Analogy Misunderstood – The Pope and Hitler

There’s a common use of analogies as counter examples to some claim, that appear quite often on Twitter, but which are immediately misunderstood by one’s interlocutor.

You’re saying the Pope is equivalent to Hitler! How dare you compare them!

You might even be accused of falling foul of Godwin’s Law

Here’s what happens …

Your soon to be accuser of a hateful comparison makes some statement like the following:

A is in some relation R to some good/true thing X

You realise that the relation R doesn’t show that X is good/true, so you provide an example of where R leads to a bad/false Y:

B is in relation R to some bad/false thing Y

Your accuser hits the roof:

How dare you compare X to Y!

Of course you’re not comparing X to Y as if X is equivalent to Y, but using the non-equivalanece of X and Y to show R is unreliable.

Here’s an example … and using Hitler is always going to do it.

The Pope (A) displays public affection for children (R),

which shows the Pope is a good man (X).

Really? Then …

Hitler (B) displays public affection for children (R),

which shows Hitler is a good man (Y).

You’re saying the Pope is like Hitler! How dare you!

No. The analogy is simply showing that public affection for children is not a sign of a man’s goodness.

It is illustrating the failure of the claim, by presenting a purposely bad example that would be true were the claim true, the relation reliable. Showing public affection for children does not show that some public figure is a good man.

The counter example is clearly false, so the original claim is false or unreliable.

It is not about comparing X to Y, but about using the fact that X and Y are NOT comparable to show the unreliability of the original claim regarding R.

It is not about comparing the Pope to Hitler, but about using the fact that the Pope and Hitler are NOT comparable to show the unreliability of the original claim regarding public affection shown to children.

Variations

It might be that A is used in both examples:

A is in relation R to X … as … A is in relation R to Y … and since X and Y are not compatible, so R is unreliable.


Example:

Here, James compares the use of an argument in some other tweets about not mistaking all Christians for evangelicals. Cathlics crop up and James makes the ‘One True Scotsman’ challenge, then gives an analogy of the use in: Catholics (B) use a ‘One True Scotsman’ argument (R) to claim Hitler wasn’t a Catholic (Y).

Jack thinks James is invoking Godwin’s Law, presuming James is comparing Hitler to … evangelicals, Christians, …? These analogies can easily get lost in the detail. However, it’s clear James was not making that hyperbolic comparison.

Analogies-Bad-001


There are other abuses and misunderstandings of analogies. Another example is shown here: God and Analogies

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