Thursday, December 10, 2015

Guns and Islam: A Philosophical Public Service Announcement

The mass shooting by a pair of radicalized Muslims in San Bernardino fueled two ongoing conversations in this country: one about guns, the other about Islam. And I've noticed that a few of the arguments tossed about in the gun conversation have some logical parallels in the conversation about Islam (and vice versa).

I think these parallels are worth pointing out in the service of our collective effort to be more consistent thinkers--a kind of quick Public Service Announcement of the sort philosophers are especially suited to offer. If you don't care about logical consistency, feel free to ignore what follows (and be ignored in turn by those who do care). But if you care about consistency, then here are some things you might want to think about.

PARALLEL 1

Suppose you think along the following lines, as many advocates of gun rights do:

"Most gun owners are law abiding citizens who don't kill innocent people. Therefore, when it comes to the problem of innocent people getting killed, guns aren't the problem."

If you think that, then as a matter of logic you should accept the following reasoning:

"Most Muslims are law-abiding citizens who don't kill innocent people. Therefore, when it comes to the problem of innocent people getting killed, Islam isn't the problem."

PARALLEL 2

Suppose you think along the following lines, as many advocates of gun rights do:

"Even if we were to grant that taking away all guns would make our society safer, you can't justify such a policy on those grounds alone because people have rights. We have to protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners even as we aim to keep ourselves safe from the criminal ones."

Setting aside the fact that no political leader is talking about taking away all guns, if you accept this reasoning, then as a matter of logic you should accept the following reasoning (which, unfortunately, refers to something that a current candidate for President is seriously talking about):

"Even if we were to grant that closing our borders to/deporting/tracking all Muslims would make our society safer, you can't justify such a policy on those grounds alone because people have rights. We have to protect the rights of law-abiding Muslims even as we aim to keep ourselves safe from the criminal ones."

PARALLEL 3

Suppose you think along the following lines, as many advocates of gun rights do:

"Even though some gun owners occasionally kill innocent people, it doesn't follow that gun owners are the enemy. Most gun owners would never do such things, and so we should treat them with respect, focusing our outrage at the individuals who actually commit these crimes."

If you think along these lines, then as a matter of logic you should accept the following reasoning:

"Even though some Muslims occasionally kill innocent people, it doesn't follow that Muslims are the enemy. Most Muslims would never do such things, and so we should treat them with respect, focusing our outrage at the individuals who actually commit these crimes."

(I'm sure I've only scratched the surface of the parallel arguments here. Feel free to share any that occur to you in the comments section.)

CLARIFYING REMARK: INADEQUATE RESPONSES

In each of these cases, you may be tempted to respond along the following lines: "But wait! There's more to the story! While most (gun-owners/Muslims) aren't violent or dangerous, there's something about (guns/Islam) that contributes to the problem even so, something that is present in the one case that doesn't apply in the other."

But if you say that, you have conceded that the reasoning in both of the parallel arguments is unsound, because there is more that you need to know in order to draw the inference made in either argument. If you think Islam is a problem even though most Muslims are peaceful and law abiding, then you can't logically hold that guns aren't a problem just because most gun-owners are peaceful and law abiding (and vice versa).

In general, if you think the reasoning in one case is incomplete and unpersuasive, you should think the reasoning in the other case is likewise incomplete and unpersuasive. And so you should reject the argument in favor of something more nuanced.

14 comments:

  1. Well done. I was formulating some thoughts along this line but you have articulated them for me. Thanks.

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  2. Great food for thought. I believe I am very much on your wave length with these issues but you brought out a few wrinkles that I'll be pondering.

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  3. How about this one: If you believe all guns should be banned because some people use them to commit mass killings, then you should logically believe all Muslims should be banned because some Muslims commit terrorist acts.

    I don't believe this personally, but I do believe in logical consistency.

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    Replies
    1. You obviously didn't read/understand the article.

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  4. This is logical thinking. Most people dont this way. It is based on their own passion and subjective worlds. They fail (or dont want)to see the irony of their subjective political perspectives. One of the worst being is the gun advocate declaration that "guns don't kill people, people kill people". This is one ofbyhe biggest falsehoods I have ever heard. A gun is just a tool designed soley to take life, nothing else. However, they do not shoot themselves, it takes the unique skill of a human to perform the act. If that statement really was true. Then why would guns ever be needed in the first place. Right there is the gun paradox.

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  5. People see the world in terms of overall ideologies. Information that goes against ones belief system is either ignored, belittled or scoured for weaknesses.

    Google George Lakoff Frames.

    I am in the process of reading "Don't Think of an Elephant" atm

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  6. How far can we spread this discussion?

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  7. Thank you for this. It frustrates me that so many people value guns more than the rights of their fellow human beings to exist.

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  8. There are always going to be those who oppose guns. I am not lucky enough to live where they do. We who are older have no option if they go to fists or a knife. The Muslim is a knife person. Airplanes have even been used... I would find that banning planes would end global warming. But that is the perfect example of liberal "logic bias." The best for me is to move to where there are no criminals. Say a neighborhood with less of those inclined to commit violence. Why would anyone want a people who want to take over the world? One cannot train a boy to be both street smart and a gentleman. Americans have enjoyed a level of trust only common to the western world. Call it "soft" but in so much as opulence breeds decay we have fostered an off spring who know nothing of the real world. None of the damage that criminals cost to our trust. Murder is not unthinkable to some. We cannot make the world child safe either. There will always be an argument to that and the various systems are too different to compare. I take great comfort in knowing a neighbor is a great shot and has killed people in protection of our values. "There's not a horse that can't be rode or a cowboy that can't be throwed" as they saying goes. It cannot be legislated to bring all guns in and or knives, steel pipe, poison, whatever. We all go forward on trust. However, I do not trust the logic that reduces police, increases unsustainable wages and pensions. For a force who is simply mop up. Then an administration who releases criminals into our communities while bringing unknowns in from abroad. That is why you cannot have my support. That is why your logic is flawed for the perfect world without guns. Maybe some day Russia, China and Iran will simply lay down their guns and the flying saucers will land on the White house lawn for a bong of weed. But until then I oppose disarming joe lunch box...

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  9. I believe this entire line of thinking, although very well intentioned, is apples and oranges. One falls under the umbrella of the other. The gun is merely a highly efficient, easily learned tool. Ideology is how and for what reason to use tools. I have not read the Koran so I can’t speak of its contents. I can say of my faith that the second most important commandment was love. If everyone practiced a faith and those faiths were in agreement on that point the tool is irrelevant.

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  10. You are comparing inanimate objects with an ideology, and some think this is clever and profound.

    Disturbing, to say the least.

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    Replies
    1. I am not comparing inanimate objects with an ideology. I am comparing parallel arguments.

      There is nothing especially clever or profound going on here. It is just an exercise in noticing the logical structure of an argument and demanding consistency.

      If you think, with respect to some set of people, S1, that their possession of property P is sufficient to warrant conclusion C, then you should (if you care about consistency) hold that for any other set of people, S2, their possession of P is sufficient to warrant C.

      Now suppose you think that a set of people identified by their ownership of "an inanimate object" is relevantly different from a set of people identified in terms of allegiance to "an ideology," such that when the former possesses P we are warranted in concluding C but when the latter possess P we are not so warranted. If that is the case, then you do not, in fact, ascribe to the view that possession of P is sufficient to warrant the conclusion C. Rather, you think that possession of P *plus* some additional property is required. And so you need to abandon the original argument in favor of something more nuanced.

      Put another way, anyone who is unwilling to make the latter argument in each of the pairs above should be equally unwilling to make the former. If gun ownership is off the hook for contributing to innocent death while Islam is not off the hook, it can't be because most gun owners don't kill innocents (since most Muslims don't kill innocents either). There must be some different consideration that distinguishes the two cases.

      Maybe you think there is something else that, when combined with the fact that most gun owners don't kill innocents, is sufficient to get gun-ownership off the hook--but that there is no such parallel in the case of Islam. If so, you must specify what this addition something is so that your claim can be subjected to critical scrutiny and assessed for its reasonableness. And you need to likewise make explicit why you think there is nothing comparable with respect to Islam that can serve the same exonerating function--and you must be prepared to fairly examine the contrary contentions of those who think there is something comparable.

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    2. Perhaps term "innocent" should be under greater review, particularly when seen from particular religious or fundamental ideological perspective. So if an "innocent" individual is not Christian then he/she is a pagan. In other instance if "innocent" is not a Muslim then again by default he/she is a an infidel. And as such are not innocent but 'guilty' of heresy. Therefore justifiable target, or casualty of ideological warfare, a very insignificant cost in furthering ones claim to rewards beyond this life. It is well known fact that both religious ideologies subscribe to doctrine of judgement and hell, meaning that either pagans or infidels are going to eternal damnation anyway and as such are not innocent, therefore justifiable victims. Now above is not my view, but it is the best way I can interpret religious gun violence. In my opinion guns do not fire themselves, it is mindset that pulls the trigger, So if we give up on religio-ideological current values, change our interpretation of what we are expected to do to please our perspective 'God' there is hope. But for now I am glad to keep my gun locked up in gun cabinet, but I am not ready to give it up

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