Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Print Friendly and PDF The red item here appeared as a letter to the editor in the Albany Times Union today.

Math of gun law flawed hypothesis

If a gun control law saves even a single life, it’s worth it. As a mathematician, I call this logical fallacy reasoning by incomplete hypothesis.

My favorite example of this form of unreason is the following.

Adolf Hitler’s persecution of the Jews drove many of them out of Europe who otherwise would have remained in Germany to be killed in Allied bombing raids. We can therefore conclude that Hitler’s persecution saved Jewish lives and was therefore worth it. Note that I’ve left the Holocaust out of the hypothesis.


Regarding  this letter, I, also as a mathematician, pose two questions.

First, if there was a fallacy by incomplete hypothesis, then what was missing? I'll accept the Hitler item as a definition by example, but nowhere in the letter is any missing information regarding gun laws.

Second, compare the opening conditional statement in the letter to its converse: "If it's worth it, then a gun control law saves at least a single life". This does force us to acknowedge that to the person making the statement, being "worth it" is not the same as "saving a single life." Should that be the case, what is it that makes a gun control law "worth it"?

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