Can Being Highly Logical Make Someone a Bad Arguer?

The answer depends on the meaning of “logical.” In the sense of logical validity, it doesn’t have much to do with whether we should accept the conclusion of an argument or not. Take the two following arguments:

Argument 1: If fertilizer was put on the plants, then they grew quickly. The plants didn’t grow quickly. So no fertilizer must have been put on the plants.

Argument 2: If Larry grasped the glass with his bare hands, then his fingerprints were on it. Larry’s fingerprints were on the glass. So he must have grasped the glass with his bare hands.

People should (and do) accept the conclusion of Argument 2 more than that of Argument 1, yet Argument 1 is logically valid while Argument 2 is a fallacy. So being logical in that sense shouldn’t (and doesn’t) make you either a good or a bad arguer.

A more intuitive sense of being “highly logical” may be to pay attention primarily to cold, utilitarian considerations. If (and only if) this is done at the expense of considering more emotional or hedonistic factors, then yes, it can make you a bad arguer, or at least one who overlooks potentially important arguments.

Hugo Mercier is a postdoctoral researcher in cognitive science at the University of Neuchâtel.

Category: Q&A


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