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.

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.”

ANALYSIS

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.

Moreover

[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.

ANALYSIS

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.

jenner.5

?

 

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.