuals and Toyotas for homosexuals:

    With the marriage/civil union label, all the legal rights which flow would be identical – hence why I tend to employ analogies of differentiated objects that have no implied “tier” (i.e. Honda or Toyota? Different, but ‘equal’).

    I conceded the point of correspondence, but I argued that the correspondence is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether civil unions would confer identical legal status. It’s still discriminatory to put homosexuals and heterosexuals in separate compartments. The only reason for the discrimination is an irrational fear that homosexuals will defile the institution of marriage.

    Our criteria boil down to the following:

    • if the correspondences are too few or too weak, the analogy is suspect;

    • a single difference can render an analogy invalid, if it is directly relevant to the point at issue;

    • even multiple correspondences do not necessarily result in a valid analogy, because the correspondences may be irrelevant to the point at issue.

    Is this a fair summation? Any further thoughts?


  10. Bill
    Jul 06, 2005 @ 12:59:00

    Good summation Q.

    I think it is important to remember, that it is not so much that a single difference can render the analogy invalid as much as, both elements of the analogy, must contain a key property that allow a comparison.

    What is being compared can be different in many ways and still have the analogy work.

    However, if you are comparing apples and salt on the basis of freshness (quality based on decay), then the analogy fails as salt being inert does not have the property that we define as freshness. It is gets neither better nor worse over time, as it does not decay.

    In the analogy in question, the comparison is based on changeability, a person cannot change his race by an assertion, whatever he may call his race it still exists. However, marriage is a group of actions that cannot be physically touched, they must be understood. A stroke of a pen can change its definition.


  11. The Misanthrope
    Jul 07, 2005 @ 14:20:00

    Nice post. Jack’s Shack pointed me here, I plan to return.


  12. Q
    Jul 08, 2005 @ 08:56:00

    It’s an honour that Jack is referring readers my way.

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m pleased that my blog made a good first impression on you.


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