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Drawing conclusions from others' motives

Simon67
Posts: 3
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5/12/2014 6:49:36 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Hey guys

This is my first post here and I am hoping someone can help me. I have a political debate with someone in a few weeks. In a nut-shell, I am expecting my opponent to make arguments along the lines of "Why would this leader/politician decide on a certain course of action when it seemingly doesn't make sense for him".

To me, it seems like a weak argument to question someone's motives for doing something, and drawing conclusions based on that. My question is whether or not there is a name for a certain type of argument or if there's any literature on the topic. For example, times throughout history where leaders/politicians have made decisions which seemingly don't make sense. Or just generally, literature outlining the many problems with drawing conclusions based on something so speculative and uncertain (i.e. we can't possibly know all the factors that leader X considered before making a decision, nor his/her state of mind).

Any help would be much appreciated :) Thanks in advance!
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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5/12/2014 7:43:59 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/12/2014 6:49:36 PM, Simon67 wrote:
Hey guys

This is my first post here and I am hoping someone can help me. I have a political debate with someone in a few weeks. In a nut-shell, I am expecting my opponent to make arguments along the lines of "Why would this leader/politician decide on a certain course of action when it seemingly doesn't make sense for him".

To me, it seems like a weak argument to question someone's motives for doing something, and drawing conclusions based on that. My question is whether or not there is a name for a certain type of argument or if there's any literature on the topic. For example, times throughout history where leaders/politicians have made decisions which seemingly don't make sense. Or just generally, literature outlining the many problems with drawing conclusions based on something so speculative and uncertain (i.e. we can't possibly know all the factors that leader X considered before making a decision, nor his/her state of mind).

Any help would be much appreciated :) Thanks in advance!

Do you mean that you think your opponent's going to say "This course of action is unlike what would be expected, so his motivation for the course of action must be secretly selfish"?

That would seem like an ad hominem fallacy, I think, though I'm a little unclear on the specific objection you're expecting to be raised. Can you give a bit more detail?
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Simon67
Posts: 3
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5/12/2014 8:18:57 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/12/2014 7:43:59 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/12/2014 6:49:36 PM, Simon67 wrote:
Hey guys

This is my first post here and I am hoping someone can help me. I have a political debate with someone in a few weeks. In a nut-shell, I am expecting my opponent to make arguments along the lines of "Why would this leader/politician decide on a certain course of action when it seemingly doesn't make sense for him".

To me, it seems like a weak argument to question someone's motives for doing something, and drawing conclusions based on that. My question is whether or not there is a name for a certain type of argument or if there's any literature on the topic. For example, times throughout history where leaders/politicians have made decisions which seemingly don't make sense. Or just generally, literature outlining the many problems with drawing conclusions based on something so speculative and uncertain (i.e. we can't possibly know all the factors that leader X considered before making a decision, nor his/her state of mind).

Any help would be much appreciated :) Thanks in advance!

Do you mean that you think your opponent's going to say "This course of action is unlike what would be expected, so his motivation for the course of action must be secretly selfish"?

That would seem like an ad hominem fallacy, I think, though I'm a little unclear on the specific objection you're expecting to be raised. Can you give a bit more detail?

Thanks for your response. I didn't provide details because it tends to be a sensitive and divisive issue, but I guess it will make my question clearer.

The specific topic is over whether Syrian government forces used chemical weapons last year. One of the main arguments against this conclusion is that a decision by leadership to use the chemical weapons is an illogical tactical decision, due to the fact that it would probably have invited unpleasant consequences which would not make sense from a cost-benefit standpoint. The conclusion is then drawn that government forces could not have used the chemical weapons because they would not have made a seemingly illogical decision. I want to point out that using such an argument is invalid for a number of reasons. But rather than specifically delve into the reasons, I want to take a step back and specify why an argument that assesses others' motives is flawed. I'm not sure if there is a name for this type of argument so I'm finding it difficult to research it.

Thanks for your help.
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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5/12/2014 8:26:08 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/12/2014 8:18:57 PM, Simon67 wrote:
At 5/12/2014 7:43:59 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/12/2014 6:49:36 PM, Simon67 wrote:
Hey guys

This is my first post here and I am hoping someone can help me. I have a political debate with someone in a few weeks. In a nut-shell, I am expecting my opponent to make arguments along the lines of "Why would this leader/politician decide on a certain course of action when it seemingly doesn't make sense for him".

To me, it seems like a weak argument to question someone's motives for doing something, and drawing conclusions based on that. My question is whether or not there is a name for a certain type of argument or if there's any literature on the topic. For example, times throughout history where leaders/politicians have made decisions which seemingly don't make sense. Or just generally, literature outlining the many problems with drawing conclusions based on something so speculative and uncertain (i.e. we can't possibly know all the factors that leader X considered before making a decision, nor his/her state of mind).

Any help would be much appreciated :) Thanks in advance!

Do you mean that you think your opponent's going to say "This course of action is unlike what would be expected, so his motivation for the course of action must be secretly selfish"?

That would seem like an ad hominem fallacy, I think, though I'm a little unclear on the specific objection you're expecting to be raised. Can you give a bit more detail?

Thanks for your response. I didn't provide details because it tends to be a sensitive and divisive issue, but I guess it will make my question clearer.

The specific topic is over whether Syrian government forces used chemical weapons last year. One of the main arguments against this conclusion is that a decision by leadership to use the chemical weapons is an illogical tactical decision, due to the fact that it would probably have invited unpleasant consequences which would not make sense from a cost-benefit standpoint. The conclusion is then drawn that government forces could not have used the chemical weapons because they would not have made a seemingly illogical decision. I want to point out that using such an argument is invalid for a number of reasons. But rather than specifically delve into the reasons, I want to take a step back and specify why an argument that assesses others' motives is flawed. I'm not sure if there is a name for this type of argument so I'm finding it difficult to research it.

Thanks for your help.

Gotcha.

In that sense, I'm not sure there's a fallacy, formal or informal, that can be pointed to.

There's an awful lot of assumptions there. It's not necessarily fallacious to appeal to the rationality of an actor in discussing their actions...If there's some question whether I punched a wall, pointing out that I know I would only hurt my hand is legitimate. In this case, your opponent would have the burden of showing that the attacks WERE overall an irrational decision, that Syria KNEW that to a reasonable degree of certainty, and that they would not behave irrationally if they had that knowledge. A steep mountain to climb, methinks.

A good tack might be to show instances where governments or entities have clearly acted in ways that were aggressive but against a long-term self-interest.
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YYW
Posts: 36,242
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5/13/2014 1:30:23 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/12/2014 6:49:36 PM, Simon67 wrote:
Hey guys

This is my first post here and I am hoping someone can help me. I have a political debate with someone in a few weeks. In a nut-shell, I am expecting my opponent to make arguments along the lines of "Why would this leader/politician decide on a certain course of action when it seemingly doesn't make sense for him".

To me, it seems like a weak argument to question someone's motives for doing something, and drawing conclusions based on that. My question is whether or not there is a name for a certain type of argument or if there's any literature on the topic. For example, times throughout history where leaders/politicians have made decisions which seemingly don't make sense. Or just generally, literature outlining the many problems with drawing conclusions based on something so speculative and uncertain (i.e. we can't possibly know all the factors that leader X considered before making a decision, nor his/her state of mind).

Any help would be much appreciated :) Thanks in advance!

Motives can be hard to assess, because they involve getting into world leader's heads. It's not impossible, but it's hard to do precisely. Interests are much easier to evaluate. There's a guy called Bruce Bueno de Mesquita whose work essentially weighs interests and predicts outcomes with math and game theory. It's more complicated than what I just said, but I think it might be something like what you're looking for.
Simon67
Posts: 3
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5/15/2014 1:01:31 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
Thanks for the help. I will argue that it was tactically effective - as it turned out - and perhaps use examples of leaders that made seemingly irrational decisions that were short-term-focused.

I also found an article by Bueno de Mesquita's use of game theory which is very interesting.

Thanks again!
Mhykiel
Posts: 5,987
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5/15/2014 4:23:22 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/12/2014 6:49:36 PM, Simon67 wrote:
Hey guys

This is my first post here and I am hoping someone can help me. I have a political debate with someone in a few weeks. In a nut-shell, I am expecting my opponent to make arguments along the lines of "Why would this leader/politician decide on a certain course of action when it seemingly doesn't make sense for him".

To me, it seems like a weak argument to question someone's motives for doing something, and drawing conclusions based on that. My question is whether or not there is a name for a certain type of argument or if there's any literature on the topic. For example, times throughout history where leaders/politicians have made decisions which seemingly don't make sense. Or just generally, literature outlining the many problems with drawing conclusions based on something so speculative and uncertain (i.e. we can't possibly know all the factors that leader X considered before making a decision, nor his/her state of mind).

Any help would be much appreciated :) Thanks in advance!

Your opponent would have the BOP that that Syrian government never acts irrationally. This is intuitively against human nature.

But also a logical argument is 1) premises are plausible against contrary arguments (ie. Valid) 2) the premises connect in a logical order 3) the conclusion follows True

Fallacies don't make a conclusion Not True. What you have to show is that the premise is less likely compared to an alternate scenario, that the step to the conclusion is illogical.

BOP for your opponent would be prove the Syrians discussed and rejected the option of chemical weapons.

Because then it would be irrational to think after discussing it they decided to go ahead and use them. Such events would prove your opponents case.

However with out such evidence any speculation your opponent makes will mean any speculation you make as "Plausible", making either/or meaningless. And you can move from 1) from there.