A little logic

A little logic

Is there really a link between Trump’s utterances and what transpired at the Capitol

By Albert Morris

Thursday, January 14, 2021

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If you read my letter to the editor publicised on January 7, 2021 you would know that I am no fan of the sitting US President Donald Trump, but in light of what's being suggested regarding legal or quasi-legal actions against him, I considered it useful to offer this little exercise which may help some of you as you think through the arguments that may be put forth by those who seek to make a logical, causal link between the president's utterances and what transpired at the Capitol last week.

By the way, “Logic is a way to think so that we can come to correct conclusions by understanding implications and the mistakes people often make in thinking.” (See Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks, Come Let Us Reason)

There is an acute difference between a cause and a condition, and confusing the two is a mistake (fallacy) in logic. So ponder the two fallacies below from Geisler and Brooks:

There is a fallacy of confusing cause and condition owing to lack of clarity on what a cause is as opposed to a condition. “A condition is a necessary [factor] for the effect to occur. It is the stage that must be set. The play cannot happen without it, but it does not cause the play. A cause is a necessary and sufficient [factor] for the effect to occur…” (emphasis added)

As well, there is the fallacy of confusing various kinds of causes. Of the various kinds, the key is an efficient cause — that which makes things happen. Efficient causes have two species — primary and secondary.

So, without giving you too much brain work, I would say that the president's accusers will need to prove that his utterances constituted (qualified as) an efficient cause of the storming of the Capitol. This is not as easy to prove as it may seem.

Here is an illustration that may help you to appreciate the difficulty: You are seeking a parking space and spot one on a downward slope behind a longish line of cars parked almost bumper to bumper, with the front car at the edge of a well-known gully or precipice. You are not sure if you should take it, given the precarious nature of the front car, but in your desperation you decide to take a chance. As you edge closer and closer behind the car at the back, your judgement or eyesight goes awry and you hit, albeit slightly, the bumper of the car before which pushes it ever so slightly forward triggering a domino effect of cars moving forward against the car ahead and you see the front car toppling over the edge into the gully/precipice.

You are the efficient cause of that accident because you made the accident happen. Before your arrival, though the front car was parked precariously near the edge of the gully it never went over until after your car set off the domino effect. All of the cars parked before you simply constituted a condition necessary to the accident, but they were not sufficient for the accident to have happened. Compare the efficient cause of George Floyd's death (the kneeling on his neck), despite his alleged or real pre-existing health problems.

So, then, an efficient cause must be shown to be both necessary and sufficient to explain an effect. Necessary meaning the effect cannot be explained without it, and sufficient meaning nothing else need be appealed to, to explain the effect adequately.

Albert Morris is an American citizen.

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