Phil Robertson’s Argument from Rape

Introduction: On March 20th, 2015, Phil Robertson spoke at an event known as the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast in Florida. The Duck Dynasty star is an outspoken evangelical Christian who has espoused right wing political views on a number of occasions. Robertson’s talk included an elaborate rape fantasy which soon generated a great deal of controversy.

The full speech can be heard on True News. Critical Responses can be found on Right Wing Watch as well as a number of other sources. The excerpt used below came from Time Magazine.

Key Facts: Most of Robertson’s critics have focused on questions about his representation of atheism, it should be noted that the purpose of his speech is to show that faith in God is central to morality. The passage presented below follows a reading of comments from the psychologist Orval Hobart Mowrer. Mowrer’s comments had focused on the effort to eliminate the concept of sin from psychology, efforts Mowrer appeared to regard as unsuccessful (at least as Robertson quotes him). Robertson provides no source citation for the Mowrer quotes which he finishes up by noting that Mowrer committed suicide. (The implication appears to be that Mowrer’s work in secular psychology led to the suicide. This narrative would be complicated by Mowrer’s own embrace of Christian messages.) Robertson’s overall point thus advances the general notion that all moral consciousness stems from acceptance of Jesus. Robertson further asserts that a broad range of worlds views are simply attempts to escape this fact. His remarks about atheism must be taken as a sub-argument toward this larger conclusion.


I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’


Comments: The central argument of this passage is folded into a story. It may be best to group much of the details of the story into one statement.

Statements: I am grouping most of the story scenario itself into one single claim. I’ve tried to isolate the rest of the claims made in this argument below and presented them in bold. No effort was made to clean up the punctuation after doing so, and various bits and pieces that don’t contribute to the logic of the argument are left dangling, so to speak. Anyway, here it is!


I’ll make a bet with you.

[1] Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say,

[2] ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged?

[3] Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this?

[4] There’s no right or wrong,

now is it dude?’

[1] Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say,

[5] ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this?

But you’re the one who says

[6] there is no God,

[4] there’s no right, there’s no wrong,


[7] we’re just having fun.

[8] We’re sick in the head,

have a nice day.’


Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Indirection, interactional eclipse, paraphrasing, reduction ad absurdum, redundant assertions, rhetorical questions, straw man, and voicing.

Indirection and Interactional Eclipse: Most of the controversy over this passage has bypassed any straight-forward evaluation of Phil Robertson’s argument to focus on questions about why he would want to field such an elaborate rape fantasy in the first place. This does not exactly go to the logic of the argument, but it is a perfectly legitimate question.

Such imagery is likely generate significant (negative) emotional response. When delivered in person, an argument portraying someone as the victim of graphic violence serves to intimidate or anger its target, so much so that any rational dialogue is likely to end. But of course Phil Robertson isn’t exactly talking to atheists. He is speaking to an audience of believers (though his speech was recorded and hence shared with a wider public). This illustrates a common feature of Christian apologetics, namely its use of indirection. Phil frames his argument as one against atheism, but it is actually an argument intended for an audience consisting primarily of true believers. It’s probative value as a means of furthering debate with unbelievers thus takes a back-seat to its value as a message to the faithful, and any adverse reactions by atheists would thus have little meaning to Phil or his audience (except perhaps for the side-benefit of generating Schadenfreude.

In the end, we are left with a kind of rhetorical pornography, an argument that plays ironically to the prurient interests of its audience without doing much to advance the soundness of their position.

Paraphrasing: The argument requires some paraphrasing to piece together. Three rhetorical questions require rewording (see below) and the opening teaser line needs some fleshing out. I’m inclined to see it as a reference to statement number 5. If you were to finish the thought, I think it would look something like this:

[5] [Atheists will object to the actions taking place in this story.]

Reduction as Absurdum: The overall structure of the argument is that of a reductio. Phil Robertson doesn’t attend much to the details, and hence his sub-deduction leaves a lot to be desired, but it would seem he is trying to show us that atheism leads to a contradiction of sorts.

Redundant assertions: Claim number 4 is made twice. Robertson further alludes to claim 5 at the outset of the argument, though he only makes the claim explicit later in the argument,

Rhetorical Questions: Claims 2, 3, and 5 actually take the form of questions. The following revisions may be used in order to transform them into statements.

[2a] [It is] great that I don’t have to worry about being judged?

[3a] [It is] great that there’s nothing wrong with this?

[5a] [There should be] something wrong with this?

Straw Man: The most common complaint relating to the logic of this argument is that Phil Robertson has misrepresented atheists to the degree that he assumes all atheists reject the notion of moral values. There are of course a good many atheists who would object to the notion that there is no right or wrong, and they would object strenuously to the notion their own views amounted to such a position. From this standpoint, Robertson’s argument misrepresents atheism. It isn’t even particularly subtle about it.

It should be noted that Christian apologists often field a somewhat more moderate version of this argument by suggesting that atheist may be moral and decent people, but that they are unable to provide an adequate philosophical basis for any moral attitude they may have. Phil’s argument seems to share in this approach at least to the degree that he makes little effort to base his position on the claims of actual atheists (though his Mowrer quote seems to provide a token effort along these lines). In the end, this simply isn’t Phil Robertson’s approach. he isn’t merely suggesting that atheists lack for a sound philosophical account of their morality. His argument explicitly attributes to atheists claims rejecting moral values.

Although there are certainly atheists who also reject morality altogether, Phil Robertson is wrong to equate this position with atheists in general. His argument is accordingly a pretty clear case of a straw man.

Voicing: This argument contains voicing insofar as the rapists in his story appear to be speaking for Phil himself. Their words constitute his argument. Hence, the characters in the story provide a voice for the author of the argument.

Diagram: It’s tempting to abandon the hope of diagraming this argument. Aside from the lack of explicit explicit reasoning indicators Phil Robertson does seem to jump around a bit. I think I can make sense of the general flow of ideas here, but this seems to rely on more imaginative reconstruction than I would prefer. It isn’t entirely clear for example just what Phil thinks is a reason for what, or more importantly, whether he distinguishes some of these propositions from each other at all. That said…

The key to the argument here is to remember that Phil is attacking the moral sensibilities of atheism. The whole narrative is a reduction ad absurdum directed against those sensibilities, so we begin with the core assumption to be refuted (claim number 6). Phil seems to derive two specific consequences from this, that there will be no consequences for bad behavior (claim 2)and that there is no right and wrong (claim 4). Phil thus infers from claims 3 and 4 that there is nothing wrong with the behavior in the story (claim 3) and that it should be construed either as mental illness (claim 7) or mere fun (claim 8). He then assumes that an atheist will want to object to the behavior anyway (claim 5), thus refuting the initial assumption (number 6) which he started with.

Back of the envelope alright!

Back of the envelope alright!

Evaluation: I’ll just call attention to a few problematic steps in the argument. Note that it is in claims 2 and 4 that the Straw man mentioned above enter Robertson’s argument.

A) The inference from 6 to 2 is weak at best. Without God, people may still be accountable to other people and/or social institutions.

B) The inference from 6 to 4 is likely nil. If absence of a a God entails a lack of moral values, Phil Robertson has done little to show this. Of course that is the point of the overall argument, but the presence of that notion here as an assumed basis for the inference in question would do little but make this a circular argument. In any event, the inference from 6 to 4 lacks force.

C) The inference from 2 and 4 to 3 is strong to deductively valid insofar as it would be difficult to imagine how general statements about the lack of moral values or consequences would be reconciled with the notion that there is something wrong with the specific behavior in the story. (The problem of course lies up above in the diagram.)

D) The inferences to 7 and 8 are a little beside the point. Each is little more than an elaboration of the main point which is contained in claim 3.

E) The final inference to a rejection of statement 6 is weak. At best Phil Robertson’s argument would establish a desire to believe in god, perhaps even a need for such a being in moral philosophy. It would not prove that such a being does exist.

F) Ultimately, the argument is unsound. Atheism does not logically entail the nihilism Robertson associates with it, and the moral problems Phil advances would not prove that atheists were wrong to reject belief in God if he had establish them properly.
Final Thoughts: Some might think it unwise to treat such an argument as worthy of analysis. At this point, I’m not entirely sure that they are wrong.

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 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.

Russell Means – Mother Earth Will Retaliate!

Introduction: Russell Means, a Lakota activist with the American Indian Movement (AIM) made the comments below in a famous speech given at the Black Hills International Survival Gathering on the Pine Ridge Reservation on July of 1980. The speech was subsequently printed in Mother Jones Magazine and also in the Book Marxism and Native Americans by Ward Churchill. Means uses the speech both to distance himself from Marxist activism and to outline his own form of indigenous activism. Respect for Mother Earth provides a central theme of the argument. A copy of the full speech an be found here.

Note: Sam D. Gill would later include a critique of this speech in his book Mother Earth: An American Story. In this book, gill argued that the concept of Mother Earth as it is referred to in speeches like that of Means is in fact a modern development rather than a common indigenous belief stretching back into the distant past. Ward Churchill’s blistering response to Gill’s work can be found in his book, Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of American Indians.

Key Facts: It isn’t clear from the text presented here, but when Russell Means speaks of a disaster eliminating those who abuse her, he is specifically suggesting that disaster will NOT eliminate Native Americans (at least not all of them). The revolution he is suggesting is thus the reversal of colonization with its negative effects for both the environment and indigenous peoples.


All European tradition. Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things. Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused, and this cannot go on forever. No theory can alter that simple fact. Mother Earth will retaliate, the whole environment will retaliate, and the abusers will be eliminated. Things come full circle, back to where they started. That’s revolution. And that’s a prophecy of my people, of the Hopi people and of other correct peoples.


Comments: The passage here begins with a swipe at Marxism the significance of which is somewhat lost when we focus on this single paragraph. The notion that Marxism no different from other European traditions is actually quite central to the overall speech. It’s also the reason he comes back to the idea of revolution at the end of the paragraph, essentially taking an extra dig at Marxists in those last few  comments. Tthe overall speech contains an extensive critique of Marxism and its impact on indigenous communities.

Mother Earth provides another really fascinating feature of this argument, and I’m going to suggest that Means’ particular wording invites parallel lines of reasoning. He does assert quite literally that Mother Earth herself will ‘retaliate’ for abuse she has suffered at the hands of Europeans, and he is clearly suggesting that her retaliation will be directed at those living as Europeans. It’s interesting to note, however, that he also rephrases his argument about Mother Earth to refer to the ‘environment’ thus broadening its appeal to include those who might not literally believe in Mother Earth.

It’s also important to understand that Means has taken great pains in the rest of the speech to qualify his comments about Europeans in terms other than race. Whether or not that is sufficient to settle concerns over the fairness of his generalizations is one question, but he is not advocating racism here, at least not the straight-forward variety some might see in his wording.

Statements: I would suggest breaking up the argument into the following distinct claims, presented in bold below. I’ve left the initial punctuation alone, which may look odd, but several compound sentences have been broken up into distinct sentences.

[1] All European tradition. Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things.

[2] Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused.

[3] this cannot go on forever.

[4] No theory can alter that simple fact.

[5] Mother Earth will retaliate,

[6] the whole environment will retaliate,

[7] the abusers will be eliminated.

[8] Things come full circle, back to where they started.

[9] That’s revolution.

[10] And that’s a prophecy of my people, of the Hopi people and of other correct peoples.

Discussion: This argument raises issues involving Figurative Speech, the Principle of Charity, and Paraphrasing.

Figurative Speech and The Principle of Charity: It is tempting to think of Russell Means’ references to Mother Earth as figurative speech. Those less inclined to think of the earth as a person with a will of her own may well be interested in finding a way out of that interpretation, especially if they are inclined to support the larger themes of the argument (i.e. the notion of an imminent environmental catastrophe). A more charitable interpretation of Means’ argument would thus take him to be referring to deleterious changes in the environment rather than a literal act of retaliation by a person. The problem with this approach is that Means does appear to intend his reference to Mother Earth quite literally. The principle of charity ought not to be used to save an author from himself (or an audience from ideas they find objectionable). So, I think it fair to suggest a literal belief in Mother Earth has a role to play in this argument.

Luckily, Means does seem to provide an extra statement on the topic of retaliation, dropping ‘Mother Earth’ in favor of ‘Environment’ in a second line. This invites a parallel line of reasoning that gives Means the ability to have his cake and eat it too. He can suggest that Mother Earth really is going to strike back at Europeans while outlining a second way of thinking about it in which normal environmental features will have the same effect. It is worth noting, however, that the rest of the speech presents a critique of scientism (as some would phrase it today) which would suggest that strictly mechanical treatment is insufficient to understand the problem. Ultimately, I think Means means to advance the literal vision of retaliation by Mother Earth.

Paraphrasing: A literal interpretation of the word ‘retaliate’ seems a bit inappropriate for description of environmental change in statement 6 (as opposed to the Mother earth argument advanced in statement 5). It would perhaps be best to rewrite this as [change] or [reaction], providing it is understood that the effect is deleterious in either event.

Diagram: The argument appears to present two major themes, one being the abuse of nature (‘Mother Earth’) by Europeans and the negative consequences likely to follow from this, and the second being the nature of revolution.

Means of Mother Earth (cropped)

Evaluation: It will be easy enough to imagine reasons for believing the truth of statements 1 and 2 as well as that of 3 and 4. It will also be possible to suggest that these are over-simplifications of European tradition for statements 1 and 2 and natural processes in statements 3 and 4. Students less inclined to take ‘Mother Earth’ literally may be less inclined to grant the truth of statement 2, but once again statement 1 provides secular alternative. The sweeping conclusionary nature of the terms adds another problem to the evaluation of these statements. One can think of a broad variety of practices destructive to the environment, and many (perhaps most) of these can be traced to some European or Euro-American institutions. Whether or not these constitute defiance of the natural order requires some consideration of the language involved.

The inference from 1-4 to 5 is moderately well supported. If indeed Europeans are indeed abusing Mother Earth and defying the natural order, it it seems natural to expect retaliation. What keeps me from assigning this a higher relevance is a sense that it is really narrative conventions that guide this inference. In practice, it isn’t clear to me how Mother earth will behave in any instance. So, it isn’t really obvious how she will react to abuse. The inference to 6 seems Moderate to strong to me insofar as one can suggest a number of likely negative consequences to destructive treatment of the environment (e.g. acid rain and the Ozone layer in past times, ocean acidification and global warming now, and countless related issues). One could suggest in the abstract that environmental features are sufficiently resilient to prevent such consequences, that social institutions are sufficiently resilient to adapt to the resulting changes, or simply that the inference is beyond our capacity to evaluate. Means is speculating. The speculation may seem intuitively plausible, but it is speculating just the same.

The inference from 5 to 7 is weak at best, owing to the selective nature of the catastrophe Means imagines to be on the horizon.If we start with the assumption that Mother Earth will be making a decision about the matter, it is at least possible to imagine that she will choose to spare some portion of the indigenous population, but there is no clear reason (other than narrative conventions) to suppose that she will.

The inference from 6 to 7 suffers from the same problem, but even more so. It’s one thing to suggest that an environmental disaster looms in humanity’s future and quite another to suggest that it will be selective in its destruction. Even if we grant Means’ argument that it is Europeans who are responsible for the trouble, there is little reason to believe that subsequent negative consequences would be limited to the guilty parties or even that they would spare a portion of the innocent.  Some problems , such as global warming are likely to hit all of humanity.

The argument is unsound.

Final thoughts: I find myself more interesting in Means’ argument here than a straight-foreword logical analysis would seem to suggest. Ultimately, it is the selective nature of the coming disaster that strikes me as unsupported (and likely unsupportable).

First Woman’s Argument (NSFW?)

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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