In my last post, I claimed that there are three typical ways we use analogies: basic comparisons, ordered-pairs, and illustrative parallels. In this post I will explain how to construct an illustrative parallel, which is a powerful means of proof.
An illustrative parallel reasons from a particular example (the source) to a particular conclusion (the target). The process combines inductive reasoning (from the particular example to a general statement) and deductive reasoning (from the general statement to the particular conclusion) as shown:
I am fascinated by the inductive-deductive process that the mind goes through when reasoning by analogy, such as in the parables. For example, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:14-15, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” The source (“no one lights a lamp to put it under a basket, but to give light to the house”) inductively implies the general intermediate conclusion that what is meant to illuminate something should not be covered, and that it is uncovered not in order to display itself, but something else. So when he deductively makes the particular conclusion in verse 16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” we understand that we should do good works, not to shine a light on ourselves, but that men might glorify God.
Inventing good analogies can be difficult, but we can be helped using the pattern above. Say that you want to use an analogy to respond to this challenge: “Why study formal logic? Everyone can already reason!” You could argue that the study of formal logic helps to improve our reasoning skills by providing standards to distinguish between good and bad reasoning. This is your target. It can be deduced from the general statement that studying a language art can provide standards by which we distinguish between the proper and improper use of that art. Given this, we must then invent a source, a different example of the general statement, and one that is preferably more familiar that the target. What familiar language art provides us with such standards? English is a good example; the study of English helps us improve our speaking and writing skills by providing standards to distinguish proper English from improper. The basic analogy could then be simply stated: “‘Why study formal logic? Everyone can reason.’ That’s like arguing, ‘Why study formal English? Everyone can speak!’”
Imitating the Masters
Jesus is, of course, the Master of analogies, as of all other forms of argument. But there are also many lesser masters from whom we can learn this art. My favorites include C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, and Doug Wilson. Here are some of my favorites:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen; not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” ― C. S. Lewis
“The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” ― G.K. Chesterton
“Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.” ― Mark Twain
“We have no structure any more. We have no shared creed. We do not know what we are here for. It makes no sense to speak of our inherited ‘shared values,’ or better yet, ‘core values.’ If they are arbitrary, shared values are worthless. If they are arbitrary, core values are simply located where our intestines are, and are full of the same thing.” ― Doug Wilson
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” ― Anne Bradstreet
What are some of your favorite analogies? Leave a comment!