Arguments from Analogy
Sometimes, analogies are given to provide reasons for certain conclusions: Here are a couple examples that you might have heard before:
1. Would you ever drive a car off the lot without taking it for a test drive?
2. Why buy the cow when you could get the milk for free?
Can you identify what conclusion is meant to be drawn from these rhetorical questions involving analogies (this will most likely require you to have heard them before)?
Now can you identify what the analogy is? That is, what exactly is being compared to what?
How strong do you think the comparison is? That is, how alike are the two things being compared?
Of course, many analogies are drawn without any specific argumentative purposes in mind. One might be attempting to be witty, or to wax poetic, or simply to engage in idle chatter. For instance, consider this little gem from a well-known philosopher:
3. Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. (Forrest Gump)
“Dr. Gump” here is not attempting to use the comparison of life to chocolate to argue for any grand conclusion about life. Rather, this is just a witty which draws a rather surprising comparison, and the purpose of the second sentence is supposed to identify the sense in which the two items being compared are supposed to be alike. Here’s another example of the same sort:
4. Prayer is like a rocking chair. It’ll give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere. (Gypsie Rose Lee)
Our focus, of course, is on using analogies for argumentative (or reason-giving) purposes. There happen to be two analogies drawn in the following passage, one is used for argumentative purposes, the other is not. Can you identify which is which?
5. When Clark County School District students bomb a math test, why do we assume teachers aren't doing their jobs (Thursday Review-Journal)? A dentist might do great work, but if a kid goes home and binges on sugar and never brushes his teeth, whose fault is it if the kid gets cavities? Parents control the health at home, as they do the work ethic and attitude.
Do people not realize that teachers cannot control the final results of their work, that student achievement is ultimately a matter of the students' choices to attend school, pay attention, do homework, study and avoid things outside of school that would hamper their learning? Valley students have an abysmal record in those areas, and their parents let it happen.
Trying to teach the most basic math to a teenager now is like trying to teach Shakespeare to someone who just got off the boat from China: There's such a huge lack of necessary background that the whole enterprise becomes hopeless. (LVRJ, 1 May 2008)
Now consider the following from a letter to the LVRJ (Sept. 21, 2004).
6. Mr. Cridland's letter regarding the Clark County School District dress code amazed me. He talked about "freedoms" gained by our military. Yet they wear their American uniforms proudly. Our respected police force and firefighters wear their uniform proudly.
Our whole workforce wear uniforms, whether they are electricians, dentists, nurses, doctors, food handlers, etc. Requiring a mode of dress for a job is part of our whole workforce. Attending school is a "job." I would prefer to see our students in uniforms with their school logos on them which would promote a sense of belonging to "something."
So, the current dress code is more than generous. It's a part of being a part of our society. Rules dictate whether you are accepted. That is what separates us from anarchy.
God bless those in uniform, especially those overseas doing their jobs without complaining.
Though they pack a certain rhetorical punch, arguments from analogy (such as the one above) are generally quite weak. They are only as strong as the analogies themselves. When encountering an argument from analogy, one should ask the following diagnostic questions:
(1) What is the conclusion?
(2) What is the comparison or analogy that supports this conclusion?
(3) In what independent respects are the compared items alike?
(4) Does the conclusion drawn apply to everything like that?
(5) In what respects are the compared items different? Might some of these differences be relevant to the conclusion drawn?
Ask yourself these questions of the above arguments. Do they strike you as particularly sound?
Now as an exercise, do the same for the following examples, which also come from the opinion sections of local papers.
7. Imagine that you're a restaurateur with a handful of eateries across the state. Your holdings include a couple of sophisticated, urban restaurants with large dining rooms, several cafes for budget-conscious patrons and a hot dog stand in the sticks.
You're looking for someone to man that hot dog stand. It's not a permanent structure, just an umbrella stand with wheels. You have a pretty good candidate for the job, but he wants to be paid more than the gourmet chefs who run your largest restaurants. What do you do?
If you're the Board of Regents, you pay up. In a move that further demonstrates the state public higher education system's complete disdain for fiscal accountability, they grossly overpaid Fred Maryanski of the University of Connecticut to become the fifth president of Nevada State College at Henderson, a 2 1/2-year-old institution with a few hundred students and no firm funding in place for its first permanent building.
Mr. Maryanski will receive a base salary of $225,000 per year, along with about $28,000 in housing, vehicle and entertainment allowances. His state-funded base salary is higher than those of University of Nevada, Las Vegas President Carol Harter and University of Nevada, Reno President John Lilley, whose schools have a combined enrollment of more than 40,000 students. (LVRJ Editorial, January 11, 2005)
8. A one-legged stool
Financial planners and the Social Security Administration used to talk about the "three-legged stool" of retirement security: Social Security benefits, private employment-based pensions and individual savings.
Social Security benefits were a sound, predictable base for retirement planning. They were backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. The monthly amount was known in advance and unaffected by stock market fluctuations.
Employment-based pensions, also a predictable monthly amount, were an important supplement to Social Security benefits. Pensions were guaranteed by the employer. In recent years, they also have been backed by the federal government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
Individual savings, often invested in the stock market, provided the icing on the cake. These savings offered the possibility of making a lot of money with the other two legs to fall back on.
Today, employment-based pensions are becoming a thing of the past, offered mostly to government employees. In their place are individual 401(k) savings plans. These plans depend on the volatile stock market for success. All the risks are assumed by the individual, not the company.
Individual savings, often in the form of IRAs, usually rely on the same stock market.
The American worker has thus been reduced in recent years to a two-legged stool (Social Security and individual accounts). Now comes the president asking us to surrender most of the first leg of the stool (predictable, safe, monthly Social Security checks) for savings that will depend largely on the stock market. In effect, we would have a one-legged stool, as our retirement security would depend almost entirely on the success of personal accounts of various kinds that depend on individual investments.
Last I checked, a one-legged stool is pretty much guaranteed to leave the user squarely on the floor. That's a big problem, not just for us as individuals, but for our entire economy and society. (LVRJ, February 9, 2005)
9. To the editor:
In response to Wayne Sturdivan's Aug, 25 letter regarding the "fact" of evolution, I would like to give an analogy and insight that Dr. Walter Martin -- the Bible answer man and author of the best-selling book, "The Kingdom of the Cults" -- used to refute such nonsense.
Let's say we are standing outside a Ford auto factory assembly line and we see a new Ford Mustang come out. I then tell you, "Isn't it remarkable how that assembly line created that Mustang?" You would look at me, I hope and say, "You are out of your mind. The assembly line did not create it, the engineer designed it and the assembly line put it together. No engineer, no Mustang."
You are standing at the end of the assembly line of man looking at the product of creation and assuming the mechanism of change is the creator. By what law of logic does the process become the designer? If evolution exists at all it is not the cause, it is the affect of a cause designed by some intellect. The mechanism has no reason, no intelligence, no capacity to design.
Dr. Walter Martin was a smart man. If we teach our children intelligent design, maybe they will grow up to be intelligent, as well. (LVRJ, August 27, 2005)
10. To the editor:
I had to write a response to the Review-Journal's Tuesday article, "Utility officials water down pipeline fears."
I assume everyone agrees with local, state and federal occupancy limit laws for homes, businesses and public areas. For example, it is unlawful to have 10 families living in a single-family home, or for a dance club to have 1,000 customers in the building which is built for safe occupancy of no more than 150. There are built-in limits to the water, utilities, sewage and open spaces for every home, business and other location.
The people in the single-family house with 10 families living in it are not allowed to run long extension cords across the street and the sidewalks to their neighbors' homes to pull in more power, nor are they allowed to build additional pipes to neighboring homes to bring in more water. Their problem is that too many people insist on living in a space that cannot support and never was built to accommodate such a crowd.
Why does this logic not extend to cities in the Southwest? Las Vegas is already at, if not beyond, the saturation point in regard to its population. When do we take the responsibility for the good of our own city and of our own lives to say, "Stop the growth"? When we have to wait five or more cycles for that elusive green light at each intersection? When we have mandatory water restrictions? When we cannot see the Strip clearly on a normal sunny morning due to the heavy smog and pollution? When our natural recreation areas such as Red Rock Canyon are destroyed from fire, urban growth right to their front door and overuse? (LVRJ, 1 Feb. 2008)