A Comment on Project Chariot

Introduction: The comments below come at the 7 and a half minute mark in a documentary called “Project Chariot.” The film depicts an effort by the Atomic Energy Commission to create a harbor by means of detonating nuclear bombs. Said harbor was to be located just south of Point Hope, Alaska. putting it within Inupiat territory and making it a threat to the Inupiat people of Point Hope and the surrounding lands.

The Documentary was made by Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson.

Another good source on this topic is the book, The Firecracker Boys, by Dan Oneill.

Key Facts: Project Chariot was part of a larger program know as “Operation Ploughshare” which was intended to explore peaceful use of nuclear power including the prospects of geo-engineering through nuclear detonation. Project Chariot would have created a harbor on the coastline of Alaska, just south of Point Hope. Opposition by the community of Point Hope in conjunction with other environmentalists and Alaska Natives helped to shut down Project Chariot, though radioactive materials were left at the target site after the project had been pulled. Many in the Point Hope Community remain concerned about the possible health effects of radioactive materials and the possibility that additional materials may have been left at the site.


“This is supposed to be a push to use nuclear energy for peaceful uses. Now to me, a peaceful use is a joke. I don’t think there is a peaceful use for nuclear energy. There is too much waste and too much damage.”


  • Ernie Frankson, Point Hope Elder and Inupiaq Historian.


Comments: The clip is certainly brief, and Mr. Frankson may have been more concerned with the specific history of Project Chariot than with the philosophical implications of nuclear technology. Still, he has provided an argument on the larger topic of nuclear energy.

Statements: I made a couple minor adjustments to statements 2 and 3, just to clean the wording up a bit for argument analysis.

[1] This is supposed to be a push to use nuclear energy for peaceful uses.

[2] …Peaceful use is a joke.

[3] [There is no] peaceful use for nuclear energy.

[4] There is too much waste and too much damage.

[5] [Project Chariot was unjustified.]

Diagram: I reckon the argument looks like this.



Misplaced Literalism: It is possible to interpret Mr. Frankson’s use of the term ‘joke’ as a literal joke, in which case on might object to the premise on the basis of the fact that it isn’t funny. In context, however, it seems quite clear that the word is used simply to expression rejection of the idea. I think it’s fair to say this approach would be misplaced literalism.

Missing Assertions: It looks like the final conclusion to this argument is unstated. We could probably come up with a few variations, but in context, I think a simple statement condemning Project Chariot is most likely the intended point.

Alternatively, one could suggest a conclusion along the lines that Project Chariot could not have accomplished any peaceful goals. That would be a more modest conclusion, but it probably falls short of the practical goals of the speaker. As someone who would be negatively impacted by the project, it is doubtful that he means only to criticize the goals of the project; he means to reject it outright.

Evaluation:There are two central premises to this argument, 1 and 4.

Premise 1: Given the stated goals of both Operation Ploughshare and Project Chariot, it seems quite fair to suggest the point here was to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Mr. Frankson’s account of the rationale for going through with this seems quite accurate.

Premise 4: The biggest question regarding truth value in this example is probably focused on premise 4. To really do a good job of evaluating the argument, we would have to make a systematic study of the possible benefits and the possible detriments of nuclear energy. Note that this is a much larger theme than the specific effects of Project Chariot. In this clip, Mr. Frankson is not merely condemning Project Chariot; he is categorically rejecting the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This would include the use of nuclear power plants in use today. Different people are likely to assess the total pros and cons differently, and even systematic studies are likely to produce different results owing to differences in source funding and personal motivation, etc.

I am personally inclined ti agree with Mr. Frankson here, though I could not pretend my view of the matter is based on any particularly rigorous study of the subject.

Inference from 4 to 3: If Premise 4 is true, then 3 most likely has to be true (hence the inference between them is deductively valid). If premise 4 is deemed false, then that leaves the truth value of premise 3 up in the air.

Inference from 3 to 2: If the truth value of premise 3 is true, then most likely 2 if true as well, barring the misplaced literalism mentioned above. The language used in these premises doesn’t match closely enough to warrant calling them deductively valid, I think, so perhaps a strong value would be appropriate for the inference bewtween these statements.

Inference from 1+2 to [5]: The final inference from premises 1 and 2 to the unstated conclusion [5] seems strong as well. Given the terms of the argument, the purpose of the project is to generate peaceful uses for nuclear technology. If that is that is not possible in general, or in relation to this specific project, then it is hard to accept the justification for Project Chariot.

Why isn’t the last inference deductively valid? One could possibly suggest the project was warranted on some other grounds. In point of fact, other grounds were offered (such as economic utility), but as Oneill’s book makes quite clear the benefits anticipated by the project were implausible, even when studied closely at the time, and the harms likely to follow the blast, at least to the people of the North Slope of Alaska would be substantial. It is perhaps unfair to base an evaluation of the project on this other data since that is not mentioned in the argument, but if that is the case, the problem applies to both pros and cons, so I think it best to acknowledge only the possibility that other considerations could come into play. Given the issues raised by Mr. Frankson, the inference to 5 seems well supported if not deductively valid.

As I regard the main premises of this argument as true, and as the inferences appear to be highly relevant, I am inclined to think of this argument as sound. The most plausible counter-arguments, I would think would be coming from those who see nuclear technology as more beneficial than harmful. To someone with that view, one plank of Mr. Frankson’s argument begins from a questionable truth value. This would undermine the soundness of the argument.

Final Thoughts: This is a very tiny text dealing with a very large issue. Both Oneill’s book and Edwardson’s documentary are well worth the time.

Note also that a more modest set of premises focused on the specific costs and benefits of Project Chariot itself (rather than the categorical rejection of nuclear energy offered by Mr. Frankson in this particular quote) might avoid the questionable truth value of premise 4, making the argument less susceptible to counter-arguments, but of course, there are reasons to consider more general premises, reasons such as trying to pre-empt similar projects in the future.

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


“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


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


[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.


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.”


[3] “The story is not sad.”


[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.

Edna Maclean On Iñupiaq Counting

Introduction: The argument below can be found of page 831 of Edna Maclean’s Iñupiaq to English Dictionary.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: Edna Maclean, Iñupiatun Uqaluit Taniktun Sivuniŋit: Iñupiaq to English Dictionary, Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2014.

The decimal system is handy because the fingers can be used as counters. The Iñupiaq  base-20 system clearly extends this notion to the toes as well. The Iñupiat counted on one limb at a time, so there were 4 groups of 5, hence the sub-base 5 and the two-dimensional system. The human body may be considered the living model of the earliest abacus or counting board. Even the prototype of the Babylonian base-60 used points of the body to keep track of numbers. The majority of human counting systems are body-based. Some of the Iñupiaq number words clearly reflect their corporal origins. Tallimat, the word for five, for example, is related to the Iñupiaq word taliq, meaning ‘arm.’ The word for ten, qulit, means something like ‘top,’ suggesting that it refers to both of the arms  on the top half of the body. The word for eleven in most Inuit-speaking communities, including some Iñupiaq-speaking communities, means ‘it goes down,’ an indication that one is now counting on the toes. Further evidence is found in the word akimiaq, Iñupiaq for fifteen, which means something like ‘it goes across,’ implying that counting will now cross over an continue on the other foot.

The connection to the human body is most apparent in the Inuit words for twenty. Throughout the entire Inuit-speaking world, there is a clear human association. Most Inuit dialects use the same word for ‘person’ as for ‘twenty.’ The Iñupiaq word for twenty, iñuiññaq, is a word denoting a ‘complete person.’ Inuktitut dialects spoken in Eastern Canada use the word avatit, signifying ‘all the extremities’ of the body. Some have proposed that even the Iñupiaq word atausiq, for ‘one’ is probably also derived from a reference to the human body. Atusiq (or some close cognate variation, such as atauseq) is used almost universally where an Inuit dialect is spoken.

(Emphasis in original)


Comments: This is part of a larger discussion of numbers in Iñupiaq.

Statements: Okay, this is a long one (Sorry).

[1] The decimal system is handy because the fingers can be used as counters.

[2] The Iñupiaq  base-20 system clearly extends this notion to the toes as well.

[3] The Iñupiat counted on one limb at a time;

[4a] There were 4 groups of 5.

[4b] [This pattern of counting on one limb at a time explains] the sub-base 5 and the two-dimensional system.

[5a] The human body may be considered the living model of the earliest abacus or counting board.

[6] Even the prototype of the Babylonian base-60 used points of the body to keep track of numbers.

[5b] The majority of human counting systems are body-based.

[7] Some of the Iñupiaq number words clearly reflect their corporal origins.

[8] Tallimat, the word for five, for example, is related to the Iñupiaq word taliq, meaning ‘arm.’

[9] The word for ten, qulit, means something like ‘top,’

(suggesting that)

[10] it refers to both of the arms  on the top half of the body.

[11] The word for eleven in most Inuit-speaking communities, including some Iñupiaq-speaking communities, means ‘it goes down,’

an indication that

[12] one is now counting on the toes.

(Further evidence is found in)

[13] The word akimiaq, Iñupiaq for fifteen, which means something like ‘it goes across,’


[14] counting will now cross over an continue on the other foot.

[15] The connection to the human body is most apparent in the Inuit words for twenty.

[16] Throughout the entire Inuit-speaking world, there is a clear human association [in words for twenty].

[17] Most Inuit dialects use the same word for ‘person’ as for ‘twenty.’

[18] The Iñupiaq word for twenty, iñuiññaq, is a word denoting a ‘complete person.’

[19] Inuktitut dialects spoken in Eastern Canada use the word avatit, signifying ‘all the extremities’ of the body.

[20] Some have proposed that even the Iñupiaq word atausiq, for ‘one’ is probably also derived from a reference to the human body.

[21] Atusiq (or some close cognate variation, such as atauseq) is used almost universally where an Inuit dialect is spoken.

[22] The Inupiaq Counting system is based on body parts.

Discussion: This example poses the following themes: Argument Recognition, Explanation, Missing Assertions, Redundant Assertions.

Argument Recognition: Insofar as the relationship between statement 3 and statement 4 is an explanation, it is important not to treat the former as an attempt to prove the latter. This gives us at least one interesting question about argument recognition.

Explanation: The words ‘so’ and ‘hence’ included in statement 4a and 4b is best interpreted as signaling an explanation rather than an inference. The author isn’t really using statements 1-3 to prove statement 4 so much as suggesting a systemic relationship between each of these elements. The wording of statement 4b has been altered to reflect this fact.

Missing Assertions: The final conclusion of this argument isn’t fully spelled out. It has been supplied as statement 22.

Redundant Assertions: These two statements do not exactly mean the same thing, but for purposes of the argument at hand, the differences do not appear significant. Hence, I have provided both with the same number [5].

[5a] “The human body may be considered the living model of the earliest abacus or counting board.”

[5b] “The majority of human counting systems are body-based.”

argargbigargyepDiagram: The diagram for this argument isn’t as difficult as it may seem. The author is presenting multiple pieces of information in favor of a general conclusion. Some of her points can be grouped into sub-themes with intermediate conclusions leading to the main point. She may be talking about the meaning of words, but Edna Maclean doesn’t make use of tricky semantics here. Her evidence is pretty straight forward.

One judgement call that I did make in preparing this diagram was spelling out a statement to represent the final conclusion of this argument. Although it does contain general statements about the role of the body in language in general, it does seem that Edna Maclean’s main point here is that the Iñupiaq counting system is body-based, as she might put it. Since there is no specific claim in the text that quite expresses that, I took the liberty to spell this out as a missing conclusion.

Although I am a little concerned about the semantics of the phrase ‘body-based,’ I thought it best to use her own vocabulary to express this main conclusion, not the least of reasons being that I wasn’t sure I could improve upon that language anyway.

I left two statements out the diagram, because I am not entirely sure how they fit in the overall argument. Statement 20 raises the prospect that the Iñupiaq  word for ‘one’ is derived from the human body and statement 21 says that all the Inuit languages seem to use a similar term. It seems that statement 21 could be used in conjunction with the general pattern which serves as the overall point of the argument to suggest that such consistent pattern must also be derived from body parts. This would suggest adding an argument that runs 21+[22] -> 20, but this would be a minor side point in relation to the arger argument ending at statement [22].  Since I’m not sure that I understood the point anyway, I think it best to leave these off to the side.

Evaluation: Most of these inferences are pretty straight forward. The author keeps providing empirical evidence in support of a range of observations about the role of the body in counting systems in general, within Inuit languages, and specifically in Iñupiaq. I think ‘moderate’ to ‘high’ ratings would be appropriate for most of these inferences, but I’m not going to break each of them down.

Final Thoughts: The basic question here is whether or not Edna Maclean has given us adequate reason to believe that Iñupiaq numbers exhibit a pattern touching on the practice of counting body parts. I believe she has done so.

David Silverman on Atheist Bilboards

Introduction: This is a tweet from David Silverman (President of American Atheists) defending the practice of placing billboards critical of religious views in public places.

Key Facts: David Silverman is the President of American Atheists which is a non-profit organization promoting the interests of nonbelievers in the United States. Under Silverman’s leadership, American Atheists have put up a number of public billboards promoting atheism and criticizing religion. These billboards have themselves drawn criticism from religious figures and in some non-believers as well. Some of the criticisms have been directed at specific themes and specific statements included in the billboards. Others have been directed against the general wisdom of putting such statements out into the public.

Text: This is the tweet in question.



Comments: Two general points come to mind when considering this argument.

One is the possibility of a double standard in reference to billboards expressing a stance on religious topics. Christians in particular have been accustomed to producing such statements for as long as some of us can recall. The placement of anti-religious sentiments on a public billboard is however a relatively new practice, and it may draw more criticism due in part to the unusual nature of the messages. Simple confirmation Bias may be another factor insofar as the bulk of the public is unlikely to agree with an overtly atheistic message.

A second concern lies in the potential obfuscation of specific concerns about specific billboards. While this particular tweet addresses the issue in the abstract, some of the concerns raised about these billboards have been about very specific details about specific billboards put out by American Atheists, This is particularly true of those raised by unbelievers – whom Silverman presents as the party he intends to answer here.

Statements: The argument is set out as follows. Two missing statements [4] and [5] have been added. [4]  helps to seal the relevance of statements 2 and 3 to the rest of the argument and [5] is most likely the intended conclusion of the argument.

[1] Atheists who object to billboards attacking religion are ALSO victims of religious indoctrination.

[2] Lies deserve death.

[3] [Lies do not deserve] Protection.

[[4]] [Religious claims are lies.]

[[5]] [Atheists ought not to oppose billboards attacking religion.]

Discussion: Issues raised by this argument include the following; ad hominem, Interactional eclipse, micro-reasoning, missing statements, the principle of charity, provincialism, and thought policing.

Ad Hominem: The assertion that critics (atheist or otherwise) of billboards promoting atheism are victims of religious indoctrination is an ad hominem (circumstantial). If there is a non-fallacious way to interpret that suggestion it would be to treat it as a simple explanation to be taken at face value. In others words, it would be possible to simply think of this as an empirical question about the motivations of a select group of people. The second statement in the tweet, however, belies this interpretation as it makes it clear Silverman means to argue with his critics. This is not simply a diagnosis; it is an attempt to undermine the credibility of billboard critics.

Interactional Eclipse: To the degree that this argument constitutes a form of thought policing, it is explicitly an attempt to subvert efforts to engage in critical thinking about the value of anti-religious billboards through appeal to social dynamics. Whatever the value of the argument, any resulting debate is more likely to generate more heat than light.

Micro-Reasoning: As with most (if not all) tweets, the brevity of this argument is a problem, hence the need to supply nearly as many missing statements as those clearly expressed.

Missing Assertions: The intended conclusion of this argument is most likely some statement intended to discourage unbelievers from engaging in criticism of billboards promoting atheism. I have accordingly supplied statement 5 as an attempt to express this missing statement.

I would also suggest an additional Missing Assumption (statement [4] that religious views are lies). If this assumption is not true, then both statement 2 and 3 fail to produce anything of value in the argument.

Principle of Charity: It isn’t entirely clear whether Silverman means to suggest this argument applies to all instances in which atheists prove critical of billboards attacking religion or simply those who do so on principle (I.e. those who object categorically to the creation of such billboards instead of those with particular objections to specific billboards). His wording could facilitate either interpretation, and it is likely those who agree with him will include parties adopting each interpretation.

For purposes of keeping the discussion thoughtful it is probably best to treat this argument as applying only to those who object to such billboards in general. The alternative would in effect amount to a blank check to produce any content (no matter how foolish) critical of religion without fear of counter-criticism from other atheists. That would hardly be a reasonable position, so it’s not the most productive interpretation of the argument to pursue here.

Provincialism: Insofar as this argument seems to be encouraging atheists to be less like religious people, it could be viewed as an appeal to provincialism. Essentially, the appeal here is something along the lines of; ‘this is how WE act” or even “this is how WE should behave.” Well, WE (i.e. atheists) may or may not typically fall prey to religious indoctrination, but that appeal isn’t very cogent.

Thought Policing: One of the more compelling features of this argument lies in its implied comparison with believers. It is not merely that Silverman is suggesting that his atheist critics have been indoctrinated; he is reminding atheists that the conduct in question is unbecoming for unbelievers..This is classic thought policing., which goes a little beyond the normal ad hominem to invoke peer pressures and trigger loyalties associated with group membership. Just how significant such loyalties may be for atheists is an interesting question, but the argument still works this angle. The social dynamics at issue thus overshadow the rational significance of the argument itself.

Diagram: I take it that 2 and 3 are intended (with missing assumption [4] to prove statement 1, which is in turn intended to demonstrate the truth of the missing conclusion (statement 5).

2+3+[4] -> 1 -> [5].


Evaluation: Let’s consider both inferences:

2+3+[4]=>1. The truth of each of the assumptions in this inference would certainly be debatable. It isn’t clear that religious claims are all untrue (much less that they are lies), nor is it clear that lies deserve death (which is presumably a metaphor indicating the discrediting of such claims and a hope that they will eventually cease to circulate). If we assume by protection that Silverman means only protection from criticism (and not protection from coercive sanctions, then perhaps statement 3 fairs reasonably well in the truth evaluation, though a creative thinker could probably find a reason to protect at least some lies.

The inference itself fairs no better. It isn’t clear that objections to the billboards are offered in an attempt to ‘protect’ religion. Nor is it clear that the billboards play any constructive role in advancing the demise of religious beliefs.

If one doesn’t assume the charitable interpretation of Silverman’s intent, the problem becomes still sharper insofar as specific concerns about specific billboards may well address the effectiveness of those billboards in advancing a critique of religion.

4 -> 5: This is arguably an ad hominem (circumstantial) and/or an argument from Provincialism, as outlined above. In either event, the inference would be fallacious. Also, the argument side-steps the possibility that atheists might have reasons to oppose the billboard campaign other than latent sympathy for religious sentiment.

Also, if we do not adopt the charitable interpretation of Silverman’s position, it seems clear that atheists (even those who genuinely hope to confront religion whenever possible) may have a number of concerns about specific messages contained on specifi billboards.

I think the argument has to be considered unsound.

Final Thoughts: In the end, this argument does strike me as a simple effort to engage in thought policing. It effectively urges atheists to support their own camp regardless of any concerns they may have about the specific messages placed on these billboards or the general effectiveness of public billboards as a means of challenging religious views.

A Meme of Race

ctzeorzw8aqoujcIntroduction: This meme uses an observation about three black men to make an argument about the relative significance of race and personal decisions in determining success or failure in life.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: “3 men in 3 different positions. In America, color doesn’t define your future. Your choices do.”


Comments: I don’t know anything in particular about the history of this meme, or about the specific circumstances of those men pictured in it. It’s probably fair to think of this as one round in the culture wars. The absence of context is of course one of the characteristics of argumentation-by-meme. In effect, this lack of context serves to encourage readers to fill in the gaps with their own assumptions about the issues in question.

Statements: The components of the argument are represented below. Two possible missing assumptions have been added (in blue).

[1] 3 men in 3 different positions.

[2] In America, color doesn’t define your future.

[3] Your choices do [define your future in America].

[4a][Success or failure is best explained in terms of a single cause.]

[4b][If race determined the success or failure in a person’s life, we would expect all three of the black men in this picture to occupy similar roles in life.]

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; false alternatives, micro-reasoning, missing assumptions, Modus Tollens.

False Alternatives: There are a few ways to model the reasoning in this argument, but it’s tough to get around the presentation of two (mutually exclusive) options as the total universe of possible explanations for success or failure in life.

Micro-Reasoning: As with most memes, this argument reduces a complex issue to an extraordinarily small text.

Missing Assertions: It may be helpful to think of this argument as resting on a missing assumption. I have supplied two different variations of this missing assumption. When either assumption is added, the inference is perhaps a bit more cogent, but the truth value of the assumption is questionable at best. So, adding these assumptions doesn’t improve the soundness of the argument too much, though it may help to clarify the nature of the issues in question.

Modus Tollens: Using Missing assumption 4b as a major premise, statement 1 appears to deny the consequent. Statement 2 could then be construed as a denial of the antecedent. It would take a little rewording to make everything match up, but the essential idea is there.

20161216_173528-copyDiagram: I can think of a several different ways to model the reasoning in this argument. I am presenting 3 of them here:

Option alpha: This approach leaves out the addition of a missing assumption. Statement 1 is thus taken to prove two separate claims, all on it’s own.

Option beta: In this example, missing assumption 4a is added to statement 1. The two together are taken to prove both statement 2 and statement 3. The additional assumption helps to explain why statement 1 might lead to statements 2 and 3, but as this assumption is of dubious truth value this simply transforms the problem from questions about the cogency of the inference to one about the truth value of one of its premises.

Option boo: In this version, statement 1 is combined with missing assumption 4b. The two together are taken to prove the truth of statement 2 (by Modus Tollens) which is then taken to prove the truth of statement 3.

Note: The reason statements 2 and 3 are represented here in the form of a serial argument rather than separate conclusions in a divergent argument is that the missing assumption focuses attention on statement 2 without contributing directly to statement 3. The notion that statement 2 would then provide evidence for statement 3 seems the best way to proceed from there.

Evaluation: No version of this argument comes out sound, because the argument turns on false alternatives no matter how you look at it. In option alpha, the false alternatives leaves conclusion 2 and 3 unsupported by assumption 1, so the inferences are neither valid nor cogent. In option beta, the false alternatives have been expressed directly in terms of a missing assumption, but that assumption is likely false. In option boo, the missing assumption has been articulated in terms of a conditional statement, but that statement too is clearly false. No matter how we set this argument up, it turns on an unrealistically narrow set of possibilities.

Why does every version of this argument turn on false assumptions? Because it addresses the question of what makes the difference in the lives of these men as though a single causative factor will account for the difference rather than a combination of different factors. The notion, for example, that race might make some outcomes more or less likely than others without totally determining the outcome is simply not considered in the text of this meme. So, whether race is construed as a direct biological cause (as overt racists would have it) or a social construction and the impact of social stigmas attached to racial identity (as those interested in social justice might suggest), the meme sets aside any efforts to consider how racial factors could interact with other issues such as class, religion, family background, or personal resilience to produce an account of these different life trajectories.

Final Thoughts: In addition to the sloppy argument, it’s tempting to suggest there is something prurient about this meme. It invites all of us to entertain questions about what makes the difference between success and failure for black men. For most of us, that is a question about someone else, a chance to dwell on the reasons for someone else’s failure. This doesn’t really pose active questions for its intended audience, not about their own lives.

Just for someone else.

Mini-Hitchens History of Religion

christopher-hitchens-religion-ideasIntroduction: This meme contains a quote from Christopher Hitchens.

Key Facts: The line can be found on page 64 of Hitchens’s book God is Not Great. Hitchens larger argument may well be worth looking at in another post. For purposes of this discussion, however, we are focusing on the use of this meme.

Text: “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody had the smallest idea what was going on.”


Comments: In itself, this meme does not clearly present an argument. It seems fair to suggest, however, that the meme is commonly used to discredit religious thoughts. So, we will focus on the prospect of using the meme to generate an argument in opposition to religion. This will necessitate reconstruction of a missing (or implied) assertion.

Statements: The very first sentence contributes little to the point except perhaps a sense of urgency. If we add an implied conclusion (represented in square brackets), this argument has two statements.

[1] One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody had the smallest idea what was going on.

[[2]] [Religious beliefs are false.]

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; genetic fallacy, micro-reasoning, missing assertions.

Genetic Fallacy: Insofar as the argument uses the origin of religion as a reason to reject the truth of religious beliefs, it is likely a good example of a genetic fallacy.

Micro-Reasoning: As with many meme, the reasoning here suffers a bit from its brevity. In this case, the meme hints at an unstated conclusion, perhaps even pointing to one not entirely consistent with that of Hitchens original text.

Missing Assertions: This meme contains only one line. If it suggests an argument, as I think it does, that argument contains at least one missing assertion (in this case, a conclusion).

Diagram: This one is pretty simple.

1 -> [2]

Evaluation: There are two items to evaluate in this argument. The truth of premise 1 and the relevance of the inference. The argument comes up short on both counts.

Premise 1 is questionable at best insofar as it takes religion to be a primitive (and erroneous) effort to explain the world in the absence of reasonable scientific methodology. It isn’t clear though, that the point of religious institutions and or mythic narratives of ancient people is to explain objective phenomena. Neither is it obvious that ancient people’s were ignorant about the world around them. Of course, the meme itself doesn’t entirely make it clear to whom Hitchens refers when he is talking about prehistory, but at least some peoples with not actively recording their own history had a quite sophisticated understanding of many things. Did they understand the details of modern chemistry or physics? No. But that hardly qualifies as not having “the smallest idea what is going on.”

The inference from 1 to [2] provides no support for the conclusion. This is a classic genetic fallacy. If there is any reason to suppose any given religious tenet is wrong, it is not because of its origins.

Final Thoughts: I can think of two contextual problems that could undermine this analysis; my construction of the argument may not be representative of Hitchens’s own intent and it may not be representative of the specific intent of those who circulate the meme.

Hitchens’s intent: Here, I think the solution is simple. It doesn’t really matter. The original context of the quote has been jettisoned in the production of the meme. People circulate the meme itself without necessarily attending to its source. It’s worth keeping in mind that the meme itself doesn’t present Hitchens’ full argument on the history of religion or the significance of that history in polemic dispute, but that should not stop us from addressing the significance of the meme itself as it is circulated about the net.

Intent of Those Circulating the Meme: Here we come back to the one sentence nature of this meme (and it should be noted that other versions include more wording). It’s almost tempting to suggest that this isn’t an argument at all, because it doesn’t draw a conclusion from a premise. I do think it’s fair to suggest that the meme is normally offered with the intent to discredit religion. One has only to formulate the missing conclusion. In effect, this takes the meme to be an expression of an argument against religion by those circulating it. If someone circulates the meme for other reasons, then presumably, this entire analysis would not apply.

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.



Elizabeth Peratrovich Takes on the Douglas Inn

ElizabethPeratrovichIntroduction: This is the first two paragraphs of a letter from civil rights activist, Elizabeth Peratrovich to then-Governor of Alaska, Earnest Gruening, the full text of which is available at Alaskool.org. In it, she addresses one of several instances of discrimination against Alaska Natives. In this case, it is a private business, but as Elizabeth notes in the passage presented below such discrimination was also present in state policies.

Note: The Photo comes via the National Women’s History Museum.

Key Facts: The letter is dated, December 30th, 1941, effectively placing it in the earliest days of World War II. Alaska was not yet a state; it was a Federal Territory. Elizabeth Peratrovich was a Tlingit woman. Her people are native to Southeast Alaska which ironically puts them in the Northwest Coast culture area as anthropologists would describe it.  Peratrovich would go on to champion the Anti Discriminatory Act of 1945, a piece of Alaska state legislation preceding the U.S. civil rights act by nearly 20 years.


Dear Mr. Gruening,

My attention has been called to a business establishment in Douglas, namely, “Douglas Inn,” which has a sign on the door which reads, “No Natives Allowed.”

In view of the present emergency, when unity is being stressed, don’t you think that it is very Un-American? We have always contended that we are entitled to every benefit that is accorded our so-called White Brothers. We pay the required taxes, taxes in some instances that we feel are unjust, such as the School tax. Our Native people pay the School tax each year to educate the White children, yet they try to exclude our children from these schools.


Comments: This is by no means the most impressive work left behind by Elizabeth Peratrovich, but it is relatively accessible to argument analysis. Given sufficient flexibility to pursue an open discussion, it might make for an interesting jumping off point into some historical discussion about discrimination and the Alaskan civil rights movement.

I should also say that sometimes argument analysis does a poor job of assessing the significance of elements in a text. Elizabeth’s comments on discrimination in the schools are essentially offered as part of the reasoning for changing a private business practice. In effect, she is also calling attention to government policies, and that has an impact beyond its support for the conclusion of the argument.

Statements: Relevant pieces of the argument have been reproduced below. Note that two sentences have been split into more than one statement and the resulting fragments have been rewritten slightly to fix up the resulting grammar. Also, I broke the first sentence up into three separate claims. As always rewritten sections have been presented in square brackets, as has a missing assertion supplied below (statement 10).

[1] [The nation is experiencing an emergency.]

[2] [The national emergency calls for a unified effort to resolve it.]

[3] [Discriminating against other Americans at this time is Un-American.]

[4] We have always contended that we are entitled to every benefit that is accorded our so-called White Brothers.

[5] We pay the required taxes[.]

[6] [We Alaska Natives feel that these in some instances these taxes are unjust.]

[7] [The School tax is an example of such an unjust law.]

[8] Our Native people pay the School tax each year to educate the White children[.]

[9] [Yet, white people] try to exclude our children from these schools.

[10] [It is unfair to tax people for services they are excluded from using.]

Discussion: This argument raises the issues of Missing Assertions , Paraphrasing, and Rhetorical Questions.

Missing Assertions: I have added a missing assumption to the effect that it is unfair to tax Alaska Natives for schools they cannot attend (statement 10). This is added to 7+8, thus providing the major premise that generates 7 from those two assumptions.

Paraphrasing: In addition to the rewriting the rhetorical question (see below), the first sentence, actually contains 3 separate claims, which I have written above as statements 1-3.

Rhetorical Questions: The first sentence is a classic rhetorical question. That sentence has been broken up into three components, the third of which originally took the form of a question It has been rewritten as a statement.

Diagram: Elizabeth gets to her main point (i.e. the conclusion) at the end of the first sentence. The first two clauses of that sentence provide a quick argument for the 3rd using the circumstance of war to appeal to patriotism. The rest of the passage begins a more detailed argument about the fairness of allowing discrimination against Alaska Natives in view of taxation. Statements 8 and 9 (as well as the missing assumption of statement 10) explain the unfairness of school taxing for the schools (statement 7). That is then used as an example showing that some of the taxes imposed on Alaska Natives are unjust (statement 6) which is then combined with a claim that they pay these taxes (statement 5) to argue that Alaska Natives are entitled to the same benefits as other Alaskans (statement 4). This is then used to argue once again for the general conclusion (statement 3).


Evaluation: Most of this is pretty straight forward, and I don’t see much need to pick it apart here. I’ll just have a couple random thoughts on various aspects of the argument:

1) Evaluating the truth of statement 2 could lead to some interesting questions about whether or not some values and loyalties might trump the need for unified effort in dealing with national emergencies (and in particular wars).

2) It might be worth unpacking Alaskan educational policies for the purposes of evaluating Elizabeth’s arguments on the taxation system and discrimination against Alaska Natives. At present, I just don’t know the history of those laws well enough to provide that analysis.

Final thoughts: Elizabeth Peratrovich kicks ass.

Michael Moore’s Thoughts on Snipers

Introduction: On January 18th, Michael Moore posted a tweet widely regarded as a comment on Chris Kyle and on the movie Sniper depicting Kyle’s service in the military. Given Moore’s status as a left wing activist and critic of the Iraq War, it should come as no surprise that he would object to a film that seems to portray Kyle as a hero. Moore seems to suggest that Kyle is nothing of the kind, eve going so far as to imply that Kyle is in fact a coward.

Key Facts: It’s worth noting that much of Hollywood’s portrayal of snipers would fit more in line with Moore’s comments in this instance. Snipers usually make their way into a film as a menace to the heroes, or as complex characters with a deeply ambivalent sense of their own role in combat. It is only in more recent depictions that they have begun to occupy the relatively more straight-foreword role of heroes in films such as Blackhawk Down.

Text: Here is a screenshot of the tweet.



Band of Brothers – Where Are We?

Introduction: This is a scene from the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers (2001). It takes place in Part 2, “Day of Days” at about the 13 minute mark. In this scene, two paratroopers (Lieutenant. Winters and Private Hall) have just linked up following a night drop into enemy territory during the invasion of Normandy. The following conversation occurs as they look for other U.S. soldiers and try to get their bearings while attempting to evade German defenses.

Key Facts: Different companies within the drop force were supposed to be dropped into different locations. for a variety of reasons (not the least of them being fire from German anti-aircraft guns), many seem to have missed the mark. Lieutenant Winters is from Easy Company (so he is not in D-Company or Able Company).


1) Lieutenant. Winters: “Aren’t you D-Company?”

2) Private Hall: “Able Sir.” (pause) “Guess that means one of us in the wrong drop-zone, sir.”

3) Lieutenant Winters: “Yeah, or both of us.”


Comments: The actual reasoning here is fairly simple, and this is one case where the conventions of argument analysis may lend themselves to unnecessary complication. So, let’s just get on with it.

Statements: We must add two missing assumptions, and each step of the reasoning will require some degree of rewriting to bring out the reasoning. Leaving out the problematic missing assumption, I would suggest the following propositions (each presented in bold).

1) [Missing Assumption: Lieutenant Winters is in Easy Company.]

2) Statement Two: [Private Hall is in Able Company.]

3) [Missing Assumption: Easy Company and Able Company have different drop zones.]

4) [Either Lieutenant Winters or Private Hall are in the wrong place.]

5) [Either Lieutenant Winters or Private Hall, or both of them, are in the wrong place.]

Discussion: This is a pretty simple exercise in reasoning. It touches upon dialectics, the reconstruction of missing assumptions, and the fallacy of false alternatives.

Dialectics: The argument illustrates dialectics insofar as the men cooperate to arrive at a common understanding of the issue.

Missing Assertions: Lieutenant Winters’ membership in Easy Company remains unspoken as it is obvious to both parties, as is the assumption that each of the companies in question has a different drop zone. It’s tempting to suggest that Private Hall makes a more serious assumption over the course of the discussion. In the second line, he infers from the fact that each was intended to land in a different drop zone that one of them must be out of place. This might be taken to assume that at least one of them must have landed in the right place. Alternatively, Hall makes no such assumption and the problem arises with his inference that one of them is in the wrong place. His account of the situation would then be incomplete, but it wouldn’t be erroneous. In keeping with the principle of charity, I would suggest going with the latter option as Hall’s specific wording does not commit him to the specific mistake in question.

False Alternatives: Whether it arises in an assumption or an inference, Lieutenant Hall’s conclusion fails to address the possibility that both he and Lieutenant Winters had landed in the wrong place.

Diagram(s): It isn’t clear to me that a visual diagram of the reasoning here is all that necessary or helpful, but for the sake of consistency I thought I should attempt it. After toying with a couple options, I am opting to suggest two simple models, one representing the Reasoning of Private Hall and one that of Lieutenant Winters.

Evaluation: Barring significant revelations from historical specialists, I think we can assume that premises 1, 2, and 3 are true, which leaves the inferences for us to evaluate. Assuming a literal interpretation of statement 4, support the inference in Private Hall’s reasoning would be weak at best, leaving an unsound argument. Support for the inference in Lieutenant Winter’s reasoning would seem to be deductively valid, though perhaps one could find a fiddly argument to bring it down to a rating of strong. In either event, Lieutenant Winter’s reasoning appears to be sound.

Final Thoughts: This kind of reasoning is more common in real life than it is in logic textbooks. The two men build on each others’ statements to achieve a common understanding. In the final turn, Lieutenant Winters does not so much tell Private Hall that he has made a mistake as simply suggest a better conclusion. As the narrative unfolds, Hall introduces a potential mistake and Winters simply sets it aside. As a food-for-thought kind of question, one might follow this example by asking students to think about the the varieties of context in which bypassing criticism would be more wise than direct confrontation. Conversely, one might ask if there are contexts in which direct criticism would be more useful.