Monday, March 14, 2011

The Fallacy of the Grinch Revelation?

Sometimes in my contemplation I wonder if I'm actually the first one to identify a logical fallacy, or at least give a name to one already known about in form. It doesn't happen to me often, but it's an interesting train of thought when I do think of such things.

Lately I've been thinking about a certain aspect of emotionalism. In arguing in the past with people who are thoroughly emotionalist, meaning they use their emotions as a means to knowledge, I've noticed that those people will oftentimes discard careful argumentation altogether and instead concentrate their efforts on trying to appeal to my emotions. In other words, they ignore the content of my own position and instead try to say things that will either make me feel "good" or "bad" in the hopes that experiencing such emotions will convert me to their position. It's utterly hopeless to try and even converse with such people, as they'll ignore anything that makes them uncomfortable and withdraw into their own emotionalistic worldview.

An infamous example of such a practice would be in arguments about abortion on internet forums. I've heard it's often the case that pro-life advocates will resort to posting pictures of mutilated fetuses in place of an argument, thus trying to attempt to make people "feel" the "wrongness" of abortion and gain converts by means of their emotions. Most likely, however, people get disgusted by such images and the discussion goes nowhere.

The problem with trying to persuade people in such a way is that emotions are not the means to knowledge. Just because something makes you feel good does not mean that it's good or true, and just because something makes you feel bad does not mean that it's evil or false. The basis of knowledge rests in fundamental sensory experience, and yet people adopt and drop ideas everyday on the grounds of how they feel at the moment. If a person depends on this method for far too long, he can destroy any possibility of developing a healthy psycho-epistemology and sentence himself to the state of a wild animal, unpredictable and incapable of thinking.

This phenomenon of people trying to persuade through the means of emotions is well-known, but does it have a formal name? If not, then I'd like to propose that this be called the Fallacy of the Grinch Revelation, after Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The reason why I choose the Grinch as the model of emotionalism here is because that cartoon is significantly emotionalist. As you may know, the story is about a creature who attempts to ruin Christmas for a village by stealing everyone's gifts, food, and decorations, but in the end becomes a lover of Christmas after seeing he failed to sadden the villagers. The Grinch's conversion and redemption is totally emotionalist and devoid of any intellectual conclusion: The Grinch changes himself because listening the villagers sing made him feel "good," causing him to somehow change his worldview and character entirely as a result. This is psychologically ridiculous. Any person angry and mean enough, and with the means to do what the Grinch did would have gotten angrier to see that his mission failed. Such a person would probably continue to feel angry even if he did succeed in such an endeavor, because indulging in whatever anger motivates you to do will do nothing to resolve the root problem. I never liked the Grinch cartoon, and I think this may be why.

Given the prevalence of emotionalism in this culture the Grinch Revelation fallacy is everywhere, but it can be solved once it becomes culturally accepted that emotions with unidentified ideological roots are a wholly wrong means to learning the nature of things. In persuasive arguments, this fallacy leads to totally wasteful jibber jabber, because the only people who can be motivated to accept someone's conclusions on emotionalistic grounds is someone who already holds those conclusions already, while other people will "feel" otherwise.


  1. Appeal to emotion was one of the first broad categories of fallacies identified. It subsumes a number of popular fallacies including the ad hominem. Even before logic, the Greeks identified three kinds of speech (really three types of arguments), one of which was pathos aka appeal to emotion. Pathos was considered the basest of the three varieties.

  2. Darn. There goes my million dollars.

  3. The term emotionalist makes no sense. To say that people today "feel" so good is patently false. I feel exponentially greater and have stronger emotions when calmly eating my breakfast reading the morning newspaper than than the average person today feels in their most hysterical, rage-filled moment. People aren't emotionalist today. They're faking it. They are going through the motions.

    And they are not trying to pawn on your feelings when you intellectually confront them. They get angry when seriously challenged by ideas because it's easier than strenuous thought. It's easier to show a picture of a fetus, when arguing about abortion, than going through the philosophic and scientific evidence (like the fact that a fetus does not practice breathing until the 7th or 8th month of pregnancy, at which point the lungs are still not fully formed; meaning the fetus does not even practice breathing, is not breathing because it has no functioning lungs, for the first 7 months).

    People today are incredibly stressed from being brought up in such a dreary, conservative, timid culture. So people either keep acting conservatively out of fear of social ostracization, or they desperately lash out (semi-conservatively) against conservatism.

    Plus, using the term emotionalist (defined as relying on one's emotions as a means of knowledge) implies that there is some dichotomy between thinking and emotions. People today are phony, scared, conservative, superficial, lazy, hysterical, etc., but not emotional.

  4. I don't think you get money for identifying logical fallacies. You mostly just get a lot of people mad at you.

  5. Jason: I agree generally with your argument, but my formulation of "emotionalist" implies neither that the person experiences rich emotions or that there's a dichotomy between thinking and emotions. Essentially, by that term I am describing a person who adopts and discards the ideas he holds as true according to how they make him feel, not what he *thinks*. I do not advocate stoicism, but rather that one's emotions should follow one's ideas. Emotionalists flip this around: They experience an emotion (that follows from an unidentified idea they hold), but then leap to the conclusion that that emotion is some kind of revelation, that it can tell them something about the truth status or morality of something.

    And in my case, these people may be angry when I confront their emotionally influenced conclusions, but their appeals to my emotions aren't just angry frothing, they're actually trying to convince me their conclusions are true/valid by attempting to make me "feel" the same way, i.e. have the same emotional revelation.


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