Wisdom of the Oompa Loompas

Introduction: This argument is a (hopefully) well known part of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factor, which was produced in 1971. In this film, the Oompa Loompas, mysterious workers at the chocolate factory sing a number of songs amounting to criticism of the children featured in the story. Each of the Oompa Loompa songs effectively points out the misconduct of an individual child and makes a case for changing that behavior.

This particular passage is the tune the Oompa Loompa’s sing at Violet Beauregarde, a girl who obviously likes her gum.

Key Facts: It’s worth considering that the Oompa Loompas play the role of a chorus in much the same manner that the convention was used in old Greek theater. In this case, they deliver a moral lesson which not only speaks to the characters in the story but also echoes lessons many parents might have given their own children.

Text: Here tis!

“Gum chewing’s fine when it’s once in a while
It stops you from smoking and brightens your smile
But it’s repulsive, revolting and wrong
Chewing and chewing all day long
The way that a cow does.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: I got nuthin!

Statements: In the following, statement 5 is rewritten so as to spell out the comparison. Statement 6 is the implied conclusion of the entire argument. It comes very close to matching statement 1, but it also entails the negative implications of chewing too much, which is of course the main thrust of the moral lesson.

[1] Gum chewing’s fine when it’s once in a while.

[2] It stops you from smoking.

[3] (It) brightens your smile.

[4] It’s repulsive, revolting and wrong chewing and chewing all day long.

[5] [Cows chew gum all day long.]

[6] [Gum should be chewed in moderation.]

Diagram: the diagram for this argument seems pretty straight-forward to me. Two reasons to say gum chewing is okay in moderation and one to show that it’s bad to chew gum too much. These two combine together to suggest a general proposition about doing the one and not the other.

Note that an alternative approach might be to spell out a more explicit negative statement about the need to avoid excessive gum chewing. This would perhaps capture the immediate significance of the lesson directed at Viola in the wake of her blueberry gum fiasco, but it has the down-side of complicating the signifcance of the counterpoint (that gum chewing is good when done in moderation), so I have opted here to treat the point as a more general lesson. Either approach seems plausible to me.

Discussion: This argument raises the following themes; Analogy, Appeal to Emotion, Causation, Missing Assertions, Moral Reasoning, Voicing.

Analogy: The Oompa Loompas compare shewing gum to the behavior of a cow chewing cud. Whether or not this is a good reason to avoid chewing gum is another question.

Appeal to Emotion: The main thrust of the analogy to cows chewing cud appears to be an appeal to emotion.

Causation: Both statements 2 and 3 suggest a causative relationship between chewing gum and some desirable effect. Whether or not these claims are justified is open to question, but they are sufficient to suggest that this argument involves a degree of causal reasoning, unsupported as the argument is in it’s current form. (Damned Oompa Loompa’s never cite any peer-reviewed papers!)

Missing Assertions: As is common in a great deal of reasoning, the actual conclusion of this argument is unstated in the original song. There are a couple different ways to think about what that final conclusion would be, but in its original form, the implications are left unstated.

Moral Reasoning: As the argument in question here is about how people (and in particularly children) should moderate their fum-chewing, it raises familiar questions about what it means to say that someone should or should not do something.

In this tune as well as the others, the Oompa Loompas seem to emphasize the negative effects of the behavior in question which suggests that this argument might be best construed in consequentialist terms. They are suggesting that excessive gum-chewing will make someone look foolish, or at least cowlish.

Voicing: I think it’s fair to suggest that the Oompa Loompas speak for the show in this and their other songs, in effect providing a moral lesson directed specifically at the children in the viewing audience. When Viola and the others produce arguments expressing their own vies on these topics, they appear to be voicing the imagined voices of children in need of correction. The events of the story then reveal the foolishness of their actions, and the Oompa Loompas arrive to drive the point home with a specific moral lesson. That moral lesson is a real lesson directed at children who may be trying to decide how to deal with issues such as how much gum should I chew.

Evaluation: I’m not going to do a complete evaluation here, but I will mention a couple of specific themes.

Statement 2: As part of a lesson directed at children this is an odd point to make at the very least, but presumably it could be interpreted as a claim relevant to the conduct of adults which would also be a concern to children. Either way, we could ask whether or not chewing gum actually stops people from smoking. That those trying to kick a smoking habit often chew gum in place of it would seem to suggest that there may be some connection here, at least in this specific context, but it is by no means clear that gum chewing in general serves to keep people from smoking,

Statement 3: I am not at all sure that this statement is true, either in general or in specific contexts such as right after a meal.

5->4: This inference is questionable at best. Presumably, the point of the analogy is to suggest that one would not wish to behave as a cow does, but it isn’t clear that there is any objective reason for this preference. Neither is it clear that moderate gum-chewing would be any less comparable to chewing cud than constant gum-chewing. Arguably this is a pretty naked attempt to trigger an emotional reaction.

Final Thoughts: The temptation to finish with an Oompa Loompa tune about good reasoning is very strong here, but I am going to show restraint, and I think the Oompa Loompas would be proud.

Every Man Should Know

Introduction: In 1980, the southern rock band, Blackfoot, released the album Tomcattin’ which included the song “Every Man Should Know (Queenie).” The song features a range of moral lessons, many of which come with implicit threats for those who transgress against them.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: These are the first 2 lines of the song.

“Don’t mess with my queenie.

Or I’ll mess with your nose.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: This is a pretty simple argument. It poses 2 interesting problems at best; the need to rewrite the second line, and the question of whether or not it an example of the fallacy “appeal to force.”

The word “queenie” might be taken to refer to a transgendered individual. In this case, that is probably not the intended meaning. Whether or not that would substantially change the meaning of the lyric is another question.

Statements: Read at face value, neither of the two lines in this argument are statements. Each may be rewritten so as to express a statement consistent with the gist of the argument. In the first line, this means change a command [1a]to an expression of moral obligation [1b]. In [1b] the slang ‘queenie” has also been changed to a more common term. In [2b], the second line has been changed into a conditional statement using the substance of line 1 as the antecedent and the threat in [2a] as its consequent.

[1a] Don’t mess with my queenie.

[1b] [One should not mess with my girlfriend.]

[2a] or I’ll mess with your nose.

[2b] [If you mess with my queenie,] I will mess with your nose.

Diagram: This one is pretty easy.

2 -> 1.

Discussion: Minor rewrites aside, the only interesting feature of this argument is the question of whether or not this constitutes an example of the fallacy “appeal to force (ad baculum).” The appeal to force also makes this argument an example of interactional eclipse.

Ad baculum: It’s easy to see an appeal to force in this argument. The second line is literally a threat. What isn’t as clear here is the question of whether or not this particular appeal to force is fallacious. It is not clear that there is any underlying factual question or moral principle which is evaded by means of the threat in the argument. In expressing the threat, the author of the song effectively creates the conditions which serve as a reason for accepting the conclusion of the argument. He does not merely describe them.

Does that settle it? No.

One additional question relates to the meaning of the first statement. As originally stated in the song [1a], there is no objective content to line 1. When rewritten, we get a claim about what one ought to do that could be considered true or false and at least some approaches to morality might attribute objective reality to the nature of that obligation. (Others might interpret what one ‘should’ or ‘should not’ do as purely a function of self-interest. Arguably, this could mean we shouldn’t rewrite the line that way in the first place, but the context of the song makes it clear that the author is suggesting there is some underlying moral principle at stake in this and the rest of the lessons urged in the song. (“To own a body you got to own a soul
So every man should know…”) It’s not exactly complex ethical philosophy, but the song does suggest the issue here is more than just a series of threats.

If the author means to suggest, as he appears to, that there really is a moral principle at stake in the notion that one ought not to mess with his queenie, then the threat itself does constitute an ad baculum fallacy.

Interactional Eclipse: As the argument includes a direct threat, it constitutes a good example of interactional eclipse. It’s a song of course, but it’s a song that evokes as much fear as it does moral reflection. The one tends to drown out the other.

Moral Reasoning: As questions about what to make of the initial command in this argument lead to questions about whether the author intends to suggest a moral imperative or simply appeal to the self-interest of those to who he mighty be singing (see above), this argument is an interesting example of moral reasoning.

Evaluation: Insofar as it uses the ad baculum fallacy, the stated reason provides no support for the conclusion of this argument. It is therefore unsound.

Final thoughts: I’m still not taking the song of my favorites playlist.

Rocky Mountain Way

Introduction: In 1973, Joe Walsh released “Rocky Mountain Way” with his band at the time, Barnstorm. It became a regular feature of Eagles shows during Joe Walsh’s tenure with the band. This is one of the lyrics to that song.

Key facts: N/A

Text:

“And we don’t need the ladies
Cryin’ ’cause the story’s sad, uh huh
Rocky Mountain way
Is better than the way we had
Yeah-ah-ah.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: The only thing about this passage that is of particular interest is the use of ”cause.’

Statements:

[1] “We don’t need the ladies cryin’ cause the story’s sad.”

[2} “Rocky Mountain Way is the better than the way we had.”

[3] [The story is not sad.]

Diagram: This is a simple argument.

2 -> [3] -> 1.

Discussion:

Inference Indicators: The only significant question here is whether or not the word ”cause’ is used here as an inference indicator. If the author is using ’cause to indicate that “the story is sad” is actually a reason for believing that “we don’t need the lady’s cryin’,” then this line actually contains two statements which together constitute an argument in themselves, but of course this is absurd. If anything, the sadness of the story would be an argument against needing the lady’s to cry. Instead, it is best to think of the song as denying the inference itself. We don’t need “the lady’s cryin’ ’cause the story’s sad.” It is the whole notion of the story being sad as a reason to have the lady’s cryin’ that is denied. If pushed, we could sat that the denial applies to the inference itself.

Argument Recognition: There actually is an argument in this stanza, it just isn’t the argument you might expect if you had just learned to recognize ‘because’ as an inference indicator. The actual argument runs something along the following lines.

[2] “(The) Rocky Mountain Way is better than the way we had.”

So,

[3] “The story is not sad.”

So,

[1] “We don’t need the lady’s to cry ’cause the story is sad.”

Meta-argumentation: Oddly enough, this example still uses ”cause’ as an inference indicator, but the inference in which it is used that way is denied by this argument, so it’s usage in this example is just part of the statement denied in the song. Walsh is not using the word to point to any reason for believing any specific conclusion.

Micro-Reasoning: It’s just 2 lines and a missing assertion. I’ll bet Walsh would be surprised to find anyone thought to treat it as an argument for purposes of logical analysis.

Evaluation: The only substantive truth claim here would be whether or not the Rocky Mountain way was better than the way we had, and only Joe would really know the answer to that question, because the assertion is really expressing something about his personal experience and the experience of people around him.

The rest of the argument really isn’t that interesting.

Final Thoughts: Just an interesting example of ‘(be-)cause’ used in a way that doesn’t add up to an argument.

A Hopi Comments on American Music

Introduction: This story appears in the book, Native American Testimony by Peter Nabokov. It is attributed to Fred Coyote of the Wailaki people. Wailaki and Hopi are two different Native American peoples. This is nevertheless a story about an exchange between a Hopi elder and an anthropologist.

Key Facts: Hopi dwell in a relatively dry region of northern Arizona. As with a lot of indigenous peoples, they have seen their share of anthropologists intent on learning about their ways. The story thus begins with a perfectly plausible exchange between an anthropologist and a Hopi elder about Hopi music and its relationship to the environment. A final twist in the story reveals a completely different point.

Text: Peter Nabokov, Ed., Native American Testimony, Revised Edition. 1978. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. It can be found on page 392-393. Note that the section quoted below begins after several paragraphs of narrative in which the anthropologist in question keeps asking a Hopi elder to explain various songs only to find each time that the song is about water.

And so it went all afternoon. And every time the old man would sing a song, the ‘anthro’ would say, ‘What’s that about?’ And the old man would explain it. It’s about something or other – a river, rain, water.

And the anthropologist was getting a little short tempered. He said, ‘Is water all you people sing about down here?’

And this old man said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘For thousands of years in this country we’ve learned to live here. Because our need for this water is so great to our families and to our people, to our nations most of our songs are about our greatest need.’ And he said, ‘I listen to a lot of American music. Seems like most American music is about love.’ He said, ‘Is that why? Is that because you don’t have very much?’

ANALYSIS

Comments: Anthropologists take a lot of grief, much of it deserved. Still, the reaction of anthropologist in this story seems counter-intuitive. Hell, I think lots of anthros would be happy to find such a clear and consistent pattern in their notes. Still, he makes a good stand-in for the many non-native voices that have had bad things to say about Native American practices.

Statements: For purposes of this analysis, I have omitted much of the narrative framing and focused on the arguments attributed to the Hopi elder. I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing the first few sentences (and much of the larger text that was omitted here) in terms of one simple assertion (statement 1). I believe this is a fair estimation of the point behind these comments lead up to. I have also taken the liberty of rewriting the final question as a statement (number 7).

[1] Hopi songs are virtually all about water.

[2] For thousands of years in this country we’ve learned to live here

[3] [The reason for the theme in question is] Because our need for this water is so great to our families and to our people.

[4] to our nations most of our songs are about our greatest need

[5] I listen to a lot of American music

[6] Seems like most American music is about love.

[7] [Americans need love.]

Discussion:

Analogy: This is a good example of analogical reasoning The Hopi elder in this story begins with an explanation for the musical themes of his own people and then infers a similar explanation for the American public in general.

Explanation: The word ‘because’ in this argument could trip people up, particularly if they have recently been circling inference indicators in order to help them learn the difference between reasons and conclusions. In this instance, the ‘because’ isn’t really using the statement that follows to prove anything. It is suggesting that the rest of statement 3 is the cause of statement 1. Of course this text still presents us with an argument, but that argument involves a claim about the best explanation for the  central observations made by the anthropologist. Sorting the explanation from the rest of the argument is crucial to getting the argument right.

Redundant Assertions: Statement 1 is a very simplified version of the main point behind much of the text in the actual story.  The narrator, the anthropologist, and the Hopi elder all affirm the truth of the claim (though the anthropologist does so through a rhetorical question). Statement 1 thus expresses the point in each of the following claims:

{1a} “It’s about something or other – a river, rain, water.”

[1b] “Is water all you people sing about down here?”

[1c] “Yes.”

Rhetorical Questions: The question: “He said, ‘Is that why? Is that because you don’t have very much?'” is rhetorical. It has been rewritten as statement 7.

Voicing: At face value, this isn’t even an argument. It’s a story. The argument is plot a development that unfolds within the story itself. The author nevertheless uses the story to voice an argument about mainstream American culture. In effect, the argument of the elder is the argument of the narrator.

Diagram: This is the diagram as I see it.

argI reckon statements 1 and 2 combine to prove 3, effectively telling us that a need for water is the reason for the prominent musical theme. Statement 3 is then used as an anecdote illustrating the truth of 4. Statement 4 is then used as the major premise, taken in conjunction with 6 (a new observation about Americans in general) to prove statement 7.

Ouch!

I figure statement 5 is an effort to provide evidence for statement 7.

This isn’t the cleanest argument structure you could find, but I’m pretty confident about most of it. The inference from 3 to 4 is the shakiest part of the diagram. It’s a big jump, and we could probably imagine a few different ways to look at the relationship between those statements. Still, people often derive a general principle from a single example. They may have unstated reasons for doing so, but this type of inference isn’t all that unusual.

Evaluation: I don’t see fallacies in this argument, and I don’t see deductive validity.  Most of the inferences here provide a little evidence for the conclusion, but they might be considered more suggestive than definitive. The result is a bunch of judgement calls.

1+2 -> 3. The notion that need for water is the best explanation for the musical theme emphasizing it is certainly plausible. We could explore other explanations, and knowing how to weigh them would raise questions not really covered in the argument. Is the argument enough? Hard to say, so I would consider this inference ‘moderate’.

3 -> 4. This is a Hell of a jump. The inference is ‘weak’ at best.

5 -> 6. This would be a kind of argument from authority. It’s a light version of authority, but the speaker is essentially using his personal experience to back the truth of his observation about American music. The strength of the inference thus rests on his authority to report that experience accurately.

Of course, listeners might find that statement 6 resonates with their own experience in listening to American music in which case they might not need an argument.

Either way, the inference is ‘weak’ to ‘moderate’.

4+6 -> 7. Once again the inference is reasonable, but we could probably find other explanations for the prominent theme in American music. What really accounts for the prominence of ‘love’ themes in American music is a tough question, though the Hopi elder certainly makes a plausible case. I would consider this inference ‘weak’ to ‘moderate’.

Final Thoughts: It does occur to me that this whole thing could seem rather petty to some readers. Why is the Hopi elder taking a dig at Americans in general? But of course explicit contrasts between the merits of mainstream American culture and that of Native Americans are very much a part of the history of Indian-white relations. That’s why it appears in Nabokov’s book. Whether or not this particular story is true, we can certainly find numerous instances in which non-natives have taken it upon themselves to comment on the short-comings of Native American culture, and unfortunately numerous cases in which such views informed actual policies with harmful effects.  The dig taken at mainstream American culture should probably be understood in this regard. It is as much an effort to counter-balance aggression from outsiders as it is a direct criticism of American culture.