So I am a researcher in natural sciences who lives in a democracy. As a citizen of a democratic government, I am required, every so and so years, to take part in the ritual of the Election Time.

Embedded into the ritual are the political debates between the candidates for the various parties that are vying for the positions to be filled in the election. Now, whereas the citizen in me can appreciate the necessity of this public gladiatorial show of oratory, the scientist in me cringes and nearly falls from a stroke whenever I see that public opinion has been swayed, not by a convincing argument, but by a flawed one, mired in fallacies.

I am aware that just because an argument has a fallacy in it, that does not mean its data and spirit are incorrect, it might just be a matter of communication mismanagement. However, many logical fallacies are deliberately used to construct false arguments in order to gain leverage in the show.

I am assuming that the debates are for the benefit of the people, not the candidates, and that preventing the setting of fallacious arguments would force the participants to be more careful with how they say what they mean and would diminish the credibility of fallacious arguments before they have time to have their poison spread.

Whereas the data that the politicians take out of their hats is harder to verify in real time, most logical falacies can be identified very quickly by someone who is paying attention to the argument (if there even is an argument) and has some practice spotting them. And whereas data may be invalidade later, or revalidate later on, logical fallacies are a property of the argument itself, and almost always renders it void, whatever its particular subject matter may be.

I suppose the strategical countermeasure against the creation of this "Logical Jury" could be candidates avoiding attempts and logical arguments altogether, which would make the "debates" more like monologues as politicians use the time allotted to them to talk about themselves, with no regard for what has been asked and who asked the question. Maybe other tweaks in the rules could force them to engage more intensely.

So what would the pros and cons of this be?

  • Depends on who runs the debate and how. Political candidates should be free to organize their own rallies, within broad limits set by public order. The debates you refer to are usually organized by reputable news media with ground rules which all participants have to agree to. If all agree to a neutral referee, fine. But what if one of the candidates disagrees with the choice of referee? Can they bring their own? – o.m. May 3 '20 at 11:23
  • There are studies that show that straight logic and data is actually one of the least successful methods of convincing another person (right up there with yelling at them and calling their mother names, I think). And I think this would be harder than you think. Some examples of fallacies are easy to pick up, but others are very complex, especially when spread out through a long argument. And not every logician even agrees on what is a fallacy, versus a rhetorical trick, versus complexities of human communication involving non-verbal and even communal factors rather than pure words. – zibadawa timmy May 3 '20 at 11:25
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    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – James K May 3 '20 at 11:27
  • I think this needs to be rephrased. As it stands, it's simply opinion-based, and not really properly answerable. – D M May 3 '20 at 11:57
  • Perhaps something like "What would the pros and cons be" instead of "Should" would make it less opinion-based? – D M May 3 '20 at 12:03

There are some drawbacks to this:

One possible argument is "If crime is rising, we must spend more on police. Crime is rising. Therefore, we must spend more on police." If the facts are incorrect, the argument fails, and as you say, it's not always easy to determine if the facts are incorrect.

But the "If" part may or may not also be true, in several ways. There are many hidden arguments which are not explicitly being made here - for example, that argument that increasing police funding will reduce crime is implied, but not stated. Is it a fallacy to skip that step?

There's another hidden argument, that if crime is increasing we must reduce it. But maybe crime isn't so bad and we should just ignore it. The candidate has to show why a crime reduction is necessary. So, sometimes they bring a crime victim along and use them as an example, going into detail about how crime affected them negatively. Now the moderators must decide: is this a fallacious appeal to emotion? Or is it a perfectly justified example of the problem?

And sometimes an argument, while technically a logical fallacy, may be relevant. "My opponent was caught lying on this issue 47 times" does not logically mean they are lying now, and is technically an ad hominem argument. Or if a candidate brings out a graph showing a correlation between police funding and crime, that's technically the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. But surely these shouldn't be simply dismissed as fallacious!

The very definition of certain terms is controversial to some extent. Racism comes to mind. If one candidate says that adjusting the funding to police is racist, is that some form of equivocation? That might depend on which definition is the "correct" one. And appeal to authority isn't really fallacious when citing a valid authority, but is certainly a fallacy when citing an invalid one. But how do you decide whether an authority is valid? And so the political leanings of the referee might come into play despite their best intentions to stay neutral.

Assuming that candidates aren't going to be required to speak in formal logic for the entire debate, they'll also have an incentive to avoid formal logic, to avoid being caught in a fallacy. Or, to make a bunch of really simple and obvious arguments, to improve their "score". I don't think this would have a positive effect.

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