Logic and the GOP debate

Mr. Nance,

Since this is an election year, can you help us with some real life examples on how we can best apply the tools of logic? For example, when I watch the presidential debates, they speak much faster than I can analyze what they said, since it is at such a rapid pace, to test for validity.


First, I would start by looking at the transcripts of the debates, rather than trying to analyze the arguments real-time. And looking over the transcript of, for example, the first GOP debate, there is very little to which the tools of logic can be applied. Nearly every question was sidestepped. The “debaters” failed to answer the question being asked, and instead merely took the topic of the question to deliver some selling point that they wanted to get out to the viewing audience.

That may in fact be the most practical application of the debates: to give a stark example of Dorothy Sayers’ complaint in The Lost Tools of Learning:

“Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side?”

Sadly too true.

But let me be more positive. We can use the tools of logic to determine the assumed premises in enthymemes, and there were some clear enthymemes in this debate. Let me show you two.

Dr. Ben Carson argued, “America became a great nation early on … because it was flooded with people who understood the value of personal responsibility, hard work, creativity, innovation.” The first statement is his conclusion, and the second the minor premise. Rewriting them in categorical form, and using the tools to determine the assumed premise, we find his argument to be this:

(All nations with people who value hard work are nations that become great.)
All America was a nation with people who valued hard work.
∴ All America was a nation that became great.

The first statement in parentheses was the statement Dr. Carson was assuming.

The second example is trivial, but it works for analysis. Donald Trump argued this way: “We have a president who doesn’t have a clue. I would say he’s incompetent, but I don’t want to do that because that’s not nice.” Following the tools of valid syllogisms, we can rewrite his enthymeme as follows:

(All things I want to do are nice things.)
No calling the president incompetent is a nice thing.
∴ No calling the president incompetent is a thing I want to do.

We see here that Trump is assuming that he only does nice things!

There were several other enthymemes that can be thus analyzed, using the tools of Lesson 30. This is perhaps the best application of the tools learned in this text to the debate. 


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