Thursday, April 12, 2007

I beg your question?

Back to the logic, or my attempts to explain it to myself and possibly others.

How familiar does this sound (if you replace the necessary project and agency)?

“Unnecessary projects like the space elevator should be abandoned by all super cool space agencies.” (great example, huh?)

The speaker will then go on to talk about all the money being spent on this frivolous project, which nobody wants. The problem is that the speaker never established that this was a project that no one wanted or thought frivolous. In order to start this argument, the speaker needed to first gain consensus that the project was unnecessary or implausible. This is “begging the question,” when an individual moves onto the safe zone of the argument while ignoring the actually problem.

In a book I read recently, I found this fallacy displayed this way. Character A started a discussion about another character by saying that Character B was worthless. Character A then went on to argue that whatever happened to Character B was justifiable because of the aforementioned worthlessness. The problem, of course, is Character B’s worth was never established.

I find that this is a major pitfall for me in my writing. I want to claim things to be a certain way, so I can move on to pushing my characters forward. For example, I just love to claim that Character X’s idea was so ridiculous, and who would waste their time doing such a stupid thing, without ever going through the extra step of providing the logic behind why the idea was wrong. Oh, I do nitpick.

For the logic nerds, here are the forms (from Wikipedia):

Formally speaking, the simplest form of begging the question follows the following structure. For some proposition p:

  • p implies p
  • suppose p
  • therefore, p.

However, the following structure is more common:

  • p implies q
  • q implies r
  • r implies p
  • suppose p
  • therefore, q
  • therefore, r
  • therefore, p.


pacatrue said...

Do you have to make your character's motivations logically justifiable? I mean, as long as the character themselves thinks their logic is good, facts be damned, you're good. I don't think I've ever met a logically consistent person in my life.

Or is it that you have an omniscient narrator who can't think clearly, which would seemingly be a prob with the whole omniscience thing.

Nicole Kelly said...

Do I have to make my character's motivations logical? Well, no, but I do feel that if it will have a major impact the story line, it should. This is why I think I can get very nit picky. What I LOVE to read is a story that at no point can I say, "Well, the only reason the characters got here is due to dumb luck. They've made a series of very bad decisions, many of which should have had severe consequences."

I do admit that the example I have was weak. Well, it was weak because I think a character making logically unsound decisions can make a book very exciting. It's just that there are often problems when we fail to go through things in a logically fashion.

And yes, I do commit these sins while writing my omniscient narrator, as the writer isn't. ;)

Nicole Kelly said...

Oh! I do love this kind of discourse, so I have to thank you!

pacatrue said...

I think you are right and I was wrong.

: )

I say that because I am thinking about how much I really love it when people have real complexity and each person's dreams and motivations seem logical and necessary. It couldn't be anything other than this. Whatever this is. But then they follow those dreams and they find themselves battling. That can be heart-breaking stuff.

So, go you.

writtenwyrdd said...

I definitely agree that one has to watch out for taking a position regardless of the facts-- at least when it isn't on purpose, lol.

I gather from your example that you are thinking in terms of how the reader may interpret the statement? That's probably an editing issue more than a logic issue-- ensuring you get your point across.

If the logic (or lack thereof) implies that this is true for the whole story, or can be misinterpreted by the readers as you the author explaining your world, then I agree that it matters. If it's just the character's rant, no problem!