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A new rhetorical device to analyze

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Wheylous Posted: Mon, Jan 2 2012 12:55 AM

This Redditor performs a masterful analysis of the idea of wage slavery that hinges on the word "compel":

This is a remarkable analysis because (regardless of its implications for economic theory) it catches a rhetorical device that may sometimes prove pivotal to arguments: the passive voice. We can speak of people compelling others, but when a person "is compelled", the two meanings of the word are accidentally conflated due to the passive voice into one to come to an erroneous conclusion.

Do read the analysis. I find it to be of the same rank as some of JJ's best analysis of some articles.

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AJ replied on Mon, Jan 2 2012 1:10 PM

+1 This is wonderful. I'm so glad people are catching on to the semantic sleights-of-hand that permeate the intellectual landscape.

Equivocation, folks. If there's one thing I've tried to eradicate in my 2,000 posts to this forum, its this. And this guy does a fantastic job at it. The labor theory of value rests on a similar equivocation. So do many of the other fallacies. In the extant example:

...two different meanings of "to compel": a person having to work to avoid hunger (first meaning) is entirely different from a person having to work to avoid being brutalized, kidnapped or killed at the hands of another person (second meaning).

The key here is that equivocation is a form of doublethink. The person taken in by and wedded to such an equivocation will systematically equivocate between, for example, compel-1 and compel-2, without realizing they are doing it. They are inveterate word-based thinkers, so they simply assume "I'm using the same words, so I must be talking about the same things."
In an argument with an AnCap trying to disabuse them of such notions, they will actually constantly have to switch the referrent of the word "compel" back and forth between compel-1 and compel-2 in their thinking process. They are forced to equvocate continually to maintain this illusion, because they absolutely need both referrents handy to switch between at liberty in order to keep the cognitive dissonance away. This is the mechanism by which doublethink operates. Look for it in your next debate!
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Yeah that was a great piece.  Thanks for sharing


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Cortes replied on Sun, Feb 10 2013 10:58 AM


Funny thing is, I see Mises using the passive voice a lot, and ironically that's how a lot of his quotes get taken out of context by people. The whole chapter on polylogism for example and on how Fascist governments were seen in the 20s.

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Raoul replied on Sun, Feb 10 2013 11:47 AM

I believe Bastiat wrote about that in The Law.

Not a native speaker - you may correct my spelling errors.
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Adam Knott replied on Sun, Feb 10 2013 12:45 PM

This same phenomenon (switching between two meanings of a concept) has been noted with respect to Ayn Rand's ethics, and has been named "The Shuffle."


We can now address and allay the concerns that Prof. Eric Mack (2003) raises about what he
calls The Shuffle – a supposed shifting back and forth in Randian arguments between different
understandings of man’s life (qua man) without explicit acknowledgment that such shuffling is taking
place. While Prof. Mack does indeed raise some legitimate issues about Rand and certain of her
admirers’ rhetorical and argumentative techniques, I think he overlooks, at minimum, the spirit of
Rand’s arguments. In any case, applying an objective, context-keeping method leads to a properly
integrated argument resembling what I present here.

What exactly is The Shuffle of which Mack speaks? It is the supposed shift back and forth
between causal and conceptual understandings of the phrase
“man’s life (qua man).” Mack unpacks
this distinction by pointing out (seemingly) distinct lines of argument in Rand’s writings. We have,
on one hand, the causal interpretation of “man’s life” amounting, in essence, to: Adopting such and
such means will result in achieving such and such an end, the end being along the lines of maintaining
one’s physical existence, living a long period of time, acquiring material wealth, experiencing
pleasure, and a number of other earthly benefits. By being rational, productive, independent, honest,
and so on, you will succeed in obtainingthese benefits, whereas if you do not exercise these qualities
of behavior, you will experience failure, suffering, death.

On the other hand, we have the conceptual interpretation of “man’s living (qua man),” which
involves conceptually refining the meaning of “man’s life” to mean living a life of character, of virtue,
of principle. By treating productivity, independence, honesty and so forth as worth adopting in their
own right, as inherently constitutive of a good life (qua man), we understand that man’s good can
never be attained by being dishonest, unproductive, and so forth. Living according to virtue as a
matter of principle just means what it is to live the good life qua man. This is opposed to the causal
interpretation that treats rationality, productivity and honesty as instrumentally valuable in attaining
the goods one seeks. Morality, on the causal interpretation, is deeply linked to numerical and strategic
calculations of benefit and cost.

The problem, Mack claims, is that the causal interpretation is subject to counterexamples. A
sufficiently calculating and prudent individual can live a long, seemingly happy, wealth-filled,
pleasure-filled life by predating upon others’ production. And, in fact, we see real-world examples
of such predators. So, it turns out, there isn’t a necessary connection after all between being
productive and being wealthy. In fact, this observation seems to run bothways: a predator can amass
a great deal of wealth while a productive individual, all careful calculating notwithstanding,
experiences business failure or accumulates littlemoney. Indeed, the heroic character Howard Roark
could, conceivably, live his entire life as a manual laborer without seeing his designs made reality and
his firm prosper. Roark seems like the impractical idealist, choosing a life of principled virtue even
if it doesn’t lead to worldly success.[7]

Mack does note Rand and her admirers’ seemingly begrudging acknowledgment that some can
manage to lead a life of predation upon others – but only that predation is made possible by others’
production and (counter-factually) that excessive lootingwould spell their own destruction. And so,
The Shuffle implicitly kicks in: such predators are not truly living qua man; they’re living the life of
a brute, a thug, a moocher, an unprincipled whim-worshiper – in other words, as someone unworthy
of self-respect and incapable of looking in the mirror without loathing. This may be all well and good,
Mack says, but this involves a rhetorical and argumentative shift (The Shuffle) away from the causal
interpretation of “man’s life” to a refined conception of it,without its practitioners acknowledging the
shift so as to hold themselves to account for it. Are predators not livingwell because they don’t live
long and happy lives, and are actually destroying themselves? Or are they not living well because
true human life takes “respectable” form? After all, man’s life (qua man) involves more than staying
alive, experiencing pleasure, obtaining wealth, and so forth. But The Shuffle’s practitioners seem to
want to leave this question hanging so as not to tackle the hard problemof real-world counterexamples
in light of Rand’s grounding of virtue in the requirements of living. They would seem to prefer leaving
unaddressed the problem for moral theory that some people advance their ends via predation while
some principled, virtuous people see their ends frustrated.

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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Neodoxy replied on Sun, Feb 10 2013 1:39 PM


That's a very good and very true insight.

I think that what's most ironic in Rand's ethics is something that the quoted passage slides by, which is that in "the Virtue of Selfishness" Rand argues that man can only live through productive work and that, just as the article states, only productive work at some point down the line makes man's life possible. What is ironic here, of course, is that Rand relies upon a holistic and collectivist argument for individualism. Because the human race must produce for any humans to live, every human must produce and any one who does not produce is destroying himself. An understanding of marginalism, or just common sense, easily destroys this line of argument.

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
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"Rand argues that man can only live through productive work and that, just as the article states, only productive work at some point down the line makes man's life possible."

The idea is that if you were to confront a proponent of that ethical system with a counterexample in which a person is alive, but not living through productive work, they would reply saying something such as, "that is not living life as man qua man."  (i.e., they would provide a second definition of life different from the definition in the original formulation.)   And thus the equivocation or "The Shuffle."

Probably the best critique of Rand's ethical system is Patrick O'Neil's article "Ayn Rand and the Is-Ought Problem":

Here's a passage which touches on the problem of implicit equivocation (The Shuffle):

Besides the man who freely chooses death, Rasmussen is conscious of the
problem of the man who escapes the dire consequences of the moral maxim(s)
of the Randian natural law:

A human can, of course, act in a manner inconsistent with the standards set
by his nature and not be literally dead, but such "non-death" cannot be considered
life or, at least, successful human life. To ignore the principles that
human nature requires and to attempt to live without regard to them in any
manner one might choose is to opt for an existence as a metaphysical misfit,
living by sheer luck and/or the moral behavior of someone else.

Thus, there are two definitions of life: biological life and "successful life".

In the ethical theory, it is stated or implied that man cannot live (will cease to exist) if he doesn't follow the ethical rule(s).  But when pressed, it must finally be admitted that man can live without following the ethical rule(s), but this won't be "successful life."

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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Jargon replied on Mon, Feb 11 2013 5:09 AM

Thanks Whey this is great.

Land & Liberty

The Anarch is to the Anarchist what the Monarch is to the Monarchist. -Ernst Jünger

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Wheylous replied on Tue, Feb 12 2013 4:23 PM

The original author is Rudd-o

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Yeah, that is definitiely a good run down.  This is why I stress perception.  We should be playing games like that with their language and arguments.

"The Fed does not make predictions. It makes forecasts..." - Mustang19
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