Rob Bowman offers a penetrating critique of the rhetoric featured in Tony Jones’ recent posting about same-sex marriage, concluding that Jones’ eloquence is brilliantly deceptive. Some have critiqued Bowman by pointing out that Jones never intended his opening sentence as an actual argument. That may be true, but it is certainly intended as persuasive rhetoric, and in this respect, I think Bowman has ruined Jones’ beautiful and shapely rhetorical artwork with a logical and sharply pointed chisel, stripping Jones’ post of its persuasive effect. Furthermore, his critique of its logic is still relevant since many people actually do offer similar rhetoric as arguments in the broader culture and media. Here is an excerpt.
Early in his essay, Jones manages to commit three logical fallacies in one sentence (one of which is repeated twice in the following sentence). Jones reports his mother telling him when he was just seven or eight years old (emphasis in original):
“I want you to know that your father and I will still love you no matter whom you love. And you can always bring home, to our house, anyone you love.” – [Tony Jones]
The first fallacy to note here is called the euphemism fallacy. It is a kind of rhetorical fallacy in which a euphemism is used in such a way as to confuse the issue. For those unfamiliar with the term, a euphemism is a more polite, circumspect, or roundabout expression for something often unmentioned in mixed company, typically having to do with bathroom functions (“visit the little girls’ room”), death (“he passed on”), or sex (“spent the night together”). There’s nothing wrong with using euphemisms, but their use as a rhetorical ploy to confuse the issue results in fallacious reasoning. Using the word love to refer to the sex act in this context does just that. Had Tony’s mother said, “…no matter with whom you choose to have sex,” or “no matter with whom you have a sexual relationship,” the meaning would have been plain but the desired rhetorical effect would have been lost. The use of the euphemism is fallacious because its purpose is to make the activity seem inoffensive and even laudable. The fallacy is ubiquitous in the abortion debate, especially when those who are “pro-choice” (Itself a euphemistic term) say that they are simply “defending a woman’s right to choose.” Who wants to oppose a woman’s right to “choose”? Likewise, who wants to reject someone because of the person he “loves”? But articulating the issue in this way confuses it. I encourage my daughter to make many choices for herself, but I do not want my daughter to “choose” to have her unborn child killed. I have “loved” plenty of women, and men, without having sexual contact or engaging in sexual activity with them.
Jones actually commits this fallacy twice in the second sentence. There is, of course, the repeated use of “love” to mean “have a sexual relationship with” in both sentences. The expression “bring home, to our house” is really another euphemism. In this context, the expression would seem to mean “have sleeping with you in our house” (and even here I am using “sleeping with you” as a more transparent euphemism for the sake of being polite).
__—__—__—__—__—__—__—__—__—HT: Between Two Worlds