legal within the boundaries of a given political entity (nation, city, district, the United Nations) is to say that there is no law in the statutes of that entity that prohibits it. However, the fact that something is legal does not automatically make it morally acceptable. For example, it is not illegal to cheat on your lover, or to be rude to a shy person at a party just out of cruelty, but these things are immoral. More gravely, in some countries, slavery, though obviously immoral, was legal until the nineteenth century. In others, even today, people may legally be denied human and civil rights because of their race, ethnicity, gender or religious belief.

In some cases the laws ought to be changed in order to reflect what is morally right. Indeed, it is tempting to argue that what is legal should include only what's moral. But to try to outlaw everything immoral would be unworkable, and indeed it would overstep what are generally considered to be the proper bounds of governmental authority. Some aspects of behaviour that we find morally unacceptable are not necessarily appropriate subjects for legislation - conduct in personal relationships, for example: we would not want it to be against the law to tell a lie, break a promise, make fun of someone, fail to show up for a date. Conversely, the fact that something is illegal does not automatically make it immoral. In some countries, Australia for example, it is illegal not to cast a vote in elections, but it is not obvious that there is a moral issue at stake here. Similarly, you are breaking the law when you park on a double yellow line, but it is arguable whether or not you are doing anything immoral. And sometimes laws that are meant to legislate against immorality are mistaken; throughout the ages there have been laws against all manner of things, thought by the authorities of the time to be immoral, that in retrospect we think are not immoral, and that never were - the worship or non-worship of certain gods, the education of women, the wearing of certain clothes. Indeed, to think that everything legal is moral is to nullify the possibility of criticising existing laws on moral grounds.

Consider this example:

I don't see why people are so hard on Donald Mirving. After all he's done nothing wrong; in this country there's no law against denying the Holocaust.

The 'There's no law against it, so it's acceptable' argument is an extremely common instance of the fallacy of conflating legality and morality. The first reconstruction shows that the argument is invalid without the conflating assumption and the second that it is valid but unsound with it:

P1) Donald Mirving has denied the extent and facts of the

Holocaust. P2) It is not illegal to do this in the UK.

C) Donald Mirving's denial of the Holocaust was not morally wrong.

P1) Donald Mirving has denied the extent and facts of the

Holocaust. P2) It is not illegal to do this in the UK. P3) Anything legal is moral.

C) Donald Mirving's denial of the Holocaust was not morally wrong.

So pointing out to someone whom you are trying to persuade that the thing in question is not against the law does not show that it is not wrong. Of course, many of the questions surrounding whether or not an issue is a moral one are controversial (the examples given above are by no means clear cut); they may require reflection and argument in their own right.

Weak analogy

Analogies are often interesting and may be illustrative of points one wishes to make, but arguing on the basis of analogy is often unsuccessful and often turns out to be fallacious either because the analogy is too weak to sustain the argument or because the analogy itself has not been argued for. (This makes the argument question-begging. We discuss the fallacy of begging the question later in this chapter.) In the case of the fallacy of weak analogy, it will be helpful first to see the form that instances usually take, and then to consider an example. The fallacy of weak analogy usually argues on the basis of a proposition that if one thing is similar to another in one respect, then it is similar in a further respect. This mistaken inference is based on the false assumption that if something is similar to another thing in one respect, it is similar in all respects. Hence we construct an argument of the following valid but unsound form:

P1) An object X is similar to an object Y in respect of characteristic A. P2) Whenever an object X is similar to an object Y in one respect, it is similar in all respects. P3) Y has characteristic B.

C) X has characteristic B.

An instance of this fallacy occurs frequently in debates about legislation to control the ownership and use of firearms. So let's take such an instance as our example:

I don't see what all the fuss is about guns. Of course gun ownership shouldn't be prohibited, you can kill someone with a cricket bat, but no one proposes to ban ownership of cricket bats.

A reconstruction demonstrates that this argument takes the form characteristic of the fallacy of weak analogy except that to render the arguer's thinking fully, we have to add a further premise to the effect that things that are the same should always be treated the same.

P1) Guns are like cricket bats in that both can be used to kill people.

P2) Whenever an object X is similar to an object Y in one respect, it is similar in all respects.

P3) Objects that are similar to each other in all respects should be treated identically.

P4) We would not ban ownership of cricket bats.

C) We should not ban ownership of guns.

The argument is unsound because it is obviously false to assume that similarity in one respect implies similarity in all respects. While it is of course true that cricket bats and guns have some shared similarities, those similarities are not sufficient for the analogy to hold. The dissimilarities - cricket bats have a different primary purpose; it is difficult to commit mass murder with a cricket bat, and so on - outweigh the similarities (indeed, one can kill a person with just about any solid, heavy object, such as a television; no one would argue that since we don't ban those potential murder weapons, we shouldn't ban firearms!).

The fact that arguments from analogy frequently turn out to be fallacious does not mean that they are universally unsuccessful. For an analogy to be effective in giving us a reason to accept a conclusion, an arguer must first present an argument for the claim that the objects that are allegedly analogous (in the case under consideration, cricket bats and guns) are sufficiently similar in the relevant respect. Once established, this conclusion would become the first premise of a subsequent argument for the claim that gun ownership should not be banned.

Rhetorical ploys and fallacies

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