How To Argue: Avoiding Bulverism

95

Everyone who knows me knows I like to argue. I don’t mean fight — I mean argue, debate. I like to engage people with opinions unlike my own in an effort to persuade them. Okay, maybe I like it too much. Regardless, you may notice that there’s not a lot of arguing here on this blog. I guess most people would say that’s a good thing, but sometimes I find it a little boring.

That’s why I appreciate Bridget, who was willing to jump in and offer an opposing point of view on the Homeschool vs. Public School infographic I posted some time ago. I’m going to use Bridget’s comment to illustrate an important logical fallacy, but I want to be clear: I don’t wish to demean or insult her. Her error is an enormously common one and by no means embarrassing. I’ve done it myself. I just thought it would be useful and interesting to write about it. But I harbor no ill-will toward Bridget. Just the opposite — I like people who speak their minds — especially when it gives me an opportunity to argue.

Here’s the part of Bridget’s comment I’d like to address. The data in the infographic to which she refers favorably compares homeschoolers to public school students. A proponent of public education, Bridget writes:

“The data here is clearly skewed; it’s from ‘College@Home’.”

Now, it’s possible that Bridget has identified a statistic in the graphic that is inaccurate or misleading. If so, I hope she tells me which one. But since she gives me no more than this sentence, I am going to assume she isn’t, in fact, aware of any particular inaccuracy, but only assumes the data is “clearly skewed” because the graphic was created by a company called College@Home.

This is an example of an informal logical fallacy known as the genetic fallacy. A genetic fallacy rejects a conclusion based solely on its origin — where it comes from or who asserts it. In other words, Bridget assumes the data in the graphic is “clearly skewed” because it was provided by a company with an interest in promoting homeschooling.

C.S. Lewis invented his own term for this specific kind of genetic fallacy. He called it Bulverism. He explains it in an essay by the same name:

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method [Note: This essay was written in 1941.] is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism.” Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father – who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third – “Oh, you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment,” E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.
I find the fruits of his discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that “the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world.” Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see clearly enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that “the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting.” For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it give no unfair advantage to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds – a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.

Maybe that’s too much of a quote. Sorry.

But I hope you get Mr. Lewis’s point. Bulverism is no less common today than it was in his day. Anytime a debater makes a comment beginning with, “You only say that because you are…” prepare yourself for Bulverism.

I read an article in the Washington Post just today that argued against education reformers because they were corporations with something to gain from privatizing schools. Of course, as Lewis points out, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. It would be equally legitimate to argue that public school teachers only oppose education reform because they have something to lose by it. And by “equally legitimate” I mean “not legitimate at all.”

Once you learn to identify Bulverism, you are likely to find it everywhere. At least everywhere there is an argument. Whatever the topic — politics, education, religion, economics — it’s all too common to dismiss a position by denigrating the proponent. Democrats only support welfare because it wins them votes. Republicans only oppose welfare because they support the wealthy. On and on.

Do you see how such methods of argumentation get us nowhere? It focuses the discussion on the arguers and off the actual point of debate.

Some say we need less arguing in our society. They think we need to just get along and agree to disagree. I disagree. I don’t think we need less arguing, but better arguing. Maybe, just maybe, it will help us all get closer to the truth.

*****

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Especially if you want to argue with me!

 

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. bactefort
    bactefort03-24-2017

    Just Browsing While I was surfing yesterday I noticed a excellent article concerning

  2. best seo training center in chennai
    best seo training center in chennai03-24-2017

    I think one of your current ads caused my internet browser to resize, you might well need to get that on your blacklist.

  3. Designer Cases
    Designer Cases03-24-2017

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will go along with with your site.

  4. to learn more
    to learn more03-22-2017

    Thanks so much for the article post.Really looking forward to read more. Awesome.

  5. printable gift cards
    printable gift cards03-20-2017

    Appreciate you sharing, great post.Really thank you! Really Cool.

  6. recommended you read
    recommended you read03-20-2017

    Thanks again for the article. Really Great.

  7. Recommended Site
    Recommended Site03-20-2017

    I really enjoy the blog article.Really thank you! Cool.

  8. Music Player
    Music Player03-20-2017

    superb post.Ne aer knew this, appreciate it for letting me know.

  9. go to this site
    go to this site03-20-2017

    This is one awesome blog article. Awesome.

  10. dragon lipstick
    dragon lipstick03-20-2017

    There is perceptibly a lot to identify about this. I suppose you made some good points in features also.

  11. Political News
    Political News03-20-2017

    You can certainly see your skills in the work you write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

  12. Christian edm
    Christian edm03-19-2017

    Very useful info аАааАТ‚artаАаб‚Т€Т“cularly the last part I

  13. PRINCE2 Jeddah
    PRINCE2 Jeddah03-19-2017

    I will immediately snatch your rss feed as I can at in finding your e-mail subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me know in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  14. satta matka net com,
    satta matka net com,03-17-2017

    Thank you ever so for you article post.Really thank you! Fantastic.

  15. jiv xxx
    jiv xxx03-17-2017

    Usually I do not read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to check out and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice article.

  16. new car toyota
    new car toyota03-17-2017

    If some one needs expert view concerning blogging and site-building afterward i propose him/her to go to see this web site, Keep up the pleasant work.

  17. Raytown, MO 64133
    Raytown, MO 6413303-17-2017

    This web site certainly has all of the information and facts I needed about this subject and didn at know who to ask.

  18. tsx stock quotes today
    tsx stock quotes today03-16-2017

    I really liked your post.Really thank you!

  19. best garbage disposal
    best garbage disposal03-16-2017

    Some genuinely quality content on this web internet site, saved in order to my book marks.

  20. แม่บ้าน
    แม่บ้าน03-16-2017

    Very informative blog article.Really thank you! Cool.

  21. nanny
    nanny03-16-2017

    Wow, superb blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is magnificent, let alone the content!. Thanks For Your article about sex.

  22. sterling taxi
    sterling taxi03-16-2017

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this article and the rest of the site is also very good.

  23. fitness apparel
    fitness apparel03-16-2017

    Will you care and attention essentially write-up

  24. money earning
    money earning03-16-2017

    Many thanks! Exactly where are your contact details though?

  25. play online casino
    play online casino03-16-2017

    Thanks for sharing this first-class post. Very interesting ideas! (as always, btw)

  26. επιπλα αθηνα
    επιπλα αθηνα03-16-2017

    Very good article. I am experiencing a few of these issues as well..

  27. Book Sex
    Book Sex03-16-2017

    well, our bathroom sink is always made from stainless steel because they are long lasting

  28. best sex pills for men
    best sex pills for men03-15-2017

    What is the procedure to copyright a blog content (text and images)?. I wish to copyright the content on my blog (content and images)?? can anyone please guide as to how can i go abt it?.

  29. WebTipster Dropshipping Tool
    WebTipster Dropshipping Tool03-15-2017

    Perfectly pent written content, Really enjoyed looking at.

  30. ohne rezeot
    ohne rezeot03-15-2017

    Wow, great post.Thanks Again. Want more.

  31. Boarder Security
    Boarder Security03-15-2017

    It as really a nice and helpful piece of info. I am glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  32. Schleifstein schnappchen
    Schleifstein schnappchen03-14-2017

    Very good blog article.Thanks Again. Will read on

  33. Jual Facebook Like
    Jual Facebook Like03-14-2017

    Preferably, any time you gain understanding, are you currently in a position to thoughts updating your internet site with an increase of info? It as pretty ideal for me.

  34. vestidos ni�a fiesta
    vestidos ni�a fiesta03-14-2017

    I was suggested this web site by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my problem. You are incredible! Thanks!

  35. Bitcoin Investment
    Bitcoin Investment03-14-2017

    you could be a great author. I will make certain to bookmark your blog and

  36. fun888
    fun88803-13-2017

    I think it is a nice point of view. I most often meet people who rather say what they suppose others want to hear. Good and well written! I will come back to your site for sure!

  37. Turkey Yacht Charter
    Turkey Yacht Charter03-12-2017

    Utterly pent articles , thankyou for entropy.

  38. Paternity Test
    Paternity Test03-12-2017

    Wonderful goods from you, man. I have take

  39. hotel deals
    hotel deals03-12-2017

    Sinhce the admin of this site iss working, no hesitation very

  40. hibiscus tea site
    hibiscus tea site03-12-2017

    Wow! Thank you! I constantly needed to write on my site something like that. Can I include a part of your post to my blog?

  41. best tea reviews
    best tea reviews03-11-2017

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really know what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Please also visit my website =). We could have a link exchange arrangement between us!

  42. affiliate marketing course
    affiliate marketing course03-11-2017

    Some truly nice stuff on this internet site , I it.

  43. Ferrari rental
    Ferrari rental03-11-2017

    Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News.

  44. abandoned object detection
    abandoned object detection03-11-2017

    Thank you for your article.Really thank you! Want more.

  45. download mp3
    download mp303-10-2017

    Your style is really unique compared to other folks I ave read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you ave got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this blog.

  46. World class university
    World class university03-10-2017

    You have remarked very interesting details ! ps nice web site. Loneliness seems to have become the great American disease. by John Corry.

  47. thay doi giay chung nhan dang ky dau tu
    thay doi giay chung nhan dang ky dau tu03-10-2017

    It as not that I want to replicate your web-site, but I really like the pattern. Could you let me know which design are you using? Or was it tailor made?

  48. full apps download
    full apps download03-10-2017

    Spot on with this write-up, I absolutely feel this site needs a lot more attention. I all probably be back again to see more, thanks for the advice!

  49. VR
    VR03-10-2017

    wow, awesome blog.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

  50. authentic wholesale shoes
    authentic wholesale shoes03-10-2017

    The time to read or go to the material or web-sites we have linked to beneath.

  51. data recovery near me
    data recovery near me03-10-2017

    Thanks-a-mundo for the blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

  52. Jasa Like Instagram
    Jasa Like Instagram03-10-2017

    Very good info. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I ave book-marked it for later!

  53. check this infos before u order
    check this infos before u order03-10-2017

    I truly appreciate this post.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

  54. BEST TIPSTER
    BEST TIPSTER03-08-2017

    Usually I don at read article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice post.

  55. oodh
    oodh03-08-2017

    you are in point of fact a excellent webmaster.

  56. SEO company and services consultant Saint-Paulin
    SEO company and services consultant Saint-Paulin03-08-2017

    you are saying and the way in which during which you say it.

  57. travel food review in Italy
    travel food review in Italy03-08-2017

    Muchos Gracias for your blog post.Thanks Again. Want more.

  58. www.paidbookreviewservices.com
    www.paidbookreviewservices.com03-07-2017

    Very good article post.Thanks Again. Want more.

  59. eye strain
    eye strain03-07-2017

    I appreciate you sharing this post. Will read on…

  60. Saugerties musician
    Saugerties musician03-06-2017

    Really enjoyed this blog article.Thanks Again. Keep writing.

  61. Homepage
    Homepage03-06-2017

    Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you! However, how could we communicate?

  62. las vegas
    las vegas03-06-2017

    Well I definitely liked studying it. This post procured by you is very practical for good planning.

  63. age
    age03-06-2017

    Your style is very unique compared to other folks I ave read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this site.

  64. http://www.shop-and-smile.com/
    http://www.shop-and-smile.com/03-06-2017

    You are my inspiration , I own few web logs and infrequently run out from to brand.

  65. replacement windows for mobile homes
    replacement windows for mobile homes03-06-2017

    Well My spouse and i definitely enjoyed studying the idea. This idea procured simply by you is very constructive forever planning.

  66. mike tyson
    mike tyson03-05-2017

    H2fgPt This can be a list of phrases, not an essay. you are incompetent

  67. poorva bakshi
    poorva bakshi06-29-2013

    Hello. I love to argue to simply love it. My friends are always annoyed because of this habit of mine to keep contradicting. I would infact disagree with this blog as well but for once I’m letting it pass. :)

  68. CFloyd
    CFloyd06-26-2013

    I am SUPER excited by the post and hope you will do more in a series of something like – why Logic makes you a better writer, or HoW Logic can make you a better writer. or how to persuade anyone of anything. I don’t know. But I would like to understand more the practical usage of logic in dialoging. I guess I can be accused of being an arguer, I don’t receive it, because I honestly don’t like to argue for the sake of it, or for being right, I truly want dialog and dialectic discussion. This is how I learn best and grow. I see it as the basis for the foundation of our country. Everyone was informed, self-responsible for that knowledge, and then “argued” – dialoged to my thinking – passionately without taking or giving offense. And there were many fallacious arguments during the proceeding years in campaigns and newspapers, but people were still able to see them and counter them. It wasn’t long though before people stopped caring and went about worrying with the price of fabric or the joys of leisure, those previous years had begun to afford them.

    I did want to say in this fashion to the argument that the graphic was inaccurate based upon the “prejudiced” company, that there would be no graphic then that could be informative because as shown through your post, there would be no one who hadn’t been swayed one way or the other – we either have been educated in our out of the system, and we either have children in or out of th system. If we were to invoke a CEO of say a chicken company, who had no children (we’ll give him an education in BOTH systems), then would we not say of him – he is NO expert, he is not IN the education industry. – isn’t this just another form of disqualifying the arguer without having to address the argument?

  69. Robert Wallis
    Robert Wallis06-26-2013

    I’m sure I’ve posted this before but your subject matter lends itself so naturally to gaining help in this area from Dave Barry:
    http://www.ece.rice.edu/~farbod/files/how-to-win.html

  70. Rhonda Barfield
    Rhonda Barfield06-26-2013

    I agree with you, Brian (sorry– no debate here). Using my own twisted form of Bulverism, I tend to assume that anything C.S. Lewis writes has to be true. :/

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko06-26-2013

      In general, that’s a good rule of thumb, Rhonda. :)

  71. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko06-21-2013

    Good questions, Jim. Technically, an ad hominem is a type of genetic fallacy (which is a type of red herring) and Bulverism is a subtle kind of ad hominem.

    There’s no real science to all this, but an ad hominem is an attack on the arguer rather than on the argument. Bulverism is more a way of dismissing an arguer on the assumption of bias rather than making an overt attack on him or her.

    I think you correct about Bulverism being an ingrained part of post-modernism. And this aspect of post-modernism (that everyone in biased and that the argument cannot be separated from the arguer) leads to the inevitable to conclusion that everything is nonsense. Including, of course, the assertion that everything is nonsense. Which is why I reject this post-modernist idea. :)

  72. Jim
    Jim06-20-2013

    Hi…
    Thanks for this post. Very helpful.

    I have a couple of questions.

    First, what is the difference between an ad hominem argument and a Bulverism (genetic fallacy)?

    Second, it seems to me that not only do we see this form of argument in the public square, it also seems to have become the fundamental assumption of much post modern argument. Take, e.g., the claim that I learned back when I was studying Family Therapy.

    “Everything that is said is said by somebody.” i.e. you can in no way separate what a person says from the the person saying it, i.e. from his/her interests. The extreme form of that would be that every statement is designed to bolster the speaker’s position in terms of power and greed. No one is disinterested in saying anything.

    IF that is the case and that is central to post modern thinking then wouldn’t all such thinking be “Bulverism?”

    Thanks again!

    Jim

Leave a Reply

If you like a post, please take a second to click "like," and comment as often as you like.
We promise not to correct your grammar!