Use this gallery to explore Aesop’s fables. Each picture represents one of the fables; captions provide the morals taught by each fable. Does one of the images catch your eye? Does one of these stories teach a lesson that intrigues you?
“When we claim to have been injured by language, what kind of claim do we make?
We ascribe an agency to language, a power to injure, and position ourselves as the objects of its injurious trajectory. We claim that language acts, and acts against us, and the claim we make is a further instance of language, one which seeks to arrest the force of the prior instance.
Thus, we exercise the force of language even as we seek to counter its force, caught up in a bind that no act of censorship can undo.”
— Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative
In recent days, a great deal of thought, and even more raw emotion, has been generated by the topic of rhetoric — rhetoric about politics, about race and culture, about identity and belonging, and about exclusion and distrust. I think now, more than ever, we as a society are confronted with the power — the potentially abusive power — of language.
And yet, when considering the power language has to wound, I cannot help recalling Judith Butler’s assertion, in Excitable Speech, of the paradoxical nature of language’s power — that in trying to curtail the power of language, we inadvertently accede to it. Then again, in accepting the power language has over us, we can likewise recognize it as a power we can wield. Though the book is now creeping up on its twentieth anniversary, it seems more relevant than ever to remember both the warning and the promise it contains.
The previous two posts about logical fallacies have discussed problems with premises and confusion of conclusion – mistakes in reasoning that arise when there is some issue with the building blocks of our arguments, or the way we put them together.
But in some instances of flawed “reasoning”, the problem is that argument is sidestepped altogether. Instead of supporting claims with reasoning, a speaker or writer distracts from the real claim by misdirection, confusing the issue or playing on our emotions.
In one sense, these are the most dangerous types of fallacies, because they allow people to make any claims they want, and hide the fact that they have no support for what they’re saying. Fortunately, since they’re often less subtle than other forms of fallacious reasoning, they’re easy to identify and avoid, once you know what you’re looking for.
In episode I, you learned about logical fallacies that represent mistakes in moving from our premises to our conclusions, due to bad logical form. But even if we’re careful to support our conclusions with reasoning and evidence, we can often run into problems with the evidence itself. “Facts” are supposed to be objective — but facts need to be interpreted, and this process is often subjective.
For that reason, evidence can often mislead and confuse. Have we interpreted it correctly? Do we have enough context to understand what it really indicates?
As consumers of media, we need to be aware of how frequently the supposed “evidence” that supports a claim can be misinterpreted and misused.
As thinkers and writers, we must make sure that we always consider source and context to ensure that we are using evidence appropriately.
Many mistakes in logic occur due to problems with our premises – the information or assumptions we use as our starting point when we begin to reason. But some are down to the way we put those premises together to draw conclusions – that is, they occur because we use bad logical form.
Logical fallacies are examples of fallacious, or faulty, arguments. At best, they represent flawed reasoning—making claims that are not supported by reasons or warrants, or drawing conclusions that don’t match up to the information you have. At worst, they can be deliberate attempts to mislead or confuse someone, to persuade through providing misinformation, usually to serve some hidden agenda. Many of the logical fallacies we will examine are common mistakes we all make, but some of them are established propaganda techniques.
Reasoning, in its most fundamental sense, is the process by which we take bits of information and knowledge that we already have, and compare or combine them to generate new knowledge. It describes our ability to move from what we know to what we don’t know.
We do this by drawing conclusions from a set of premises – things we already know (or believe) to be true. The way we combine the premises to produce a conclusion is called an argument. The goal is to construct a sound argument so that we draw conclusions in such a way that they are guaranteed – or at least very likely – to be true. We want to come to the right conclusions, but this can be tricky.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to reflect on how I teach in graduate vs. undergraduate settings. Much of my recent teaching experience has been garnered in the undergraduate classroom, in educational environments where students are unaccustomed to taking much personal initiative in pursuing their education. As such, my class sessions are highly structured, building diverse activities into the session to push students to be actively involved in the learning process.
Somehow, I never expected my sessions in the graduate classroom to require that kind of structure. Continue reading
I recently had occasion to review my notes on Derrida’s Monoligualism of the Other, a book I first read in grad school. I was developing my dissertation at the time, and I’ve realized now how much Derrida’s discussion in this book has influenced many of the questions I ask about the body and embodiment in literature.
Once upon a time, I received an e-mail from one of my M.A. students asking me to review her essay and provide her with feedback…except that it didn’t actually ask, nor indeed did it clarify that what she wanted was feedback. In her defense, she had previously mentioned the essay to me in person, but there are really no circumstances where “Here is my essay” constitutes an appropriate example of collegial communication. I took the opportunity to offer her some mentorship on the conventions of communicating with colleagues and advisors, and I thought I’d share my advice here.
While this advice is particularly important for grad students, it represents best practices in e-mail communication for students of all levels.