[U08] Analogical arguments


Everyone of us holds many beliefs. By and large, we hope that our beliefs are not irrational or unreasonable. And the more strongly we hold a set of beliefs, the stronger we hope that they are not irrational. Consistency is the minimum requirement of rationality. If we have a set of beliefs which are at odds with each other, rationality demands us to revise them so that the whole set becomes internally consistent. Most of us hold some beliefs on moral/ethical issues (e.g., such as whether suicide is morally wrong, or whether someone should be denied of the opportunity of education just because of his/her sex or skin color). Consistency plays one of the most important roles in moral reasoning (indeed reasoning of any kind). So if we do hold some moral beliefs, we should at least make sure that those beliefs are consistent with each other (putting aside for the moment the further question whether those beliefs are also true).

Analogical arguments are very often used in moral reasoning (i.e., reasoning about moral issues), and they often help us think about the consistency of our moral outlook (i.e., the set of moral beliefs we hold). The basic idea of analogical arguments in moral reasoning is: treat similar case similarly. For example, suppose we are already convinced that action X (e.g., slapping a human baby for fun) is morally wrong. Also suppose we are convinced that action Y (e.g., lashing a dog for fun) is similar to X in many aspects relevant to deciding whether or not the action is morally wrong (e.g., both actions are infliction of pain on innocent beings, both are voluntary, and both are motivated by trivial self-interests, namely fun). Then, to be consistent, we should also think that Y is morally wrong to a similar extent to which X is wrong.

In short, an analogical argument in ethics employs a presumably uncontroversial case X, to which we are supposed to agree to give a certain verdict, and a controversial case Y, to which we disagree about what verdict to give. The purpose of an analogical argument is to settle the controversy of Y, by comparing it with Y (which may be either a real case or a fictional case). What an analogical argument does is (1) to show that X and Y are analogous to each other (i.e., similar in many relevant aspects), and then (2) to point out that for the sake of consistency, the controversial case Y should receive a verdict similar to the one given to the uncontroversial case X. Analogical arguments in ethics often take the following basic form:

P1. Action X is morally wrong/permissible/unblamable/right/virtuous/etc.. [Presumably uncontroversial verdict for X]

P2. Actions X and Y are analogous to each other. [Analogy between X and Y]

C. Action Y is morally wrong/permissible/unblamable/right/virtuous/etc.. [From P1 & P2]

Or

P1. State-of-affairs X is morally good/bad/neutral. [Presumably uncontroversial verdict for X]

P2. States-of-affairs X and Y are analogous to each other. [Analogy between X and Y]

C. State-of-affairs Y is morally good/bad/neutral. [From P1 & P2]

Or

P1. Object X has/lacks intrinsic (i.e., non-instrumental) value/disvalue. [Presumably uncontroversial verdict for X]

P2. Objects X and Y are analogous to each other. [Analogy between X and Y]

C. Object Y has/lacks intrinsic value/disvalue. [From P1 & P2]

We may call P1 the evaluative premise because it employs evaluative terms, such as "morally wrong/permissible/unblamable/right/virtuous", "morally good/bad", and "intrinsic value/disvalue". We may call P2 the analogy-stating premise because it states an analogy without trying to evaluative what are being compared by the analogy. Finally, C is the evaluative conclusion of the analogical argument.

Analogical arguments are often complex arguments, in which there are sub-arguments for P1 and P2. So in order to evaluate a complex analogical arguments, we will need to evaluate all its sub-arguments. Before looking at some concrete examples, we should bear in mind that there are at least two ways in which an analogical argument can be challenged.

(1) An analogical argument can be challenged most directly by questioning the analogy-stating premise P2 - i.e., questioning whether the analogy drawn between X and Y is a good one. If P2 is unacceptable, then the argument fails to give good reasons for accepting conclusion C. The criteria for assessing an analogy includes (a) whether the aspects of the two cases being compared are relevant to the questions being asked about them (e.g., whether they are morally wrong), (b) whether the number of relevant similarities between the two cases are enough so that the conclusion drawn for the one case should be similar to that for the other case, and (c) whether there are relevant differences between the two cases which outweigh the relevant similarities between them so that the conclusion drawn for the one case should be different from that for the other.

(2) Even if premise P2 is acceptable, the argument can still be challenged by questioning the evaluative premise P1 - i.e., questioning the evaluative verdict for the presumably uncontroversial case. If it could be shown that P1 is actually doubtful, then the C is also doubtful.

§1. An example

Let us now look at a concrete example of an analogical argument in ethics (in this case, animal ethics).

Consider the follows passage:

The relationship between small children and their parents is just like the relationship between dogs and their owners. When a dog, and likewise a small child, wants something badly and does not get it, he or she will repeatedly make demands in ways that often irritate those who take care of them. For instance, when a dog wants a walk but the owner is busy doing something else, the dog will bark and bark and bark nonstop so that the owner gets the message and the dog eventually gets a walk. Likewise, when a small child wants a toy but the parent refuses to buy, the child will repeat his of her demands nonstop by whinging, crying and yelling so the parent gets the message and the child eventually gets the toy. The worse thing in both cases is that dogs, and likewise small children, are not creatures that adults can reason with: they simply don't listen or understand. That is why dog owners are often irritated by and get angry with their dogs in just the same way that parents are often irritated by and get angry with their small children. Furthermore, dogs and likewise small children cannot really tell what is right from what is wrong. It is dog owners and parents who are morally (as well as legally) responsible for the bad behaviour of their dogs and small children, respectively, if that causes damage to the interests of other people. Finally, the worst thing that could happen to a dog, and likewise a small child, is for it to be ignored: it is better to be cruel to it than to be totally indifferent to it as if it doesn't exist. For the reasons given above, it is morally permissible for dog owners to beat their dogs if that is necessary for disciplining them. Therefore, likewise, it is morally permissible for parents to beat their small children if that is necessary for disciplining them.

The above is a complex analogical argument, the basic structure of which is as follows.

P1. It is morally permissible for dog owners to beat their dogs if that is necessary for disciplining them. [Evaluative premise, presumably acceptable]

P2. The relationship between dogs and their owners is just like the relationship between small children and their parents. [Analogy-stating premise]

C. It is morally permissible for parents to beat their small children if that is necessary for disciplining them. [From P1 & P2]

Is the above analogical argument good? You need to do at least two things in order to answer the question.

(a) Decide whether the evaluative premise P1 is acceptable. In order to do that, it will be help to write out and evaluate the sub-argument for P1.

(b) Do the same with the analogy-stating premise P2.

Important Reflections : The demand of consistency tells us nothing about which ones of our inconsistent beliefs should be rid of. So an analogy (e.g., P2) can be used to argue for a claim (e.g., C) as well as for the opposite claim (e.g., not-C). For example, someone, who disapprove of parents beating their small children, can actually employ the same analogy to condemn dog owners beating their dogs in the following way:

P1*. It is morally impermissible (i.e., morally wrong) for parents to beat their small children even if that is necessary for disciplining them. [Evaluative premise, not-C]

P2*. The relationship between dogs and their owners is just like the relationship between small children and their parents. [Analogy-stating premise, P2]

C*. It is morally impermissible for dog owners to beat their dogs even if that is necessary for disciplining them. [not-P1, from P1* & P2*]

Suppose the analogy (i.e., P2 or P2*) is correct. Consistency only demands us to hold either (a) that beating a small child is morally as permissible as beating a dog or, on the other side of the same coin, (b) that beating a dog is morally as impermissible as beating a small child.

In other words, we should hold either both P1 and C on the one hand or both P1* ( not-C) and C* ( not-P1) on the other hand. But the demand of consistency does not tell us which option to take. So what do we do? Answer: we compare the acceptability of evaluative premise P1 and the acceptability of evaluative premise P1* - i.e., we write out and evaluate the sub-arguments for P1 and P1* respectively. If P1 is more acceptable than P1*, then so is conclusion C more acceptable than conclusion C*, and vice versa.

In the light of the above considerations of the logic of analogical arguments in ethics, one useful tip is as follows:

If you want to construct a good analogical argument, then you need to (1) give a good sub-argument for your analogy-stating premise, and (2) make sure that your evaluative premise is more acceptable than the negation of your (evaluative) conclusion - otherwise, your opponents would have good reasons to reject your conclusion, which, by virtue of consistent, will further lead to the rejection of your evaluative premise.

In short, an analogy can be used to settle a controversial case in ethics, but, on the other side of the same coin, it can also be used to unsettle a case which is originally thought to be uncontroversial. Considerations independent of the analogy (e.g., sub-arguments for P1 and not-C, respectively) are needed in deciding whether the analogy helps to settle or unsettles.

  1. (a) State all the sub-arguments that you can think of for P1 and P1* respectively in the above two analogical arguments.
  2. (b) Do you think the analogy-stating premise P2 (or P2*) above is true? Give reasons for your answer.
  3. (c) Do you think it is morally permissible for dog owners to beat their dogs if that is necessary for disciplining them? Give reasons for your answer.
  4. You (after consulting your tutor) may choose any of the following analogical arguments in ethics for tutorial discussion. In is important that you read the chosen arguments and get yourself familiarized with them before the tutorial so that you can have a more efficient tutorial discussion.

§2. Racism/Sexism & Speciesism (An Argument for Animal Liberation)

Consider the following passage:

Racism is the view that the interests (e.g., health, pleasure, desire/preference-satisfaction) of members of one race (e.g., white people) are morally more significant than the interests of members of other races (e.g., colour people) just because the former are the interests of people belonging to a particular racial group whereas the latter are not, so that it is morally justified to promoted/protected the former in expense of the latter whenever the two are in conflict each other. An example of racism is that white babies receive better medical treatments than black babies from government hospitals simply because the former belong to, but the latter do not belong to, the white race. Sexism is the view that the interests members of one sex (e.g., male human beings) are morally more significant than the interests of members of another sex (e.g., female human beings) just because the former are the interests of people belonging to a particular sex whereas the latter are not, so that it is morally justified to promoted/protected the former in expense of the latter whenever the two are in conflict each other. An example of sexism is that boys receive, but girls do not receive, school education simply because the former are male whereas the latter are not. Speciesism, which has the same structure as racism and sexism, is the view that the interests of members of one species (e.g., Homo sapiens or, in other words, human beings) are morally more significant than the interests of members of other species (e.g., non-human beings) just because the former are the interests of beings belonging to a particular species whereas the latter are not, so that it is morally justified to promoted/protected the former in expense of the latter whenever the two are in conflict each other. An example is speciesism is that nonhuman animals (e.g., mice, rabbits, dogs, chimpanzees, ...etc.) are used in medical experiments (which cause them immense suffering) but human beings (e.g., human infants) are not used in such experiments simply because the former are do not, whereas the latter do, belong to the species of Homo sapiens. Now, racism and sexism are both morally unjustified. For how important an interest is (e.g., the interest in receiving medical treatment) does not depend on the skin-colour or the sex of the person to whom the interest belong. Black babies have just the same interest in receiving good medical treatment as white babies. Girls have just the same interest in receiving education as boys. Likewise, a dog has just the same interest in avoiding pain (of same intensity and duration) as a human infant. Pain is pain no matter whose pain it is. So the interest in avoiding pain is same for everyone who is capable of suffering pain. In short, species-membership is just as arbitrary a discriminating factor as skin colour and sex in deciding how important an interest is. Hence, (to be consistent, we should conclusion that) speciesism is as morally unjustified as racism and sexism.

The above is a complex analogical argument, the basic structure of which is as follows.

P1. Racism (or sexism) is morally unjustified. [Evaluative premise, presumably acceptable]

P2. Speciesism is analogous to racism (or sexism). [Analogy-stating premise]

C. Speciesism is morally unjustified. [From P1 & P2]

  1. Is the above analogical argument good? You need to do at least two things in order to answer the question.
  2. (a) Decide whether the evaluative premise P1 is acceptable. In order to do that, it will be help to write out and evaluate the sub-argument for P1.
  3. (b) Do the same with the analogy-stating premise P2. Please do that now!
  4. Now, someone who maintains that speciesism is morally justified (don't we all think that human interests are morally more important than nonhuman ones!) can actually employ the same analogy to justify racism or sexism in the following way:

P1*. Speciesism is morally justified. [Evaluative premise, not-C]

P2*. Speciesism is analogous to racism (or sexism). [Analogy-stating premise, P2]

C*. Racism (or sexism) is morally justified. [not-P1, from P1* & P2*]

Suppose the analogy (between speciesism on the one hand and racism/sexism on the other hand, i.e., P2 or P2*) is correct, consistency only demands us to hold either (a) that speciesism is morally as unjustified as racism/sexism or, on the other side of the same coin, (b) that speciesism is morally as justified as racism/sexism. In other words, we hold either both P1 and C on the one hand or both P1* ( not-C) and C* ( not-P1) on the other hand. But the demand of consistency does not tell us which option to take.

(a) State all the sub-arguments that you can think of for P1 and P1* respectively in the above two analogical arguments.

(b) Do you think the analogy-stating premise P2 (or P2*) above is true? Give reasons for your answer.

(c) Do you think speciesism is morally unjustified? Give reasons for your answer.

§3. The Violinist & The Fetus (An Argument Defending Abortion)

Consider the follows passage:

We grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument [against abortion] go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person's right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother's right to decide what happens in and to her body , and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; and abortion may not be performed.

But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious famous violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has [...] kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours so that your kidneys could be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you: "Look, we're sorry the Society of Lovers Lovers did this to you - we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it and the violinist now is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? [... The story continues:] There you are, in bed with the violinist, and the director of the hospital says to you: "It's all most distressing, and I deeply sympathize, but you see this is putting an additional strain on your kidneys, and you'll be dead within the month. But you have to stay where you are all the same, because unplugging you would be directly killing an innocent violinist, and that's murder, and that's impermissible." If anything in the world is true, it is that you do not commit murder, you do not do what is impermissible, if you reach around to your back and unplug yourself from that violinist to save your life.

(From J. J. Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion", Philosophy and Public Affairs 1, no. 1 (1971)).

The above analogical argument has the following form:

P1. It is morally permissible for agent A to perform action X under circumstances C.

P2. Agent B performing action Y under circumstances D is analogous to agent A performing action X under circumstances C.

C. It is morally permissible for agent B to perform action Y under circumstances D. [From P1 & P2]

In the above analogical argument: Action X is unplugging the person (who has been plugged to the violinist) from the violinist. Agent A is the person who has been plugged to the violinist. Circumstances C is (1) that the person did not volunteer to be plugged to the violinist - he or she was kidnapped, and (2) the person will die unless he or she is unplugged from the violinist.

Answer the following questions:

  • What are action Y, agent B, and circumstances D?
  • Rewrite the argument according to your answers to (b).
  • Do you think premise P1 is true? Give reasons for your answer.
  • Do you think premise P2 is true? Give reasons for your answer.
  • Do you think conclusion C is true? Give reasons for your answer.

Imagine the following situation: Some tapeworms are intelligent creatures having individual personalities just like you and me (i.e., they are persons), and raw fish (sashimi) is well know as a carrier of the eggs of those intelligent tapeworms. You have eaten some raw fish carrying those tapeworm eggs, which will develop into huge intelligent tapeworms inside your body in several month. There is a drug which, if you take it, can kill the eggs so that they will not develop in your body.

(a) Do you think it is morally permissible for you to take the drug? Give reasons for your answer.

(b) If your answers for (a) is yes, then do you also think that the use of the morning-after pill is morally permissible? Give reasons for your answer.

(c) Use the fictional case above to formulate an analogical argument supporting the use of morning-after pill.

§4. Animal Sexual Behaviour & Human Sexual Behaviour (An Argument Defending Human Sexual Infidelity)

Consider the follows passage: We cannot blame men or women for sexual infidelity. Recent research has shown that animals cheat sexually all the time. Why should the situation be any different with humans? Female animals look for males who show signs of biological fitness, and will mate with such a male even if they are already bonded with another male. The same is also true of male animals. Just so it is with humans. As we should not blame animals for sexual infidelity, neither should we blame human beings for sexual infidelity.

(a) Rewrite the above argument so that it contains an evaluative premise, an analogy-stating premise, and an evaluative conclusion.

(b) Do you think the analogy-stating premise is true? Give reasons for your answer.

(c) Do you think the evaluative premise is true? Give reasons for your answer.

(d) Do you think the evaluative conclusion is acceptable? Give reasons for your answer.

(e) If you find any fault in the above argument other than those that you have pointed out in your answers to (b), (c), and (d), please say what it is.

§5. An argument from Aristotle

Consider the follows passage from Aristotle:

It is clear that the rule of the soul over the body, and of the mind and the rational element over the passionate, is natural and expedient; whereas the equality of the two or the rule of the inferior is always hurtful. the same holds good for animals in relation to men; for tame animals have a better nature than wild, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled by man; for then they are preserved. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle of necessity extends to all mankind. Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and animals (as is the case of those business it is to use their body, and who can do nothing better), the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. For he who can be, and therefore is, another's and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have such a principle, is a slave by nature. Whereas the lower animals cannot even apprehend such a principle; they obey their instinct. And indeed the use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life. [...] It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.

(Aristotle, Politics, book 1, chapters 4-5 (emphases added))

The above passage from Aristotle actually contains three analogical arguments for three conclusions, namely (C1) it is morally justified for human beings (especially the male ones) to dominate nonhuman animals, (C2) it is morally justified for men to dominate women, and (C3) it is morally justified for those who are more rational to be masters and those who are less rational to be slaves.

If C3 is true and if there is a standard and a corresponding test for rationality, then people who fail the test should all be the slaves of those who pass the test. Next, if C2 is true, then no woman should be allowed to hold a position (e.g., in business institutes, in the government, or whatever) which is more senior than some position held by a man. Finally, if C1 is true, then is nothing wrong human beings to use nonhuman animals in ways that are conducive to human interests (e.g., confining them in zoos, doing experiments on them, or hunting them for recreation).

(a). Which group of beings in the world do you think is most benefited by Aristotle's three conclusions taken together?

(b) Rewrite Aristotle's argument for C3 so that it contains an evaluative premise, an analogy-stating premise, and C3 as the evaluative conclusion.

(c) Rewrite Aristotle's argument for C2 so that it contains an evaluative premise, an analogy-stating premise, and C2 as the evaluative conclusion.

(d) Rewrite Aristotle's argument for C1 so that it contains an evaluative premise, an analogy-stating premise, and C1 as the evaluative conclusion Do you think the analogy-stating premise is true? Give reasons for your answer.

(e) Evaluate the rewritten argument in (b).

(f) Evaluate the rewritten argument in (c).

(g) Evaluate the rewritten argument in (d).

§6. Artifacts & Restored Natural Entities (An Argument Devaluing Restored Natural Entities)

A natural area (e.g., a rainforest) may be damaged by human activity or natural disaster (e.g., open-pit mining or natural fire). A damaged natural area may be repaired or restored (e.g., by reintroducing to the area plant and animal species which were original there) so that it appears quite similar to how it looks like before the damage. We call this resulting area a "restored natural area". Now, consider the following passage:

When humans modify a natural area they create an artifact, a product of human labour and human design. This restored natural area might resemble a wild and unmodified natural system, but it is, in actuality, a product of human thought [i.e., human intention], the result of human desire and interests.

The ethical importance of the distinction between artifacts and natural entities is thus derived from the anthropocentric nature of artifacts, their ontological reliance on human interests, plans and projects. In contrast to natural entities, artifacts, as human instruments, are always a means to the furtherance of some human end. [...] If the categorical imperative is applied to a treatment of artifacts and natural entities, we find a crucial difference: artifacts must be treated as means, for their existence and value only exist in a dependent relationship with human aims and goals; but natural entities, existing apart from human projects, can be considered as ends-in-themselves.

(From E. Katz, Nature As Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community, Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield.)

The analogical argument above can be reformulated as follows.

P1. Artifact have instrumental value but lack intrinsic value.

P2. Restored natural areas analogous to artifacts.

C. Restored natural areas have instrumental value but lack intrinsic value.

(a) Do you think the evaluative premise P1 is acceptable? Give reasons for your answer.

(b) Do you think the analogy-stating premise P2 is acceptable? Give reasons for your answer.

(c) Do you think the evaluative conclusion is acceptable? Give reasons for your answer.

Hint: You may consult: Yeuk-Sze Lo, "Natural and Artifactual: Restored Nature as Subjects", Environmental Ethics 21(1999): 247-66.

Written by Norva Lo

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