Meta-Missing Evidence

Introduction: This was posted on June 30, 2022. It is part of the general public debate over gun control and Second Amendment rights.

Key Facts: There are a few facts which might have bearing on the (de-)merits of this argument.

1: The Second Amendment reads as follows: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

2: A common argument on this topic suggests that the Second Amendment is essentially a reference to muskets, not the kind of weapons currently available to the American public. See here for example.

3: The Belton Flinklock is certainly not the only non-musket available at the time. They would of course have been familiar with canons. Muzzle-loading rifles had been used for hunting and even saw some use during the American revolution. The Gieardoni air rifle provides one additional example of an experimental semi-automaic rifle. Still, muskets were the predominant form of weapon used in warfare. I believe muzzle-loading rifles may have been more useful in hunting, but I am not entirely sure of this.

4: Much of the current discussion of gun control focuses on the prospect of banning assault weapons, or otherwise subjecting them to some form of stricter-than-usual regulation. What constitutes an ‘assault weapon‘ can be a difficult question. The difficulty is of course compounded by the controversial nature of the debate over gun control.

5: While Washington is known to have ordered 100 of these for his troops during the American revolution, there is no evidence that he received them or that his troops actually used them. By most accounts, the deal simply fell through.

Text: “The Belton Flintlock could fire 20 rounds in 5 seconds. That’s 50% faster than a modern AR-15. George Washington commissioned 100 of these in 1777 — 14 years before the second amendment. Next time a left winger mentions ‘muskets’, remind them how little they know about history.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: For reasons best explained here, I regard the claim that the Second Amendment refers only to muskets as completely indefensible. The prospect that modern weapons pose problems today that America’s founding fathers may not have anticipated is very real, but that is a political question; it does not point us to a narrow construction of the Second Amendment. If one were to use existing weapons available at the time, there are better candidates for consideration than the Belton Flintlock. Raising the prospect of its use in the revolution without acknowledging the fact that it simply wasn’t is both unethical and intellectually unhelpful.

Statements: There seems to be an unstated intermediate conclusion in this argument. I have presented 2 different variations (5a and 5b), one specific to the issue of semi-automatic weapons which are increasingly controversial in current debate and another, more moderate conclusion to the effect that the framers of the Second Amendment would have been familiar with weapons other than muskets. I do believe the author is going out of his way to touch upon the former, but the latter would provide him with less to prove while still enabling him to challenge efforts to reduce the meaning of the Second Amendment to muskets.

Statement 4 is framed in snarky terms, but it is essentially a rejection of the notion that the meaning of the Second Amendment can be reduced to muskets. I have accordingly suggested a couple variations on this, one which is limited to the modest question of whether or not the Second Amendment is only about muskets and one extending to the specific question of whether or not the Second Amendment can or should be seen as applying to semi-automatic weapons.

[1] The Belton Flintlock could fire 20 rounds in 5 seconds.

[2] That’s 50% faster than a modern AR-15.

[3] George Washington commissioned 100 of these in 1777 — 14 years before the Second Amendment.

[4] Next time a left winger mentions ‘muskets’, remind them how little they know about history.

[4b] The meaning of the Second Amendment cannot be reduced to muskets.

[4c] The meaning of the Second Amendment extends to semi-automatic weapons.

[5a] The framers of the Second Amendment were familiar with weapons other than muskets.

[5b] The framers of the Second Amendment were familiar with semi-automatic weapons.

Diagram: There are two inferences in this argument. The first is a linked argument (1+2+3 proving 5) and one simple argument (with 5 proving 4).

Because there are a couple variations of statements 4 and 5 (and we could imagine more variations on each), this leads to several different ways of understanding the argument. I would suggest that there are two significant variations to consider; one which focuses on simply countering the claim that the second amendment can be reduced to muskets (thus using statements 4b and 5c) and one addressing the issue of semi-automatic weapons (thus using 4c and 5b). The diagram looks the same either way; it’s just a question of which versions of statements 4 and 5 would be referenced by those numbers.

For purposes of clarity: I will refer to the different versions of this argument from here forward as the “Muskets-Only” and the “Semi-Automatic” variations. The former construes the argument in terms of statements 4b and 5a, and the latter uses 4c and 5b.

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Counter-Argument, Meta-Reasoning, Missing Assertions, Poisoning the Well, Suppressed Evidence, Tokenism.

Counter-Argument: Whatever else this argument does, it clearly offers evidence countering claims coming out of the gun control camp. In one version of the argument, the Belton Flintlock is offered in response to claims that the Second Amendment can only refer to muskets and in another, it is offered in response to the claims that the second Amendment should not be extended to semi-automatic rifles. Either way, the fact that George Washington ordered 100 of these muskets could certainly count as evidence against the claims in question. That evidence is, however, seriously undermined by the lack of evidence that the order was ever fulfilled. The author implies that Washington had a hundred of these, but most likely didn’t, and that leaves us with the fact that the weapon was not widely available. So, there is little reason to believe its existence could have been weighed heavily in discussions about the Second Amendment.

Meta-Reasoning: As a counter-argument, this one addresses questions about what is and what is not good reasoning. Rule treats arguments reducing the meaning of the Second Amendment to muskets as unsound in view of the existence of this weapon and its implied use by Washington’s armies. This leaves out questions about the relative significance and availability at the time. It is one thing to say that such weapons did exist; it is quite another to say that their presence was sufficiently significant to shape the thoughts of those framing the Second Amendment.

This does leave me with one interesting question; did anyone bring these weapons up in relevant discussions at the time? I do not know the answer to this question.

Missing Assertions: Insofar as this argument contains a missing intermediate conclusion, it does raise questions about how to formulate a missing statement. Here, the challenge is figuring out how much of this arguments is aimed at simply countering the muskets-only theory adopted by some advocates of gun control, and how much of it is specifically aimed at showing us that semi-automatic weapons were already known to those involved in creation and ratification of the Second Amendment. Rules final conclusion suggests the former is the main point of the argument, but at least some of his comments clearly address the more specific theme of semi-automatic weapons.

Poisoning the Well: Insofar as Rule uses the word ‘left winger’ he might be thought to be poisoning the well. the phrase could be construed as an insult, and indeed, he probably means t as an insult. Rules intended audience probably also sees it as an insult. That said, comparable language is often used for the right and the insult is hardly strong. It’s a trivial concern.

Suppressed Evidence: The biggest problem with this argument is the suppressed evidence. Rule tells us that Washington ordered 100 of these weapons, thus creating the impression that these were used in the American revolution. As the weapons were never supplied, this gambit is highly deceitful. Once we factor this information into the argument, we are left with a claim about a weapon that was known at the time, but not one that was a significant factor in events of the day. So, it’s relevance to the thinking of those developing the Second Amendment is sketchy at best.

Tokenism: The mere existence of this weapon does not change the fact that muskets were the predominant weapon used by soldiers at the time. Those writing the Second Amendment would certainly have been aware of muzzle-loading rifles (as opposed to smooth-bore muskets), but experimental weapons like this were not widely used at the time. The relevance of this unfulfilled order to the thinking of America’s founding fathers is marginal at best, negligible is more like it.

Evaluation: By either construction of this argument, the problems of suppressed evidence and tokenism wreck the inference from statements 1 through 3 to 4. The argument is unsound.

Final Thoughts: This is a good example of a crappy argument thrown out in support of a perfectly good conclusion. Either construction of this argument ends with a conclusion that is perfectly defensible on grounds having nothing to do with the argument Run Rule presents here. Would that settle the larger gun control debate? Not even close. But we could certainly rule out at least one implausible argument in favor of gun control and/or against a meaningful right to bear arms. Nothing in Rule’s post helps us get to accomplish this.

When “They” is One or Two or Maybe Legion

Introduction: This argument can be found on a Youtube presentation by James Lindsay entitled, “Stealing the Motte: Critical Social Justice and the Principle of Charity.” It is one of many arguments he directs against what he calls “critical social justice theory.” It is part of a larger series of audio-clips published under the title of “New Discourses.” This is the parent-site for the publication.

Key Facts: I believe Lindsay is referring to the this paper, published in Hipatia Press. It’s title doesn’t entirely match his own description, but it’s close enough that I do believe this is the one he has in mind.

Text: This is a small portion of text taken from the transcript provided by Youtube. He goes on to elaborate on the details of the article and on his own reasons for referring to social justice as a virus.

I want to focus on the claim that social justice critics refer to their own movement as a virus, treating that as the conclusion of his argument for purposes of this argument.

“I’ve both written and 16:50 spoken in fact about how critical social 16:53 justice is like a virus on our liberal 16:55 societies and I have to do that again 16:56 here because it’s just the best metaphor 17:00 for understanding it but before 17:02 reminding you of that I have to remind 17:06 you also that I’m not characterizing 17:08 them as viruses I’m not making a case 17:11 about them that they don’t make about 17:13 themselves they call themselves viruses 17:16 as well and compare the theory to it 17:19 anyway in activism and so I’m not in any 17:22 way trying to untie him unfairly here as 17:25 I’ve noted before in 2016 to feminist 17:29 scholars Bram foz and Michael Carter 17:31 published an academic paper in a 17:32 relatively small academic journal and it 17:35 carried the title women’s studies as a 17:36 virus institutional feminism effect in 17:39 the projection of danger in that paper 17:42 Falls and Carter make the point that 17:44 women’s studies should see itself 17:45 through the metaphor of the virus 17:49 comparing the discipline if you will in 17:51 favorable terms to other plagues like 17:54 Ebola and HIV and unless you think I 17:57 exaggerate I can quote 17:58 them on this…”

ANALYSIS

Comments: Yes, I found it while reading up on Motte and Bailey doctrines.

Statements: Using the claim critical social justice activists refer to themselves as the conclusion of the argument means we leave a lot of this passage out of the argument (hence the unnumbered statements below). Were we to address the accuracy of Lindsay’s treatment of the article in question, we would need to add a great deal more to the analysis. What I have included here is sufficient to address the relevance of this one article to Lindsay’s generalizations about social justice activism.

I also cleaned up a few things the transcript appears to have gotten wrong. In any event, I believe the argument is as follows.

***

I’ve both written and spoken in fact about how critical social justice is like a virus on our liberal societies and I have to do that again here because it’s just the best metaphor for understanding it but before reminding you of that I have to remind you also that I’m not characterizing them as viruses I’m not making a case about them that they don’t make about themselves.

[1] they call themselves viruses as well and compare the theory to it anyway in (or possibly ‘and’) activism

and so I’m not in any way trying to characterize them unfairly here. as I’ve noted before

[2] in 2016 two feminist scholars Breanne Fahs and Michael Karger published an academic paper in a relatively small academic journal.

and

[3] it carried the title “Women’s Studies as a Virus; Institutional Feminism, affect, and the Projection of Danger”

[4] In that paper Fahs and Carter make the point that women’s studies should see itself through the metaphor of the virus,comparing the discipline if you will in favorable terms to other plagues like Ebola and HIV…”

Diagram: If statement 2 here draws our attention to an article in which two feminists refer to women’s studies as a virus, statements 3 and 4 elaborate on the significance of the paper. These combine together to form the claim that social justice theorists refer to themselves and their own movement as a virus (statement 1). This is then taken as evidence that Lindsay is not characterizing social justice advocates unfairly when he himself describes their movement as a virus, but that is a part of the larger argument which I do not purport to analyze here.

2+3+4 -> 1

Discussion: This argument raises the following themes: Ad Hominem, Anaphora, Anecdotal Reasoning, Authority, Cherry Picking, Hasty Generalization, Poisoning the Well, Principle of Charity.

Ad Hominem: Whatever the reasons Fahs and Karger have for describing feminism as a virus, Lindsay’s own goal is convince his audience that anyone associated with critical social justice theory is a terrible person engaged in terrible things. It is a sustained attack on a broad range of scholarship. Lindsay does not make an effort to show that social justice critics are wrong, so much as that they are dangerous and positively evil. To suggest that his approach to the subject constitutes an ad hominem-circumstantial is putting it mildly.

Anaphora: One of the distinctive features of this presentation is the undisciplined use of anaphoric reference. Lindsay’s use of ‘they’ and ‘them’ throughout the audio enables him to skip a lot of interesting questions about why he is really talking about at any given time. In this passage, the shift from two specific authors publishing a single paper in a “relatively small academic journal” to the claim that social justice theorists as a whole characterize their work as a virus leans rather heavily on Lindsays use of ‘they’ and ‘them.’ In this case, the shift from his evidence to his conclusion entails a jump from feminism to critical social justice theory and a jump from a sample of two to the whole of critical theory. Using this language enables Lindsay to presuppose the relevance of his evidence to his conclusion without stating its terms explicitly.

Anecdotal Reasoning: Insofar as Lindsay is providing a story about a single paper in support of a sweeping generalization about a broad range of scholarship, this constitutes a good example of anecdotal reasoning.

Authority: One of the more charitable ways of interpreting this argument would be to treat it as an authority-based argument. I say it’s charitable, because the alternative is to suggest that a same of two authors is sufficient to speak for the entirely of scholars identifying themselves as critical theorists, which invites the Hasty Generalization comments below. If on the other hand, Lindsay wishes to suggest that Fahs and Karger have authority to speak on a nature of this trend because they are part of it, that is at least a little more interesting. Still, there is little reason to believe these two scholars have the authority to define the entirety of social justice scholarship. Even their own article falls well short of such a claim, being focused on women’s studies.

Cherry Picking: The selection of a single article employing language comparable to Lindsay’s own smacks of cherry picking.

Hasty Generalization: A sample of one article and two feminists simply is not enough evidence to demonstrate, as Lindsay claims that this is how critical social justice advocates describe themselves. Its not even close.

Interactional Eclipse: One big problem with describing any human beings or movement of human beings in terms of a virus is that any descriptive value this account might have is likely to be overshadowed by the pejorative implications. Fahs and Karger may have been happy to use an exciting narrative for feminism, but for his own part, Lindsay is even happier to use a metaphor that effectively dehumanizes Fahs and Karger, and if he has his way, everyone associated with social justice or critical theory. In effect, the insult here is is the point. The argument, for Linday, at any rate, is little more than a pretext for that insult.

Poisoning the Well: This entire Youtube presentation is an effort to convince Lindsay’s audience that social justice critics are out to destroy liberal society, and hence, they are unworthy of the principle of charity. To say that this is an exercise in poisoning the well is also putting it mildly.

Principle of Charity: I can think of two ways to interpret the use of a single article by two scholars within one sub-field associated with social justice to characterize all of the social justice movement. One way is to think of it as a representative sample, and the other is to think of it as an authority-based argument. Either way, the argument fails.

Evaluation: The argument fails because this one article simply isn’t sufficient to warrant a generalization about social justice critics as a whole.

Final Thoughts: This is of course part of a much larger argument. Independent of his claim that social justice theorists characterize themselves as a virus, Lindsay does offer his own reasons for thinking of critical social justice theory as a virus. Whether or not these are worthy of consideration is another question.

There is another angle here insofar we could try to unpack Lindsay’s phrasing. The term “critical social justice activism” fuses together quite a few different things. I don’t think he is wrong in suspecting that these things are related, but the effort to just fuse them all into one term is a little disconcerting, particularly when it is couple with clear efforts to poison the well for anyone associated with this amalgam. Whether or not Lindsay’s work is worth the effort is also another question.