Mailvox: dissecting dialectic

ST asks for criticism concerning his attack on a utilitarian argument in defense of punishing Christians who fail to support gay marriage.

I am debating a “Humian Utilitarian” with the moniker Eric The Red (ETR) over at Doug Wilson’s place. I post there as timothy. Two men there, Katecho and Dan have done the grunt work of identifying the materialism of ETR and I consider him debunked, but ETR is an evasive little bastard.

I would like for him to hang himself with his Utilitarian positions. I am not pleased with my work on this and am asking your help or criticism.

ETR’s position is that human happiness is maximized (pick your flavor of Utilitarianism measurement here–average or greatest–it doesn’t matter which) by celebrating gay marriage. Since a Christian  baker’s refusal to bake a wedding cake for a couple of gay perverts detracts from that happiness, it is right to punish the Christians.

I am going to adopt the Utilitarian viewpoint in my  argument as it is ETR’s viewpoint.

ETR likes to change the subject quite a bit when things get tight, so here is his latest example missive where I think an opening lies:

“Perhaps someone can answer my earlier question:  In light of Uganda, how isn’t is the basest and more repulsive hypocrisy for Christians to  complain about having to bake a cake? Take a look at what your fellow religionists have done to gays over the years; you sure have a low tolerance for what you consider persecution in light of your own abuse of gays over the years.”

Since it is topical, I am focusing on the Ugandan law he mentions and ignoring the other accusations for now.

The text of the Ugandan law is here.

Clause 3 specifies the penalty for the horror of an HIV-positive man buggering a child. It is on this clause that I am building my argument (this decision may be a mistake, but I am rolling with it for now).

The Logical structure I have in mind is a simple Conjunctive

P dot Q
where both P and Q have to be true.
If one is false then the conjunctive is false and the argument fails.
Here is the truth table.
P Q  P dot Q
T T   T
T F   F
F T   F
F F   F

Argument P

  1. A Utilitarian desires the greatest “good” for the greatest number of people.
  2. Without children, there are no people for whom to maximize the greatest good, therefore, the good of the greatest number of people warrants the protection of children.
  3. Clause 3 of the Ugandan law specifically penalizes homosexuals in the case of HIV positive men having sex with children. Thereby increasing the greater good.
  4. Clause 3 of the Ugandan law is valid under Utilitarian principles.
  5. The Utilitarian principle of maximizing the greater good requires stigmatizing homosexual behavior

Argument Q

  1. A Utilitarian desires the greatest “good” for the greatest number of people.
  2. Homosexual marriage increases the greater good. (defined as happines, if I remember the thread correctly)
  3. Actions that increase human happiness are to be encouraged.
  4. Actions that decrease human happiness are to be penalized.
  5. Christians who refuse to bake a wedding cake for homosexuals are at odds with Utilitarian principles
  6. Under Utilitarian principles it is a good to punish those who punish homosexual behavior.

Either P is True or Q is True.
Both cannot be true.
P and Q state the same thing
therefore the Utilitarian argument fails.

My take is that this is overkill. Some will recall that one of the first questions I ask myself in dealing with an interlocutor is whether or not he is intellectually honest. Since ST describes ETR as “an evasive little bastard”, we can safely assume that he is not. And since he is presenting a utilitarian argument in favor of a statistically insignificant minority, we can also observe that he isn’t particularly intelligent either.

Where ST went wrong was in permitting ETR to beg the question. ETR asserted, apropos of nothing, that “human happiness is maximized by
celebrating gay marriage”. I would have attacked that point and demonstrated his argument to be based upon a false foundation rather than taking the much more complicated approach ST adopted.

Also, Argument P is legitimate, but somewhat convoluted. Steps 2 and and 5 are weaker than they could be. If I were to rewrite Argument P, it would be as follows:

Argument P2

  1. A Utilitarian desires the greatest “good” for the greatest number of people.
  2. Actions that increase human happiness are to be encouraged.
  3. It observably makes the majority of Ugandans happy to see homosexuality criminalized.
  4. Under Utilitarian principles it is a good to criminalize homosexual behavior.

This accomplishes the same result and in a much more straightforward action. Better yet, it forces ETR to go back and defend the question that had been successfully begged if he is going to object to it. Of course, the entire argument is stupid on its face; Utilitarianism is nothing more than the democratic fallacy and has been known to be bankrupt for more than a century. The fact is that ETR is not going to be convinced of anything or stop presenting his dialectically false arguments simply because they have been shown to be false and philosophically outdated. His objectives are entirely rhetorical and akin to that of Pajama Boy, which is “to make the opponents feel terrible about themselves”. Now, recall that in most cases, the opponent’s objective is based on his own vulnerabilities. And that points the way to effective victory.

Because the Left is usually limited to the rhetorical level, it is useful to take a two-step approach of first dialectically crushing the opponent’s pseudo-dialectical argument, then to rhetorically rub his intellectual inferiority in his face along with any other obvious psychological weaknesses. (This, by the way, is why the Left is so reliably inept when they attack me; they seldom bother to try to understand their enemy.) However, since the dialectic aspect is only relevant in that it lays the foundation for the subsequent rhetorical assault, it is best to keep it as simple and easy to follow as possible.