C.L. Hamblin, "Fallacies"

For an account of Hamblin's intellectual work, see the intellectual biography by Peter McBurney of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Liverpool, which you can access by clicking here . McBurney writes from the perspective of computer science and artificial intelligence, but gives due account of Hamblin's contribution to philosophy and the theory of argumentation.

The following are some salient details of his life, listed in chronological order:
dates 1922-1985
studied at the University of Melbourne in Australia; undergraduate degrees in (a) mathematics and philosophy and (b) physics, MA in philosophy
radar officer in the Royal Australian Air Force in World War II
PhD in philosophy at the London School of Economics, supervisor Karl Popper (His thesis, entitled "Language and the theory of information", was a critique of Shannon's concept of information from a semantic point of view. For Shannon's concept of information, see the Wikipedia article on information theory, which you can access by clicking here .)
1955-1985: lecturer and professor at the New South Wales University of Technology, later the University of New South Wales.
developed reverse Polish notation (a reversal of the Polish notation developed by the Polish philosopher Jan Lukasiewicz) to get around the problem of mathematical computation by computers using brackets and having to deal with a whole bunch of memory stores (1957)
developed a formal measure of plausibility, as distinct from probability (as defined by the Kolmogorov axioms)-1959
published "Fallacies" in 1970-use of a historical review of the fallacies tradition in western and eastern thought to motivate a proposal for a new formal discipline, formal dialectic, in terms of which fallacies could be explained as violations of the rules of a rule-governed dialogue
his book "Imperatives" was published posthumously in 1987
"At the time of his death, he was apparently trying to set words of Wittgenstein to music."

Outline of "Fallacies"

The book devotes the first five chapters to a description and critical appraisal of the treatment of fallacies in the logical tradition of the west and of India. It starts with a review of the treatment of fallacies in a number of introductory logic textbooks of the day, a treatment with sufficient consistency from one textbook to another to be given the name "the standard treatment" (the title of the first chapter). Hamblin evaluates the standard treatment as follows: "... what we find in most cases ... is as debased, worn-out and dogmatic a treatment as could be imagined-incredibly tradition-bound, yet lacking in logic and in historical sense alike, and almost without connection to anything else in modern Logic at all." (13) Following his initial chapter reviewing the treatment of various commonly recognized fallacies in contemporary textbooks, Hamblin devotes the next four chapters to a description of the history that led up to this treatment: Aristotle's list (chapter 2), the Aristotelian tradition (chapter 3), arguments 'ad' (chapter 4), the Indian tradition (chapter 5).

Hamblin then shifts to an "analytical logical" account of the fallacies (190). He infers from the continuity of the study of fallacies that there must be something of importance in it. His analytical task is to find out what this is, so that what is worth keeping in the tradition can be preserved and the rest can be thrown away. Chapter 6, Formal Fallacies, makes the case that only the so-called "formal fallacies" can be accounted for within formal logic as constituted at the time. Chapter 7, The Concept of Argument, begins a positive movement by exploring what an argument is, based on the premiss that a fallacy is a fallacious argument. Chapter 8, Formal Dialectic, brings this positive movement to a culmination by focusing on that part of the definition of a fallacy (as an argument that seems valid but is not) according to which it seems valid, a property to which Hamblin proposes to give a logical rather than a psychological interpretation as an invalid argument generated by a false logical doctrine. Although this construal can account for formal fallacies like affirming the consequent in terms of formal logic as constituted at the time, it cannot account for fallacies like begging the question that do not rest on formal invalidity or for fallacies like misconception of refutation or many questions that cannot be generated by a spurious formal principle parasitic on formal logic as currently constituted. Hamblin's solution is to extend the bounds of Formal Logic to include features of dialectical contexts in which arguments are put forward (254). The result is Formal Dialectic, the study of formal systems for conducting dialogues, with rules of various kinds: syntactical rules saying what a speaker may say at a certain point in a conversation, given what has been said so far; rules governing the operation of commitment-stores that keep track of the commitments made at each turn by each speaker. Hamblin describes three such "dialogue games", the Obligation game developed in the middle ages under the influence of the question-answer conversations in Plato's dialogues, and in greater detail what he calls a 'Why-Because system with questions' (265), and what he calls the 'Greek game' (276) of Plato's earlier dialogues. He shows how fallacies like begging the question and many questions can be explained as violations of the rules of such a game that are explicable by a spurious formal principle. Chapter 9, Equivocation, is devoted to showing how Aristotle's fallacies dependent on language, of which equivocation is the main one, can be given an explanation within formal dialectic.

Chapter 7: The concept of argument

Additions and corrections to summaries

Clarification (Nancy): It is an oddity to talk about fallacious things. Even in the generic sense, a fallacy is a mistaken belief, and a belief is not a thing except in an extended sense. Note that Hamblin works with the traditional sense of a fallacy as an argument that seems valid but is not (Aristotle's definition of an eristic argument: an argument that seems to be a syllogism but is not).

Clarification (Khameiel): Hamblin's governing question in this chapter is not what an argument means, but what an argument is (228, 231).

3 problems: how to 'nail' a fallacy, how to accommodate inductive 'arguments' and arguments from authority, how to determine if an argument is question-begging

Clarification (Nancy): Problem 1 has little to do with formal logic. It is the problem of how to show that somebody who has committed an apparent fallacy has actually been advancing an argument.

Clarification (Nancy): Problem 3 is not the problem that arguments that formal logic regards as excellent can be circular and unimportant in natural language. The problem is the challenge raised by the argument of John Stuart Mill that all formally valid arguments are question-begging.

Clarification (Khameiel): The conflicts of criteria and of arguments mentioned on page 231 are not conflicts between different people and groups about which criteria and which arguments to endorse. They are conflicts with respect to a single set of criteria.

Clarification (Khameiel): The (minor) point on page 233 embedded in Hamblin's attack on the concept of a valid argument found in elementary logic textbooks is that 'if P then Q' is not a real argument because the antecedent P is not asserted as a premiss. He is not making the point that deductive arguments are not real arguments.

Criteria for appraising arguments
Type of criterion
Focus of criterion alethic epistemic dialectical
Premisses (1) true known to be true accepted
Inference (2, 3) conclusion follows reasonably immediately conclusion follows clearly from the premisses passage to conclusion of an accepted kind
Omitted premisses (4) of a specified omissible kind taken for granted accepted as omissible
Conclusion (5) in doubt in absence of the argument not accepted in absence of the argument

Clarification (Khameiel): These are three sets of criteria, not three criteria.

alethic criteria:

epistemic criteria: transition motivated by alleged insufficiency of alethic criteria (why are alethic criteria insufficient?)

dialectical criteria: transition motivated by attention to practice rather than theory (why are alethic criteria not necessary?)

Clarification (Leslie): These are not models of argument but criteria for evaluating arguments. Nor does Hamblin distinguish alethic arguments from epistemic arguments.

Clarification (from Patrick): Note that Hamblin is describing how we do appraise and evaluate arguments rather than how we ought to do so.

Clarification (Nancy): It is a misinterpretation to characterize Hamblin's project as that of incorporating reasoning and rationality into the evaluation of arguments. That characterization fits the first step from alethic to epistemic criteria but not the step from epistemic to dialectical criteria.

Clarification (Leslie): An argument satisfying the alethic criteria does not necessarily have a true conclusion, since the implication of the conclusion by the premisses may be weak (234).

Clarification (Patrick): Alethic criterion (3) has to do with having enough intermediate steps, not with having enough stated (i.e. unomitted) premisses

Clarification (Nancy): The shift from (2) and (3) to (E2, 3) is not a shift from formal validity to clarity of inference, but from reasonably immediace of inference to clarity of inference. (2) is already broader than formal validity.

Clarification (Leslie): The (minor) point on pages 238-239 is not that the knower is in relevant contexts, but that the knower is of less than perfect wisdom, so that more reasonable axioms and rules about knowledge are needed.

Clarification (Leslie): The epistemic requirements don't have implications for interlocutors, but for the arguer and the audience. Hamblin has not yet started talking about dialogues.

Clarification (Kelly, Leslie): Hamblin's reason for finding the alethic criteria too strong is not the point on page 232 that there can be good arguments for a given conclusion and good arguments against it but the point on page 241 that in practice an argument that proceeds from an accepted premiss by an accepted inference-process is a good one, even if the premiss is not true.

Clarification (Leslie): Hamblin's point on page 241 is not the general one that the argument is accepted but the more specific one that the premisses and the inference-process are accepted.

Clarification (Khameiel): It is not so much that Hamblin proposes to understand truth, validity and knowledge in terms of acceptance as that he proposes to replace those normative concepts with the descriptive concept of acceptance.

resolution of the 3 problems (in reverse order): epistemic or dialectical criteria rule out begging the question and not all alethically good arguments beg the question, deductive arguments are from a dialectical point of view not necessarily to be preferred to other kinds, no argument ever settles a dispute once and for all

Clarification (Nancy): The answer to the problem of nailing the fallacy is not that formal fallacies occur but don't render the argument irrelevant. It is that the complaint that some people are irrational and will not admit it is frivolous, because there is no royal road to success in practical dialectics and no argument ever settles a dispute once and for all. (How does this response contribute to "drawing the sting" (p. 228) out of the first problem?)

Clarification (Nancy): The answer to the argument that all deductively valid arguments are question-begging is not that broadening out from absolutely truthful axioms eliminates question-begging. It is rather the epistemic and dialectical criteria (E5) and (D5) that rule out question-begging.

explain how the transition from alethic to epistemic to dialectical criteria solves problem 3 and takes sting out of 1 and 2


Leslie, Khameiel Patrick: Hamblin's refusal on page 231 to address directly the question of what an argument is is unfortunate, because it deprives us of knowledge of where he is coming from. Also, how can we have a theory of argument evaluation without knowing what an argument is? Also, Hamblin's strategy threatens to presuppose what he seeks to establish, since we cannot establish how to evaluate arguments without knowing what they are and what they are for. (What then do we learn from his indirect approach via the discussion of how arguments are appraised and evaluated about what an argument is?)

Khameiel: It is problematic that Hamblin does not address the criterion of soundness, since that is the criterion of formal logic and it provides an answer to Hamblin's problem with treating hypothetical statements as arguments.

Patrick: Hamblin is right that the epistemic criteria are too strong, but the dialectical criteria framed in terms of acceptance rather than rational acceptability seem too weak. Perhaps some hybrid set of criteria would do the trick.

Nancy: The comment on page 241 that arguments that proceed from accepted premisses on the basis of an accepted inference-process are good in some sense more germane than the alethic sense to the practical application of logical principles echoes Perelman's insistence on the need for an audience.

Kelly: The comment on page 241 that one of the purposes of argument is to convince seems in line with the view of the Pragma-Dialecticians that the sole purpose of argument is the persuasion of a subject or audience. (Actually, they take the purpose of argument to be that of convincing the addressee of the acceptability [or unacceptability] of an expressed opinion.) Unlike them, however, he leaves open that there are other purposes of argument.

Kelly: Hamblin seems torn between the traditional Platonic distrust of persuasion and the fact that argumentation is often used for the sole purpose of persuasion.

Leslie: Hamblin's point on page 242 that truth and validity are onlookers' concepts is fascinating. It means that, when I say "You're right", all I am doing is expressing my acceptance of what you accept.

Nancy: The comment on page 251 that nothing has been said in the chapter about the rationality of accepting the conclusions of good arguments and acting on them is reminiscent of Johnson's concern to incorporate a theory of rationality in the theory of argument. (But note that Hamblin is talking about rationality that is extrinsic to what constitutes a good argument, whereas Johnson wants a theory about rationality that is intrinsic to the theory of argument.)

Khameiel: Hamblin needs to clarify the notion of dialectic.

Questions for discussion:

Is it really possible for there to be at the same time a knock-down argument for a conclusion and a knock-down argument against it (232)? (Jason)

If we are aiming for good arguments, but not for arguments that are beyond fear of reproach or criticism, just how compelling are such dialectical arguments? (Jason)

Given that arguments are often a vehicle for generating knowledge, epistemic criteria are useful, and deductively valid arguments more reliably transmit knowledge than arguments which are not deductively valid. So can the theory of argumentation be separated from epistemology as much as Hamblin wants? (Mark)

Can Toulmin's argument scheme provide the criterion for incomplete arguments which Hamblin wants (235, Mark)

Chapter 8: Formal dialectic

Additions and corrections to summaries:

What is a dialectical system?

Properties of dialectical systems:

rule-consistent: It can never arise that one and the same act is both prohibited and prescribed.

semantic consistent: It is never unconditionally possible for a single speaker to be forced to utter a contradiction.

semantically unforced: There is no non-tautological statement that a speaker can be unconditionally forced to utter, nor a set of statements whose disjunction is not a tautology of which a speaker can be unconditionally forced to utter one.

semantically open: There is no statement that a speaker can be unconditionally forced to utter, nor a set of statements of which a speaker can be unconditionally forced to utter one.

Examples of dialectical systems:

Modelling of fallacies in dialectical systems:

Questions for discussion:

What is the point of this chapter? (Jason)

In criticizing the Standard Treatment of fallacies, against what position is Hamblin arguing? (Kerry)

Are only arguments fallacious, for Hamblin? (Kerry)

Can a valid argument contain a fallacy, for Hamblin? (Kerry)

How useful is Hamblin's dialectical conception of argument? Does it recognize the role of an audience or questioner in requesting information or argument in practical contexts? (Amy)