Can Straw Men Get Pregnant?

Introduction: Republican Candidate, Lavern Spicer posted this on twitter on July 15th, 2022. She is running for election to the U.S. House of Representatives. If successful, she will represent Distict 24 in Florida.

Key Facts: This comment is most likely offered in response to Congressional testimony by Berkeley Professor, Kiara Bridges. During a hearing on abortion access, Senator Josh Hawley asked Professor Bridges to clarify her unwillingness to simply say ‘women’ when referring to persons with the capacity to get pregnant. Bridges raised 2 concerns in response to this question: the fact that some women cannot get pregnant, and the fact that under some circumstances trans-men and other non-binary people can. Her comments have since become a popular target of criticism by right wing politicians and pundits.

Text: “Hey libs! MY HUSBAND IS ALL MAN and has never been able to get pregnant.

Any idea why?”


Comments: There has definitely been a lot of piling on when it comes to the exchange between Hawley and Bridges. A lot of conservative politicians and pundits have been using it to illustrate the absurdity of left wing (liberal and progressive) ideas about gender. Mostly, these argument do not engage the views of either Bridges or any actual thinking in liberal or progressive circles.

Statements: The full argument contains at least two missing assertions and one rhetorical question.

The rhetorical question has been rewritten here as statement 3.

The missing assertions are represented as statements 4 and 5. Statement 5 seems to be here main conclusion. Why? Because this tweet was not made in direct reply to Bridges or any of Bridges’ supporters. It is a general message sent out to the public at large. So, it seems unlikely that she is trying to engage any specific targets on any specific points. Her goal is to mock the opposition. Statement 4 is then necessary to represent her working understanding of that opposition. It can be represented in general terms (as statement 4a) or in terms specific to Bridges’ own testimony (statement 4b). Either way, the statement is likely to seem foolish to her intended audience.

[A] Hey libs!


[2] [He] has never been able to get pregnant.

[3] [Men cannot get pregnant.]

[4a] [Liberals think men can get pregnant.]

[4b] [Liberals think cis-gender men can get pregnant.]

[5] [Liberals do not understand gender.]

Diagram: I take statement 3 to be a conclusion drawn by abduction from statements 1 and 2. Statement is then added for contrast in order to draw the conclusion that liberals do not understand gender.

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Abduction, Contextualization, Equivocation, Micro-Reasoning, Miscontextualization, Rhetorical Question, Semantics, Straw Man, Unstated Assertions, Voicing.

Abduction: As Spicer explicitly suggests that statement 3 is the explanation for statement 2, it seems best to treat the first inference as abduction. The argument seems plausible enough, but a bit depends on the meaning of ‘men.’ If the term is taken to include trans men, then it false and the explanation is too broad for the phenomenon in question. If it is taken to refer to cis-gender men only, then it is true, (At least I am unaware of any information that would contradict it) but this moves the problems in the argument into the inferences.

Contextualization: One of the interesting features of this argument is the way that it frames the nature of the conversation at hand. In it, Spicer addresses those she means to criticize directly. She refers to them as liberal, but of course her arguments are aimed at addressing comments by Professor Bridges, who is unlikely to identify herself as a liberal. Neither can it be taken for granted that liberals fully agree with Spicer. So, there are some real questions about Spicer’s sense of the discussion at hand.

Equivocation: insofar as Lavern Spicer is relying the biological impossibility of her husband’s pregnancy to discredit Dr. Bridges she is equivocating, because Bridges was not talking about cis-gender men (as she, Bridges, would put it). Bridges was talking about trans men. That Bridges uses the same term for both (Spicer probably wouldn’t) types of people does not diminish the error in equating one for the other. Spicer is using the notion that cis-gender men cannot give birth to discredit Bridges for acknowledging that trans men can. This is deceitful.

If Spicer were to address the issue directly, she would simply say that she and Bridges differ in the way they wish to talk about gender. Instead, she casts this as disagreement over a factual matter. She is not alone in this tactic.

Micro-Reasoning: This is an extraordinarily brief argument. As such, it’s author does not get the chance to clarify any of the points she is making. Still, it seems unlikely that its defects are simply the product of brevity. This tweet was meant to distort the issues.

Miscontextualization: Spicer frames her argument here as one directed at liberals, but is it really liberals she is taking issue with? As a proponent of critical race theory (CRT) Professor Bridges would be much better describes as a progressive than a liberal. Critical race theorists consistently oppose liberal approaches to law and other subjects, often describing their work as directly challenging classic liberal politics (which would include both moderate liberals and political conservatives). Also, the lengths to which Bridges goes in shaping her language to accommodate non-binary people would alienate a lot of liberals who may be content to call a trans-man a ‘man’ (something many conservatives refuse to do), but they will not necessarily reshape their language in other contexts so as to align their usage with the best interests of the trans community. Bridges views in this instance, at least, fall far to the left of liberal politics, so Spicer’s framing of the issue is quite misplaced. The effect of this distortion is to create the impression that a larger portion of the non-conservative public is implicated in the position she attacks than is actually the case. She is attempting to erase the middle ground on this issue, even as she seeks to marginalize the any who might be sympathetic to Bridges comments.

Rhetorical Question: when Spicer asks if liberals can figure out why her husband cannot get pregnant, she is of course telling us that they cannot. Hence, her rhetorical question has been reworded as statement number 3.

Semantics: The heart of this argument is a dispute over the language used to express gender. While progressives generally include trans men within their use of terms like “men,” conservatives typically insist on restricting the term to biological (cis-gender) males. Liberals and libertarians vary more widely in their approach to the subject. Ultimately, this argument is an attempt to stigmatize those adopting more inclusive use of the label by portraying them as unable to grasp standard biological facts.

Unstated Assertions: One of the central problems posed by this argument is the question of how best to characterize the points Bridges implies without stating openly. I do think it fair to suggest her goal is a general swipe at her political opposition rather than a focused attack on Bridges (hence, statement 5 as the conclusion). This raises the question of what does Spicer think liberals think. We can construe that broadly in the form of statement 4a or narrowly in the form of statement 4b.

Setting aside the question of whether or not Spicer has correctly identified those who believe as Bridges does, statement 4 might be fairly said to be true, but that would shift the problems with this argument into the inferences (making it a question of equivocation and/or straw man). If we adopt statement 4b instead, then the statement itself is false. There is no indication that even Bridges believes that cis-gender men can get pregnant.

Straw Man: Insofar as Spicer is attacking (and any who might agree with her), this argument commits the straw man fallacy, because Bridges does not saw that cis-gender men can get pregnant.

Voicing: Many of the problems in this argument arise out of the relationship between Spicer and those she means to criticize. This is complicated by two things; the fact that she is responding to Professor Bridges without naming her directly and her choice of ‘liberals’ as the stated target of her criticism. She thus gives voice to a point of view with an indefinite original source? Do really liberals really think this way? Does Professor Bridges? The answer to both of these questions is ‘no,’ albeit for different reasons. All of these are problems entering the argument through the process of voicing those Spicer means to criticize.

Evaluation: The argument fails because it does not actually engage the views of anyone out there. It either fails because statement 4b is blatantly false, or because the inference requires equivocation to make it work in the case that we use statement 4a to flesh out the argument. This argument is unsound.

Final Thoughts: ultimately, this is an argument over the way people use language. Professor Bridges makes a point to speak of gender in a manner that maximizes awareness of transgendered identities. Many on the right wing of American politics are pushing back hard against this, insisting that words like ‘men’ and ‘women’ be used only for cis-gendered people and eliding entirely questions about intersexed people or anyone else who might think of themselves as non-binary. Liberals may seem caught in the middle, and libertarians seem to pick one approach of another. In any event, this is about vocabulary, and vocabulary is always a matter of choice. Progressives cannot force anyone else to adopt their language and conservatives cannot force anyone else to stick with more conventional usage. The closest either party can do is to malign the other side for making the wrong choices on the basis of certain value-based priorities. What arguments like this one attempt to do is resolve that quickly by dressing a practical choice up as a factual question. Spicer wants us to think ‘liberals’ are getting the facts wrong. She had to get several things wrong in order to do that.

King’s Pushback

Introduction: This is part of an article entitled, “The Real Reasons All the Top Chess Players Are Men,” written by Wei Ji Ma. It was published in Slate Magazine on December 11th. In this piece, tries to counter a common claim that men are inherently better at chess than women by considering a number of social factors which Wei argues could better explain known disparities between the number of successful men and women participating in competitive chess.

Key Facts: The Cable Series, “The Queen’s Gambit,” features a story-line in which a woman fights her way up the ranks of professional chess to become the world champion. When the Queen’s Gambit was released, it triggered a wave of discussions about the gap between men and women in the top ranks of chess competition. Several voices argued that the women are under-represented in chess championships for reasons of inherent inability. The author of this argument makes a case for social construction as a more likely cause of the difference. The passage below focuses specifically on the impact of the belief in inherent ability on the social construction of gender differences relevant to competitive chess.

Text: “The idea that innate chess ability is critical for success—rather than a commitment to studying the game to get better and better at it—might itself keep the participation gap wide in the first place. Andrei Cimpian, Princeton University philosopher Sarah-Jane Leslie, and colleagues studied 30 academic disciplines in the U.S. and found a strong negative correlation between the pervasiveness of innate-ability beliefs and the proportion of female Ph.D.s. Moreover, very young children already internalize beliefs that men are more brilliant than women. A 2017 study showed that 6-year-old girls in the U.S. are already less likely to believe that members of their gender are “really, really smart,” and that they begin avoiding activities that are said to be for children who are “really, really smart.” There we have it: a shockingly early start for the participation gap in chess.”


Comments: To fully assess the value of the original argument, the passage above would have to be considered alongside Wei’s account of several other confounding variables which might explain the relative lack of successful women in competitive chess, as well as his critique of the case made for inherent ability. Doing so would of course put the analysis beyond the scope of a simple exercise. So, we are just dealing with this passage here, but that does touch upon questions as to how one might best think of the specific conclusion to be drawn from this specific passage. It should be kept in mind that Wei isn’t trying to settle the whole issue in this one passage; he is using it to establish one point in a larger argument.

Statements: This argument is pretty straight forward. I have omitted a hedge from the first statement.

[1] “The idea that innate chess ability is critical for success—rather than a commitment to studying the game to get better and better at it— …keeps the participation gap wide in the first place.

[2] Andrei Cimpian, Princeton University philosopher Sarah-Jane Leslie, and colleagues studied 30 academic disciplines in the U.S. and found a strong negative correlation between the pervasiveness of innate-ability beliefs and the proportion of female Ph.D.s.


[3] Very young children already internalize beliefs that men are more brilliant than women.

[4] A 2017 study showed that 6-year-old girls in the U.S. are already less likely to believe that members of their gender are “really, really smart,”

[5] [The same study showed that] they begin avoiding activities that are said to be for children who are “really, really smart.”

[6] There we have it: a shockingly early start for the participation gap in chess.

Diagram: The argument appears to produce three separate inferences in serial form with the final conclusion being the first sentence.

Discussion: The main themes associated with this argument would include; Begging the Question, Causation, Hedges, Statistics.

Begging the Question: There is at least one way of reading the first inference which would render it a circular argument.

Causation: The essential point of the argument is to assign a causative factor to the gender disparities in chess. This passage of this article makes the case that belief in innate talent creates a self-fulfilling prophesy, depressing interest in chess by women reducing expectations for their performance. These two studies cited may not be sufficient to demonstrate the social expectations outlined in these studies, though they are probably sufficient to undermine the case for innate ability as a sufficient explanation in it itself.

In the end, a more exhaustive account of relevant studies would be needed to account for all the variables.

Hedges: Notice that the opening lines of this argument use the phrasing “might be” in setting up the case that belief in innate ability constitutes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Most likely, this reflects the nature of the publication. In effect, the author is turning out a quick response to the topic at hand rather than the results of exhaustive research. The hedge this reminds us that his conclusions are tentative at best, offered as food for thought rather than as a final verdict on the topic at hand.

In omitting the hedge from the wording of the first statement, I am treating them more as a kind of affect display than a feature of the statement in question. Some might disagree with this approach, suggesting that the actual question is merely whether or not belief in innate ability MIGHT deter women from participating in chess. This would water the topic down to the point of being pointless, so I think it better to treat the claim in question as a solid assertion of the link, and the presence of the hedge as indicating something about the relative confidence of the author rather than as a feature of the claim in question.

Statistics: The argument refers to 3 separate findings from 2 separate studies. Whether or not these are enough to establish the truth of the author’s conclusion is something of an open question. Barring specific questions about the data in the study and/or the conclusions drawn from it, a reader might still be justified in wishing to consider additional variables. Still, the studies cited above do seem to provide some reason to believe, as Wei does, that belief in innate ability is itself a factor in the gender disparities present in competitive chess.

Evaluation: I am just going to comment briefly on each of the 3 inferences in this argument.

4->3: Here the author is essentially taking a specific study, to the effect that young girls already equal intelligence with gender, to demonstrate a larger claim that young children generally show this belief.

One might raise some questions as to whether the study in question demonstrates that female children are coming under the influence of stereotypes at age 6 or simply becoming aware of innate differences. Few social scientists at this point would entertain the latter option, and the authors appear to take it as axiomatic that belief in gender disparity is a stereotype, but as this author of this argument uses the study to show that social construction is the cause of gender disparities in chess rather than innate ability, this builds a degree of circularity into the argument, at least as applied to this first inference.

At least as stated, the inference from 4 to 3 appears to be invalid. Additional information may change this, but the information is not present in the immediate argument presented above.

3+5->6: Statement 3 is a general claim about the early impact of belief in gender stereotypes dealing with intelligence and statement suggests that at least one study shoes that girls as young as 6 begin avoiding activities they associate with it. Statement 6 attributes gender disparities in relevant activities to these factors.

The premises certainly do make a plausible case for the conclusion. How convincing one finds that case is another question. It would be reasonable to ask for consideration of additional variables, some of which are dealt with in the rest of the article and/or even to look for more exhaustive studies on the topic at hand. Of course, it would also be reasonable to expect of someone holding out for such information that they would look at the research in question if it was offered. If that is too time consuming, then it might well be argued, the material at hand ought to be sufficient for at least a tentative conclusion.

Note that the circularity mentioned in the first inference based on the study of young girls is less relevant to this inference insofar as the observation that girls begin avoiding tasks associated with innate intelligence does establish a behavioral impact of the belief in question. Whether or not there might be some case for the accuracy of such beliefs, the case for a behavioral impact of such beliefs is supported by the study.

2+6->1: This inference combines the case for early avoidance of intellectual activities by girls as a result of stereotyping with a parallel observation about a relative lack of adult female participation in scholarly fields strongly associated with innate ability to make the case for belief in innate ability as a deterrent to female participation in chess.

As with the previous inference, the argument makes a plausible case. Whether or not it is convincing is another question.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I do find this to be a persuasive argument, but I believe at least part of this is due to the fact that I am inclined to accept the assumptions of a social constructivist position at the outset. As a case in favor of such a position, and against the view that there are innate differences between boys and girls on skills relevant to chess, I think it is still sufficient to establish the relevance of at least one competing variable, the reaction to belief in innate differences has an impact on human behavior. To rule out any underlying innate difference probably just takes more than you can accomplish with the paragraph above and many even with the article from which it is drawn.

Caitlyn Jenner’s Political Priorities

Introduction: Dawn Ennis conducted an interview with Caitlyn Jenner which was published in The Advocate on March 2nd. In a brief discussion of election politics Jenner expressed her preference for a Presidential candidate, providing a brief argument on the topic in question

Key Facts: Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) is transgendered. Her high-profile transition from male to female identity gained significant attention in the media. Its relevance to her choice of candidates provides an explicit feature of the argument in question.

Text: Here are the relevant comments (with the argument in bold):

It was also contentious when the conversations aboard that bus turned to politics, which Jenner says they often did. “It got heated! Especially with poor little me, who’s the lone Republican conservative against all the liberal Democrats.” So heated, Boylan can be seen shouting “That is a lie!” at Jenner, at one point even swatting her head with a rolled-up newspaper.

And drama is sure to ensue when Jenner meets Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. The only candidates she spoke about with The Advocate, however, were Republicans.

“That’s just political B.S.” she says of Donald Trump’s recent inability to disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. So who does she support for the nomination? I ask.Discussion: The argument raises the following issues:

“I like Ted Cruz,” she declares. “I think he’s very conservative and a great constitutionalist and a very articulate man. I haven’t endorsed him or anything like that. But I also think, he’s an evangelical Christian, and probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues.” 

“I get it. The Democrats are better when it comes to these types of social issues. I understand that.” So why support Republicans? “Number 1, if we don’t have a country, we don’t have trans issues. We need jobs. We need a vibrant economy. I want every trans person to have a job. With $19 trillion in debt and it keeps going up, we’re spending money we don’t have. Eventually, it’s going to end. And I don’t want to see that. Socialism did not build this country. Capitalism did. Free enterprise. The people built it. And they need to be given the opportunity to build it back up.”

Jenner reveals she met Cruz prior to her transition, more than a year ago, “and he was very nice.” 

“Wouldn’t it be great, let’s say he goes on to be president,” she tells me in relating a conversation on the tour bus. “And I have all my girls on a trans issues board to advise him on making decisions when it comes to trans issues. Isn’t that a good idea?”

“You’re going to be Ted Cruz’s trans ambassador?” I respond.

“Yes, trans ambassador to the president of the United States, so we can say, ‘Ted, love what you’re doing but here’s what’s going on.’”

She wasn’t joking.


Comments: Jenner explicitly acknowledges the value of one point against her choice. It’s one of the more interesting features of this argument. This theme (expressed in statements 6 and 7 below) is accordingly flagged with a minus sign to indicate its status as a counterpoint to Jenner’s overall position. I have also supplied two missing assumptions (22 and 23). Assumption 22 seems to help summarize some of Jenner’s specific points on the economy and provide an intermediate conclusion in her argument. Assumption 23 helps to clarify the counterpoint Jenner is trying to overcome through much of the argument.

Statements: The relevant statements have been reproduced and numbered below. Several comments have been deleted as they do not contribute to the argument. Any rewritten sections have been placed in square brackets.

[1] I like Ted Cruz.

[2] I think he’s very conservative.

[3] [He is] a great constitutionalist.

[4] [He is] a very articulate man.

[5] I also think, he’s an evangelical Christian.

[-6] [He is] probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues.

[-7] The Democrats are better when it comes to these types of social issues.

[8] [I am willing to support Republicans anyway.]

[9] Number 1, if we don’t have a country, we don’t have trans issues.

[10] We need jobs.

[11] We need a vibrant economy.

[12] I want every trans person to have a job.

[13] With $19 trillion in debt and it keeps going up, we’re spending money we don’t have.

[14] Eventually, it’s going to end.

[15] I don’t want to see that.

[16] Socialism did not build this country.

[17] Capitalism did.

[18] Free enterprise [did].

[19] The people built it.

[20] And they need to be given the opportunity to build it back up.

[21] [when Jenner met Cruz prior to her transition, more than a year ago] he was very nice.

[[22]] [Republicans will handle the American economy better than Democrats do.]

[[23]] [Concerns about transgendered issues do not support a vote for Cruz.]

Discussion: The argument raises the following Issues: causation, counterpoints, false alternatives, lost in translation, missing statements, and qualification.

Causation: It isn’t really clear whether the the relationship between 5 and -6 is best represented as an inference or a cause and effect relationship, and it seems unlikely to me that Jenner herself made up her mind which she meant to assert at the time. In effect, this would mean that Jenner simply sought to explain or otherwise elaborate Cruz’ position on the subject of transgendered issues. It is at least possible that she mean to use 5 as evidence for -6, which is what the diagram suggests. I’ve elected to use this the latter approach. If this overall argument were an effort to discredit Cruz, I would be more concerned about representing this as an inference, but as  Jenner is actually making an effort to support Cruz, I don’t believe the overall soundness of her argument hinges on this decision one way or another.

Counterpoints: Jenner explicitly acknowledges that Democrats will handle transgender issues better than Cruz would. Much of the rest of her argument is aimed at explaining why she would vote for Cruz (or perhaps some other Republican) anyway.

False Alternatives: Jenner’s comparison between socialism and capitalism suggest a universe of precisely two competing economic theories, neither of which is spelled out in precise terms. Not only does this leave out alternatives, it rather caricaturizes the range of possibilities within each of these options. It’s hard to escape a sense that the choice she presents is misleading.

Lost in Translation: There are a number of things about this diagram that make me uncomfortable.

It isn’t entirely clear how Jenner’s thoughts about communism color her specific concerns about the economy. She hasn’t spelled that out in the argument above. So, the current diagram groups up her comments on the subject into a few larger themes, and that’s as far as I have taken it. This is a little bit arbitrary and it doesn’t provide us with a means of assessing how Jenner (or those reading her argument) might entextualize the relationship between these sub-themes. I am concerned that the argument might be improved if I formulated an intermediate conclusion for each sub-theme and then presented statement 22 as a conclusion drawn from an argument linking each of these conclusions. Simply put, that’s more rewriting than I think one really ought to do for an argument.

A second point relates to the scope of concerns Jenner may have about transgender issues. We don’t really learn what specific issues she may think fall under this heading or what impact she thinks Cruz may have on these issues. It might also be that Jenner has a broad range of concerns about social justice issues comparable to those of transgendered people. No specific concerns have been articulated in at least this version of the argument, however, so they aren’t on the table. This is one instance in which sticking to the argument as stated does seem to narrow the range of issues the author may have had in mind. It certainly leaves us with a more narrow vision of the subject than it deserves.

Missing Assertions: Both of the missing statements provided in this argument reflect an attempt to spell out intermediate conclusions Jenner appears to be drawing and provide a transition from her more detailed arguments toward her final conclusion.

Qualification: There is a stark contrast between Jenner’s comments on transgendered issues which she speaks of in terms of better or worse polices and those of the economy which she speaks of in very stark terms, alluding to the possibility of a major collapse. In effect, she qualifies one range of issues in measured tones while engaging in rhetorical brinksmanship with the other. As much of her argument rests on a sense of how these issues balance her choice of wording substantially skews the relevant issues, effectively loading up the significance of one topic while minimizing the significance of another.

Diagram: Fortunately, I ordered spaghetti earlier tonight, and it came in a brown paper bag. (Whew!) So I was able to put the full argument into diagram form. Honestly, it’s kind of messy (the diagram I mean), but hopefully, it captures a sense of the major themes in this argument.

Statements 2-4 all attribute positive attributes to Cruz and lay the foundation for her initial approval of the candidate.

Statements 5, -6, -7, and -23 all outline the concern that  Cruz may not be a good candidate for transgendered people.

Statements 10-12 outline a range of concerns about the need for jobs.

Statements 13-15 outline concerns about government debt.

Statements 16-20 present Jenner’s economic concerns in terms of a stark contrast between socialist policies and those of capitalism.

Statements 9, 22, and 8 help to summarize Jenner’s thoughts about the economy and explain how those overcome her concerns about how Cruz will treat transgendered people.

Statement 21 reads like a throw-away comment, but it too seems to be a reason for voting for Cruz. It might even be a rather common one. Jenner met the man and she seems to like him.




Evaluation: I’m just going to focus on a few key issues in this argument.

Statements 2-4: The truth of each of these statements is debatable (especially 3), as is the wisdom of treating them as assets for the candidate.

The inference from -23+8 to 1: This is perhaps the trickiest sub-theme in Jenner’s argument. Ultimately, the inference boils down to a judgement call about the significance of the concerns pointing Jenner to vote for Republicans versus those raised about transgender issues under a Cruz Presidency. At least in principle, this issue is partly objective. It may well be that economic issues will impact the lives of transgendered people (and of Americans in general) more than the possible mistreatment of transgendered people under a president hostile to them and to their rights, but the reverse could also be true. In effect, this would boil down to the particulars. Will an insensitive President be content to allow religious exemptions for discrimination against transgendered people or will he actively try tojail them? Something in between? Conversely, would poor economic policies slow growth or spark a mild rise in inflation? Or will the crash the whole thing as Caitlyn suggests. In effect, that question is finessed above as a result of Jenner’s language. She speaks of the economy in terms of a worst-case scenario while addressing transgendered issues in terms of a measured scale. She rates Cruz low on that scale, but she doesn’t describe that in the nearly apocalyptic terms she uses for economic issues.

The sub-argument from 16-20 down to 22 is probably the worst element of this argument. It implies a range of judgements about specific policies that may or may not be true. Jenner doesn’t make these judgements explicit, so it is hard to evaluate them, but the language of a comparison between capitalism and communism does more to obscure the issues than to clarify them.

The sub-argument from 13, 14, and 15 down to 22 is probably the most interesting, because it’s potentially the most empirical. Just what sort of policies contribute to the debt and/or its solution is open to debate of course, and Jenner does not provide us with a specific reason to believe the Republican Party will solve these problems, much less a specific reason to believe Democrats would make them worse. Still, if one were to look at a component of this argument that points to genuine factual questions, I would say it’s this one.

Final Thoughts: It does occur to me that my diagram may not help here. It may well be that generating a few more missing conclusions would help to clarify the argument in question and link Jenner’s specific concerns to her ideological commentary. The problem of course is that those conclusions would be unsupported themselves and highly questionable in themselves. I would thus be adding still more statements to the argument only to reject them at face value. This would transform questions about the cogency of an inference into questions about the truth of an unstated position, but it wouldn’t improve the overall argument.

As to the overall value of the argument, I reckon it to be unsound. We could set aside the entire question of communism and just focus on the specific details of questions about debt and the best policies to resolve it, but Jenner doesn’t supply us with a real argument to that effect. So, her comments leave us with little clear reason to support Cruz or any other Republican over a Democrat. Finally, she doesn’t really explain how she weighs the larger judgement call relating the best way to balance transgender issues (or those of social justice in general) against economic concerns. Instead, she finesses the judgement through a biased account of the possibilities. In the end, she hasn’t doe much to show us why one ought to vote for Cruz.



First Woman’s Argument (NSFW?)

Introduction: This argument comes from the emergence narratives of the Diné (Navajo). These stories relate the origins of the Navajo people and convey a good deal about their values and sense of the natural order in the process. The passage below begins a section of these stories commonly described as “the separation of the sexes,” a narrative dealing with gender roles and marital relations. The version of the story we are using here comes from a book known as Diné Behane (The Navajo Creation Story) by Paul Zolbrod, published in 1987 by the University of New Mexico Press. Zolbrod’s work pieces together all of the stories of Navajo cosmogony into a single narrative, a bit like a Navajo Bible. This portion of Zolbrod’s work has been made available at the Twin Rocks Trading Post website.

Just a note of warning: This example has an adult theme.

Key Facts: The argument in question begins in the second block of text. The rest may be treated as context.


Altse’ hastiin the First Man became a great hunter in the fourth world. So he was able to provide his wife Altse’ asdzaa’ the First Woman with plenty to eat. As a result, she grew very fat. Now one day he brought home a fine, fleshy deer. His wife boiled some of it, and together they had themselves a hearty meal. When she had finished eating, Altse asdzaa’ the First Woman wiped her greasy hands on her sheath.
She belched deeply. And she had this to say:
“Thank you shijoozh my vagina,” she said.
“Thank you for that delicious dinner.”
To which Altse’ hastiin the First Man replied this way:
“Why do you say that?” he replied.
“Why not thank me?
“Was it not I who killed the deer whose flesh you have just feasted on?
“Was it not I who carried it here for you to eat?
“Was it not I who skinned it?
“Who made it ready for you to boil?
“Is nijoozh your vagina the great hunter, that you should thank it and not me?”

To which Altse’ asdzaa’ offered this answer:
“As a matter of fact, she is,” offered she.
“In a manner of speaking it is joosh the vagina who hunts.
“Were it not for joosh you would not have killed that deer.
“Were it not for her you would not have carried it here.
“You would not have skinned it.
“You lazy men would do nothing around here were it not for joosh.
“In truth, joosh the vagina does all the work around here.”


Comments: First Woman is presenting an extremely cynical view of gender relations, and particularly of sexual activity. Not surprisingly, things get worse from the completion of her argument. As the story unfolds, men and women will go their own way only to learn how much they need each other. One might suggest that First Woman’s argument is set forth here for the explicit purpose of countering it with the overall storyline.

It’s easy enough to see how this could provide the kicker for a discussion of gender-relations, but it could provide an interesting jumping off point for discussions about utilitarian reasoning and the objectification of others. One might even wish to invoke Kantian themes about treating other people as ends rather than means here. Is First Woman treating reducing First Man to a means? Is she suggesting that he does the same to her?  Of course the problem with all of this lies in the crude battle-of-the-sexes nature of this passage. Some of the less mature students in a classroom could pick that up and run with it right off the cliff of good sense. If using this example in a critical thinking exercise, it might be worth thinking in advance about how you want to steer the conversation.

Side note: I once had a Navajo student comment that this story may reflect the influence of missionaries insofar as it seems to portray First Woman in a rather bad light here. she is essentially playing much the same role as Eve insofar as she begins the argument which will lead to the undoing of everything. As Navajos are a matrilineal society, she thought it unlikely that her own people would produce such a story, at least not on their own. I can’t say one way or another myself, but the comment has always struck me as worthy of consideration.

Statements: Here, the elements of First Woman’s argument have been placed in bold and numbered in square brackets.

“[1a] As a matter of fact, she is,” offered she.
“[1b] In a manner of speaking it is joosh the vagina who hunts.
“[2] Were it not for joosh you would not have killed that deer.
“[3] Were it not for her you would not have carried it here.
“[4] You would not have skinned it.
“[5] You lazy men would do nothing around here were it not for joosh.
“[6] In truth, joosh the vagina does all the work around here.”

Discussion: The argument raises a number of interesting issues for critical thinking; incompleteness of evaluation, redundant assertions, transposition, figurative speech, paraphrasing, indeterminate reasoning, and voicing.

Incompleteness of Evaluation: This is the kind of story often described as a myth or a legend, or conversely as a sacred narrative. I don’t want to get bogged down on what that means here, but it does have one very significant practical consequence. The events described in the narrative itself are essentially off the table for evaluation. How would one even assess the truth of the specific claims about first Man’s actions, much less his motivations. Those who adhere to a literal belief in Navajo origin legends might insist that claims 2,3, and 4 for example) are absolutely true and others of a more skeptical bent that they are literally false as the whole story is unreal. In practice, I often think it best to set aside those questions and focus on the claims with real meaning for people alive today, in effect statements 5 and 6. In such stories the details of the legendary events are presented for the purpose of foregrounding values meaningful to people today, and in this case that leaves us with an interesting argument about gender-relations. In some approaches to this argument, it would be best to skip directly to that theme while skipping the legendary events entirely.

Figurative Speech and Paraphrasing: If taken literally, it would be hard to vouch for the truth of statement 7. First Woman’s vagina does not actually hunt, and she offers this claim only “in a manner of speaking”, so the literal meaning is not quite her meaning. Proper evaluation of the argument thus requires some paraphrasing to arrive at a defensible version of the statement.

By way of paraphrasing, I would suggest the following alternative versions of statement 6.

[6b][joosh, the vagina is the reason men contribute to family life.]

[6c][joosh, the vagina is the reason any work gets done around here.]

Indeterminate Reasoning: This argument is perplexing, because several different models of First Woman’s reasoning would be consistent with the actual text. I count 3. Maybe others could find a fourth. The different models stem from radically different approaches to the text at hand.

If one takes the story at face value, then the argument is literally a matter of First Woman trying to justify her answer to First Man. Statement 1 thus provides the conclusion of the argument with larger assumptions about gender relations serving as premises for her answer. We’ll call this First Woman’s Very Particular Argument.

If on the other hand, one considers the argument a means of communicating something about gender relations, then First Woman’s account of First Man’s actions provide the assumptions with those larger themes appearing as conclusions in her argument. Statement 6 then provides the conclusion of the argument. We’ll call this First Woman’s General Argument.

Yet another variation would involve treating statements 5 and 6 as the major premise behind statements 2, 3, and 4, then use statements 2, 3, and 4 as demonstrating the truth of 1. This looks weird in a diagram, but which still seems a plausible construction of the argument. The main advantage to it, lies in the ability to focus questions of evaluation on the two premises most important to a contemporary audience. Once you’ve decided whether or not you think they are true (or to what degree they are), the rest of the argument falls into place.

Redundant Assertions and Transposition: Statement 1b is simply an elaboration of 1a. The two should accordingly be treated as the same proposition. It is possible to see statements 5 and 6 as mild variations on a single point. In fact the relationship between them comes very close to that of transposition, but that interpretation requires a little more rewriting than seems appropriate. If you wish to explore it, then I think the argument would go something like this:

[5a][If there is no joosh, then men don’t do anything.]

Therefore, [6a] [if men do something, it is due to joosh.]

Note that an extra element (causation or motivation) does appear in statement 6a. This element is not entirely a function of transposition. That’s nit-picky, I know, but makes a good reason to reject transposition as a model of the reasoning.

Voicing: There is a sense in which First Woman speaks for the narrator in this story, if only for a time. Of course different story-tellers may skew the meaning of the narrative to suit the needs of the moment, but at some point the passage expresses more general notions about gender relations. One must therefore consider (as we have above) not just the argument as an artifact between two characters in the narrative, but also what it might mean for us, so to speak.

Note: It is this question of voicing that makes the more generalized version of the argument seem more plausible. Taken at face value, it would be best to treat First Woman’s Argument as answering First Man’s question directly, but as this is a story told for the purpose of communicating something about gender relations in a broader sense, it makes more sense to focus on the broader statement as the actual point of the passage.

Diagrams: The preceding discussion leads us to three plausible constructions of First Woman’s argument.

Evaluation: The central question throughout any of these constructions of the argument is whether or not First Man (or men in general) would do anything (or at least do anything for the women in their lives) were it not for sex. This notion is most present in statement 5 which appears as a premise in all 3 of the diagrams presented above. So, in all three versions of the argument the most critical evaluation remains a question of whether or not one agrees to the truth of that statement.

In First Woman’s Very Particular Argument this could also be applied to questions about the truth of statements 2, 3, and 4. If those statements are true, then it is difficult to see how one could evade the truth of statement 1, so that inference would carry a value of strong or deductively valid. the move fro 5 to 6 also strikes me as strong as does the move from 6 to 1.

In effect, the only real question in this argument is whether or not one believes that men only help women for purpose of having sex. It’s easy enough to see that men do such things, but then again First Woman isn’t saying that men often do this; she is saying that’s always the case.

It is much the same in First Woman’s Rather General Argument, though the inference from statement 1 to statement 6 would be much more shaky (weak to moderate?).

In First Woman’s Rather Tricky Argument, virtually all of the weight rests on the truth of premises 5 and 6 as the inference to statements 2, 3, and 4 then approaches deductive validity and the inference from 2,3 and 4 to 1 is probably also high.

Final Thoughts: Although, this passage does rather clearly contain elements of reasoning, it does not do so in a way that shows exactly what is being used as a reason for what. Ultimately, what this argument might illustrate best is the indeterminacy of reasoning, or the notion that some elements of reasoning may not be a feature of the initial argument so much as a consequence of an interpretation imposed on that argument by a reader or listener. It’s difficult to escape the sense that some of these statements are meant to support others, but which is which? We end up with three plausible models of the reasoning here (or at least I do), each reflecting a different sense of what is really at stake in the discussion.

I think First Woman’s Very Particular Argument is the best representation of the argument as presented in the text, but that assumes that the point is really limited to the characters in the narrative. If one wishes to address the reasoning as applied to the contemporary world, I would take First Woman’s Rather General Argument as the most accurate model as it puts the generalization foreword as the real conclusion of the passage. That said, First Woman’s Tricky Argument is perhaps the most elegant model for purposes of evaluation as it enables us to focus our questions about the reasoning on the truth of two premises. Were I looking for a clean model of analysis, I would opt for that one.