False dichotomies, two examples

dichotomiesIn case you missed them, I have recently published two articles in a mini, entirely informal and unofficial, series on “false dichotomies,” i.e. on the habit that sometimes people have of oversimplifying discourse and reduce a complex issue to an either/or minimum common denominator.

The idea isn’t to present readers with the standard treatment of so-called “informal” fallacies (which I think are actually quite problematic), but rather to discuss real life issues that matter to people, attempting to go a little beyond the “you are either with us or against us” mentality.

Both essays have appeared over at The Philosophers’ Magazine Online. The first one is concerned with the issue of “trigger warnings.” Here is how I introduce the topic in the piece:

“There has been lots of talk about so-called ‘trigger warnings’ lately. Although they originated outside the university (largely on feminist message boards in the ‘90s, and then in the blogosphere), within the academy this is the idea that professors should issue warnings to their students about potentially disturbing material that they are about to read or otherwise be exposed to. The warnings are necessary, advocates say, because such material may “trigger” episodes of discomfort, emotional pain, or outright post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). …”

The second essay tackles the much talked about, indeed downright incendiary, issue of Islamophobia. Again, here is the beginning of the piece: “A false dichotomy is a basic type of informal logical fallacy, consisting in framing an issue as if there were only two choices available, while in fact a range of nuanced positions may be on offer upon more careful reflection. … It is easy to find stark examples of people defending what appear to be two irreconcilable positions about how to view Islam in a post-9/11 world. For the sake of discussion, I will bypass pundits and other pseudo-intellectuals, and use instead two comedians as representative of the contrasting positions: Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. …”

I would, of course, be interested in comments on either or both articles. Stay tuned for the third and I think last installment in the series, on the topic of nature vs. nurture.