William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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The Hypocrisy Fallacy: If You Don’t Do What’s Right, I Don’t Have To Either!

L is for 'Lots of armed body guards.'

L is for ‘Lots of armed body guards.’

We continue our delightful series1 of mistakes in logic, this time highlighting the hypocrisy fallacy. It also has an official Latin name: ad hominem tu quoque, which loosely translated is, “You canting, sanctimonious fraud!”

Suppose an opinionator—intellectual, journalist, television news reader, academic, celebrity, blogger, etc.—were to issue the following prototypical statement:

I think we can all agree that the notorious ax murderer Joe Blogs, who used his last words to state that killing is wrong, is a hypocrite. Therefore, hacking people to pieces with dull axes is okay.

We would be right to wrest from the grip of this man the bottle of which he is obviously too fond. But what if he said this instead?

The Catholic Church acknowledged covering up the crimes of a bunch of misordained molesting male priests who were ‘oriented’ mainly towards post-pubescent young males, therefore we are right to ignore what the Church says about fornication, birth control, self abuse, divorce, and abortion.

This time our man would be rewarded with at least sage nods from his audience, if not a plaque acknowledging his journalistic boldness. He would even be bought drinks when, indeed, he should be cut off, because he is engaging in the same fallacy as before.

A murderer preaching against murder does not make murder right; other men rape, abuse, or fornicate and preaching against these acts does not make these actions allowable, even if you really want to do them.


Because the very pro-abortion former executive director of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association Scott Richard Swirling has pleaded guilty to negotiating on-line to have sex with a man’s 12-year-old daughter, it means that those associated NFPRHA (pronounced nif-pur-Ha!) can’t be trusted in what they say about abortions on demand for pre-teen females.

This one is more difficult because it’s not clear if there is any hypocrisy. But if there were, then we cannot judge the morality of abortions from the actions of its prominent supporters, naughty as they are. Instead we say it is wrong because it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being whose life is “inconvenient”.

More examples:

If your doctor who is a smoker says smoking is bad for you it is not necessarily true that smoking is good for you. Though smoking does give one a rich, resonant voice (evidence: most radio and screen actors of old). Your author does not smoke. Though if he did, it would (a) be none of your damn business, and (b) no proof that smoking is good for you.

If a celebrity, say Michael Moore, rails against private ownership of firearms yet surrounds himself with firearm-carrying private citizens (and might even himself occasionally sport one), this does not necessarily mean private ownership of firearms is sound. Though guns are obviously the only way to frighten off obtrusive revenooers and other varmints.

If a prominent personage, say Joe “Wakka Wakka” Biden, preaches that sacrifice is good yet gives annually to charity a sum smaller than the amount he spends on hair plugs and tooth whitening, this does not necessarily mean giving to charity is unwise. Because “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, even as President of the Senate, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

Besides our intellectual elite, kindergartners are also especially fond of this fallacy:

“You’re a poopy head!” shouted Tot One.

“You shouldn’t call people names! You’re a poopier head!” retorted Tot Two.

Tot Two is entirely right that one should not call people wounding, scurrilous names; though in calling Tot Two a poopy head Tot One has given some evidence that he (Tot One) is in fact himself a poopy head, because poopy heads use this kind of language. However, this is not proof that Tot Two is not a poopy head, too. Tot Two will instead have to produce independent evidence that he did not steal the cookies out of Tot One’s lunch box.

Your examples?


1Consisting so far of just this present one and this old one.

Thinking About Dying Or Just Saw Bad Art? Pop A Tylenol, Say Researchers

After viewing, take two Tylenol and call me in the morning

At last justice! Psychologists are finally admitting that surrealism is painful. Take that starchitects! In your face performance artists! Swallow bitter pills transgressive painters! Actually, swallow Tylenol, because new research says it’s a cure for the headaches one gets from exposure to MOMA.

Of course, it was already well known Tylenol cures headaches. But not headaches caused by bad art or thoughts of death.

So, for your consideration, the peer-reviewed article “The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death: Acetaminophen Reduces Compensatory Affirmation Following Meaning Threats” by Daniel Randles, Steven Heine and Nathan Santos in the journal Psychological Science.

For their first experiment, 120 college kids either swallowed a couple of Tylenol or 1000 mg of sugar pills, and were asked to jot a few words about either their Final Exits or “dental pain.” Why? Well, “Terror management theorists have argued that thoughts about death produce a unique type of anxiety”. Which is similar to the anxiety caused by surrealism, or by “viewing subliminally presented incongruous word pairs”. However, thinking about the dentist is just like thinking about the dentist.

The kids also filled out two questionnaires. First, the “PANAS,” as in “I have an itchy PANAS.” It asks how much (scale of 1-5) people felt like one of several words in the past week. Words like: distressed, excited, upset, strong. It creates two scores by adding up the positive and negative words. The scores are what make it science.

Second, the “How Much To Let The Prostitute Go,” or HMTLTPG (pronounced hymn-til-pig). Yes. The kids read an arrest report and suggested bail amounts from $0 to $999.

Bails for those in the dentist group were roughly $250-$350 for Tylenol takers and $230-$340 for sugar-pill users. In the think-about-death group they were about $275-$350 for Tylenolians and $375-$500 for sugar highers. Meaning that people fed sugar and asked to think about death are more likely to stick it to prostitutes than everybody else.

In their second attempt at producing something to write about, the researchers gathered another 200-some kids. But this time instead of asking them to think about handing in their dinner pails, they made half of them watch Donald Duck cartoons (“designed to ease participants into the task”) and then a clip from David Lynch’s short film Rabbits. After that, it was on to Snoopy cartoons.

This brings up the question why Bugs Bunny wasn’t used as the easer-intoer, because (as must be well known) moving from ducks to rabbits is more stressful than sticking with rabbits all along, especially when using Snoopy as a closer (dogs chase rabbits, see).

The other group, instead of imaging root canals, got to see four minutes of The Simpsons in between Daffy and Snoopy.

The PANAS reappeared, but no prostitutes. Instead, a rioter from Vancouver who was disappointed by the Canuck’s blowing their chance for Lord Stanley’s Cup was used as the bad guy. Kids were asked to indicate his punishment on a 0 to 200 scale, with 0 meaning the rioter shouldn’t be fined, 100 meaning he should be assessed the normal fine, and 200 meaning double the normal fine.

Fines for those in the “Simpsons” group were roughly 118-128 for Tylenol takers and 120-132 for sugar-pill users. In the David Lynch group they were about 120-132 for Tylenolians and 138-147 for sugar highers. Once again, this meant that people fed sugar and asked to think dismal thoughts were demanded greater pounds of flesh.

Since Psychological Science is a family publication, there was no word on the kids’ PANASes, the main measure and theoretical justification for the study. Actually, in neither study could they get any wee p-values out of the PANASes, so they kept mum on them. They called the lack of statistical significance a “disconnect.”

The researchers put the differences down to Tylenol and brain chemistry. The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, you see. Tylenol molecules make their way up there (somehow) and switch off the punishment circuitry (or something). At least it wasn’t the amygdala this time.

Yet equally or even more plausible is the explanation that mixing sugar and depressing situations makes one unsociable. After all, the differences between Tylenol and sugar in the happy groups were negligible, and were of the same order as the Tylenoled-up folks in the harrowing-situation groups. If Tylenol was mingling among the synapses, why weren’t the bails and fines in the happy Tylenol groups smaller?

The surliest group in both trials were hopped up on sugar and made to feel bad. Bad mood plus high blood sugar equals Miss Gulch syndrome? The key result seems to be that defense attorneys ought to be careful about sodapop-drinking jurors.

Most plausible is that nothing is going on, and that even though the experiment was said to be blinded, researchers were over-excited in interpreting their findings. Wouldn’t be the first time. Won’t be the last.

Physical Anthropology: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part V

Who wants to live forever?

Read Part IV.

Remember, we’re doing summaries of summaries here; only bare sketches are possible. Buy his book for more detail.

Question V is Physical Anthropology. The most contentious question is Article 5. The most fun is 9.

Article 1: Whether all human beings are persons?

Yes, obviously. Even the ones you don’t like, or who are still living inside their mothers, or whom you consider genetically “deficient”, or even those whom you consider evil.

[A]ll human beings by nature are capable of rationality and self-consciousness, even if that capacity is presently undeveloped or blocked, as, for example, in the unborn, the severely retarded, those in deep sleep, and fans of the New York Yankees.

It will be understandable if readers dispute the last example (the Tigers are, as all sane people agree, the team to love).

Kreeft likes the Angels. No, I don’t mean the young men down in LA, but cherubim and seraphim. Angels. Angels are persons too, but not human persons.

The Divine Person or Persons, angels, and possible rational extraterrestrials are examples of other persons besides human persons. “Person” is a broader term than “human” because there are nonhuman persons…

The angels of which Kreeft speaks are not to be found on Hallmark cards or Christmas ornaments, but are instead awesome and frightening: see this video, or (maybe better) this one-minute explanation.

Article 2: Whether all persons are intrinsically valuable?


[Consider] Kant’s “categorical imperative,” one formulation of which is to treat all persons with respect rather than use, i.e. as ends rather than means, and this means they are to be treated as having intrinsic rather than instrumental value.

What about capital punishment? Glad you asked. See “Hanging Concentrates the Mind” by Rev. George W. Rutler.

Article 3: Whether man is essentially distinct from animals?

Yes. A common counter is that “[e]very human attribute and activity can be found to a lesser degree among the animals, so that the difference seems to be one of degree rather than kind.” Kreeft gives ten differences in kind between us and our food supply, some of which are (paraphrased):

Animals have no awareness of God or immortality. They are not conscious of themselves as personal subjects; they have no moral conscience. They are instinctual; their languages do not progress (though they may change via evolution). Their thought is concrete, not abstract. They have precepts not concepts. They have immediate intuition but not demonstrative reasoning. They have no technology nor science. They have no sense of beauty for its own sake.

Article 4: Whether gender is more than something social plus something biological?

Yes. And if you are not an academic you will agree with me in shouting vive la différence! Most academics do agree, but are careful not to say so out loud for fear of hurting their chance of promotion.

Interestingly, in “most languages, the word for ‘soul’ is feminine only.”

The word or “soul” is feminine because it is taken metaphysically, in relation to God. To God all souls are feminine; that is why God has always been spoken of as “he” by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theists.

Article 5: Whether there is free will in man?

Yes. Else I had no choice but to write ‘yes.’ The commonest objection is that there is not, “for nothing can happen without a cause; but a cause determines its effect; therefore all that happens is determined by its cause.” Including thought. Another counter is that if God controls all, He makes us do all that we do.

If free will does not exist, all moral language becomes meaningless. For it is meaningless to praise, blame, reward, punish, counsel, command, forbid, or exhort an unfree agent such as a machine or a “dumb animal.”…

Free choices are not uncaused but self-caused, not undetermined but self-determined. The universal causality and free will are compatible…

The “causes” of free choices that science has discovered are all conditioning causes, not determining causes. Our choices are indeed conditioned by many factors, but not necessitated by them, for we are not merely patients but agents and thus responsible for our actions…

The reason is that the free will can choose to side with the passions and blind the reason, commanding it not to attend to the fact that an act is evil, but only its desirable consequences.

What’s strange is that, here and now in this culture, we have so many seeking to deny what is perhaps the most obvious of all truths. All explanations why happily entertained below.

Article 6: Whether the will is higher than the intellect?

No. The common objection is to say “the act of the will is the cause and the act of the mind is the effect.” Or to suppose that because there is free will, “then the will must be the first cause…else it is not free.”

But neither the will nor the intellect is absolutely higher than the other.

It is true that the will can rule and command the intellect, but it is also true that the intellect rules the will, for the will cannot will anything—an X rather than non-X—until the intellect presents the nature of X and non-X to the will. The will is the efficient cause of the intellect’s act, but the intellect is the formal cause…of the will’s act.

Article 7: Whether the soul and body are distinct substances?

No. Hence it is silly to weigh the body just before and just after death (as has been done) hoping to weigh the soul. But it might occur that since the soul is immortal and the body not, that they are distinct.

[I]f the soul and body were two substances…then the experienced causal interaction between them could not be explained. For a ghost cannot manipulate the levers of a machine, having no fingers; and the atoms of a machine or any other physical thing cannot cause pain in a ghost, who has no pain nerves. The only hypothesis that explains all the experienced data is some kind of hylomorphism. The body is the material (hylè) and the soul is the form (morphè) of the one substance, the person.

Now the soul is the form of the living body:

It is the same single form (soul) in us that (a) gives biological life to the mortal body, (b) performs the actions of sensation and animal appetites and instincts in the mortal body-soul compound, and (c) is capable of reason and free will through its immaterial, spiritual nature.

Article 8: Whether the soul is immortal?

Yes. But didn’t we just say the soul was the form of the living body, and the body eventually (to use a pleasant euphemism) retires? But there are many arguments for the immortality of the soul. Here are only two.

Plato says “that souls give life to bodies, and what gives a power by nature has that power by nature. But what has that power by nature…cannot lose it. Therefore souls cannot lost life.”

(3) (a) The only two ways in which a thing can die are decomposition into parts or annihilation. (b) But souls cannot be decomposed because they were not composed. Souls, unlike bodies, are simple, not compound…(c) And nothing is simply annihilated as a whole. (d) Therefore souls cannot die…

What of the brain? “It is true that while united to the body the soul’s activity is dependent on the brain, but this fact does not necessarily entail the conclusion that the soul cannot also act on its own, even as a man whom we see being carried by a horse may also be capable to walking by himself.”

At this point, and not for the first time, Kreeft uses out-of-body and near-death experiences as examples of the soul’s (let us call it) detachability. Now speaking as a guy who has written a book on the subject of extraordinary phenomena, we are right to be skeptical of these claims. Many are obviously false. But this is not proof that all are.

Descriptions of near-death experiences are often confused. I’m thinking of the neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who recently had one, and wrote in several places how his brain had “completely” shut down, which is what allowed him to see angels spinning about in the clouds. He above all should know that nobody can say with complete confidence that his brain “completely” shut down. Electron microscopes were not inserted to show utter lack of synaptic activity.

But if there were small activity, or even a lot of it, this does not preclude the genuineness of his reports. There are also suggestions (by Susan Blackmore, among others) that near-death experiences are what are to be expected as brains “shut down”, i.e. crap out.

Gist is that there is no, and likely can be no, definitive observational evidence either way. We are left, as always, with faith.

Article 9: Whether artificial immortality is desirable?


[M]any wise old myths like “Tithonius the Greek,” “the Wandering Jew,” and “the Flying Dutchman,” as well as wise modern science fiction stories like Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, and Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, all teach the need for death, and the curse that deathlessness in this world would be.

And don’t let’s forget that the gift the Highlander received was mortality (and the power of being a super cool diplomat?). “There can be only one!” One what we don’t know.

It is not true that the “conquest of death would be consummation of the conquest of nature…[because] Man’s task is not to conquer nature, as if she were an enemy, but to care for it and perfect it. Man’s nature is to die; so bypassing death would not be caring for or perfecting human nature.”

Article 10: Whether there is reincarnation?

No. Even though Shirley MaClaine, in one of her many past-life regressions, assured us she was a fat tax collector’s assistant in Byzantium (or whatever), no.

Since the soul is the form of the body, and that the combo is what makes us us (see Article 7 above), we can’t get new biological digs without becoming new people. And then there’s the problem of where new souls come from since some eventually reach Enlightenment. Given enough time, we’ll run out of souls to put into new people.

Kreeft gives more serious arguments, but I have run out of space and your patience.

Read Part VI.

Cosmology: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part IV

Where’s Waldo?

Part III

Remember, we’re doing summaries of summaries here; only bare sketches are possible. Buy his book for more detail.

Question IV is Cosmology. The most contentious scientific question is Article 10.

Article 1: Whether the order in the cosmos is teleological?

Yes. “[I]f objective teleology is an illusion, then eyes are not really ‘for’ seeing, ears ‘for’ hearing, legs ‘for’ walking, or stomachs ‘for’ digestion…”

We cannot confuse the[se] two questions, or reduce either one to the other: (1) What caused this effect? and (2) Why did it produce this effect rather than some other one? Efficient causality supplies the power, but final causality focuses it.

Teleology is not scientific in “the modern sense, since it cannot be detected, verified, or falsified empirically or quantitatively”. But this is nothing. Neither is mathematics scientific, though you don’t hear scientists railing against or rejecting it.

A direction in things might imply God, but a concept “is not refuted merely by claiming that it entails another concept”. We’re stuck with “Why?”

Article 2: Whether the cosmos exists for man?


The idea of man’s centrality (in meaning, not in space) is confirmed by the authority of tradition in all cultures, by religion, and even by science (the “Anthropic principle”)…

Kreeft doesn’t distinguish between the weak and strong versions of the Anthropic principle, which we can leave for another day. But it seems the universe is delicately balanced. Pick a force or constant and tweak it even a tiny amount, and life as we know it (i.e. us) would not have been possible. There are so many coincidences like this, that it appears there’s been some designing going on. Designing implies designer, and the only designer outside of time, space, matter, and energy is God (the God of classical theism; one link, among many).

Common fallacies are to assert man’s small stature; but if size matters then bears and even Buicks are more important than us. Another fallacy to say that man evolved by “blind forces”, which assumes without proof that these “blind” forces could not themselves have been designed to do just what they did. A third is to say that because man is only a few hundred thousand years old, he is therefore insignificant. That would make ferns and alligators worthier than us.

The very fact of the universe’s vastness and independence of man gives man an opportunity for awe, wonder, and humility.

Kreeft also gives no word on Fermi’s paradox, which is other scientific evidence that we are alone. The universe is big and old enough to have allowed, like us, other space-faring races to have evolved. They should have been here by now; they are not; therefore the suspicion (not proof) is that they do not exist.

Article 3: Whether the uniformity of nature is a necessary philosophical presupposition of all physical science?

Yes. Uniformity is a metaphysical assumption not a physical measurement. Nobody knows whether gravity works everywhere, because nobody has or could check it everywhere (as in everywhere). In this sense, it and all the other physical “laws” which we believe are unprovable beliefs.

It has not been proved that science is more certain than philosophy. In fact, it is often the reverse, since philosophy investigates unchanging and necessary truths while science investigates the changing world, which is contingent.

Article 4: Whether science presupposes real causality?

Yes. It must, because it can’t be seen. If you think it can, fill a bucket full of it and bring it to me.

Article 5: Whether there are four causes (formal, material, efficient, final)?


For a cause is either intrinsic or extrinsic to its effect [X]. If it is intrinsic, it is either (a) what X is, i.e. its essential nature or essence (e.g. a house)—and this is the “formal cause”—or (b) what X is made of or made from: the raw material that was formed, shaped, or determined to be X rather than Y (e.g. wood)—and this is the “material cause.” If it is extrinsic, it is either (c) the agent or origin that made or changed X (e.g. the carpenter)—and this is the “efficient cause”—or (d) the end or purpose of X, whether unconscious or conscious (e.g. to shelter a family)—and this is the “final cause.” Thus for every X, there is (a) that which, (b) that out of which, (c) that from which, and (d) that for which X is.

Article 6: Whether the cosmos is infinite in space?

No. “God alone is infinite, and the universe is not God, therefore the universe is not infinite.” Even if you don’t buy that, you certainly know about Einstein, so I can’t see you disagreeing.

Article 7: Whether time is infinite?

No. “[I]t is improper to speak of times’s past or future, for time is not a thing that continues or moves, but the measure of the continuing of moving of things.” Then this:

Just as there is an absolute beginning of all time which is not in time…so there can be an absolute end of all time. As the beginning term of the continuum of time has an “after” but not “before,” so the end term of the continuum of time can have a “before” but no “after.”

Again, I see few people objecting.

Article 8: Whether time travel is possible?

Yes. Perhaps not materially, only consciously. Sorry, no going back to stop your dad from dating your mom.

[W]e all experience a mild form of time travel (a) in memory, (b) in anticipation, and (c) in telling or hearing stories about other times. In all of these, our consciousness enters into other times, and occasionally does so with extreme vividness…There have been many well-documented cases of people (usually “primitives”) entering other times and places with their consciousness, e.g. “dream time” or “the dreaming” among the Australian aborigines.

Is that any kind of evidence? Chesterton:

All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, “Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,” they answer, “But mediaevals were superstitious”; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say “a peasant saw a ghost,” I am told, “But peasants are so credulous.” If I ask, “Why credulous?” the only answer is—that they see ghosts.

Kreeft, incidentally (elsewhere) does not argue for blanket credulity (do not subscribe to News of the World). To prove a man superstitious or credulous means you have proven his miracles mundane or his ghosts figments. No certain proof of that, means no certain proof of the other.

Article 9: Whether matter is only a projection of mind?

No. Idealism has been kicked to death long ago and it seems in bad taste to display its corpse once again. “If matter were merely mental projection, it could be changed merely by thinking, and no one would ever have to endure pain or death.”

Article 10: Whether mind is only a projection of matter?

No. You are not your brain, even though it’s a handy thing to have around. After my own heart, Kreeft says:

For all persons are immediately aware of their thinking, whenever they think, since ordinary thinking is simultaneously self-reflective or self-aware. This is data as immediate and indubitable as empirical data, and distinct from empirical data, since it does not depend on sensation and can be purely abstract (e.g. “I think, therefore I am.”).

Of course, all we need is “I think”—the rest is redundant. Only an I can think!

To claim that there are no minds, only material brains, which are like computers, is like claiming that there is no person behind a computer who designed or programmed it. No one would trust such a computer. So why does a materialist trust his brain?

What reason has a materialist to claim his reasoning reasonable? He can’t say evolution, for that either pushes the problem back one level, and we have to ask “Why trust evolution?” which assumes (in the word “trust”) what it sets out to prove (that believing evolution is reasonable), or else it ignores it. To say evolution created a brain is not to say that we are only our brains.

To produce an “explanation” of X in terms of [brain chemistry] X1, and Y in terms of [brain chemistry] Y1, is not yet not have proved that X1 and Y1 efficiently cause X and Y. If they occur simultaneously [say, thinking lights up an fMRI screen], it may be that X1 and Y1 are caused by X and Y. Or it may be that both are caused by a third thing…

(4) The fact a blow to the brain takes away thought does not prove that the brain is the sole cause of thought, any more than the fact that demolishing a microphone makes the speaker’s voice inaudible proves that the microphone was the sole cause, or even the cause at all, of the voice.

A lovely argument, that. Lastly,

If no one can think without a brain, this could be either because (a) the brain is the cause of thought, or because (b) the brain is the instrument of thought, or because (c) the brain is one of the necessary conditions for thought. A necessary condition is not the same as a sufficient condition.

Read Part V.

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