The campaigning and debating for the 2012 presidential election is already underway; as are loads of advertisements seeking to persuade voters to vote for one candidate or another. During this time, I am concurrently teaching on recognizing logical fallacies. While I cannot say that I actually planned the parallel between the two, I am, however, quite pleased with the timing. So I will utilize this next year (and a half) to emphasize not just the need for critical thinking, but to introduce some errors in reasoning. It seems like a “match made in heaven” for an educational opportunity!
The campaigns in our current culture are largely focused on presentation and perception (imagery), rather than on actually making good arguments for their political platform (rationality). As Christian philosopher, J.P. Moreland stated, “In the political process, the makeup man is more important than the speech writer, and we approach the voting booth, not on the basis of a well-developed philosophy of what the state should be, but with a heart full of images, emotions, and slogans all packed into thirty-second sound bites.” The American public is likely to see lots of negative and positive imagery utilizing many logical fallacies to “trick” the voter into favoring a candidate. These fallacies could include (but are not limited to): transfer, ad hominem, hasty generalization, red herrings, appeal to pity, appeal to the people, straw man, loaded questions, and faulty appeal to authority.
These fallacies are not just a problem of the presidential campaigns. Rather, it is a safe generalization to say various fallacies are committed on a regular basis by nearly all of us. This is due to the difficulty in avoiding such fallacies, even when we train ourselves to think critically about our reasons for believing something is true. Since we all are in need of the “renewing our minds,” the presidential campaigns can provide good training material for the Christian wanting to improve their own reasoning abilities. I will post some of the errors in reasoning over the next month. As you watch the presidential campaigns, take some time to dissect the messages you are receiving. What fallacies are being utilized? What are the actual issues and how has each candidate supported their view? Has the candidate given sound reasons and evidence for their position?
Analyzing the presidential candidates’ platforms and campaigning methods are a great way to utilize the gift of rationality with which God has endowed human beings. You will grow in your critical thinking abilities and you will be better informed on the candidates for whom you will be voting. Let’s begin with the first fallacy mentioned above, transfer.
Transfer: A propaganda technique in which someone tries to make us transfer our good or bad feelings about one thing to another unrelated thing.
A prime example of transfer is found in commercials for a fitness center or for fitness equipment. The commercial almost always shows a man or woman who is representative of the ideal body either working out at a specific gym or utilizing a certain product. The viewer is supposed to transfer the good feelings about the ideal body to the product offered.
A political campaign version of transfer: A commercial shows one candidate either frowning or upset while utilizing a darker color scheme or even a black and white scheme while dark and ominous music plays in the background. The commercial then shifts to a second candidate; the candidate is smiling, the colors are bright, and the music is happy. The purpose is to make the viewer uncomfortable when they think about the first candidate so they will carry that emotion with them to the voting booth and not vote for him/her. Conversely, the idea is to carry the happy emotion with them and vote for the second candidate.
See if you can find some examples of transfer as the presidential campaigning gets underway! Next post: Ad hominem.
 J.P. Moreland. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1997), 21.
 I cannot say “by everyone” or I will have committed the fallacy of hasty generalization. I also do not have the knowledge of whether or not everyone in the world is actually committing fallacies, but I do have the general knowledge of human nature (including the effects of sin), which allows for an extrapolation out to the human community. It is safe to say none of us is perfect in our reasoning.
 Hans and Nathaniel Bluedorn. The Fallacy Detective: Thirty Six Lesson on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning. (Muscatine, IA: Christian Logic, 2002, 2003), 183. I am utilizing this book for preteens through adults as an introductory level book on fallacies. For a higher level reading on critical reasoning, see Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking by M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley.