It just feels right…

Recently in a number of my classes we’ve been talking about various incarnations of the argument from appearances. This isn’t really a formal logical argument, but it does come up often. If something appears, or feels very strongly to be the case, is that reason enough to believe it is? For example, if you are a normal person and you suddenly get this extreme feeling that your mother is in the Virgin Islands, is that a legitimate reason to suspect your mother might be in the Virgin Islands? You don’t ever have strong senses of where people are, but this time you’re completely convinced. So clearly your Mom must be hanging out on the beach, right?

Another way to phrase this came in a religion discussion that I was having. One argument that homosexuality is sinful was one of settledness. In the book “God, Sex and Politics”, one person is quoted as saying that they feel settled and comfortable in the fact that homosexuality is a sin, but if they were wrong, God would shake that belief up somehow. God would not allow them to continue in the comfortable belief that homosexuality was a sin if it wasn’t.

For the most part I think this argument is 100% idiotic, but a number of people seem to use it. It can be used in rape apologetics (that girl clearly seemed to be dressed provocatively, it appeared to me that she was asking for it, I have a strong feeling that she’s a whore therefore it’s her fault, see the recent case of a girl raped in Texas), or in debates surrounding abortion (I can clearly sense that that fetus is a human being, therefore it must be), as well as a number of other places. It is destructive to believe that a gut feeling is a decent reason to abridge someone’s rights.

I do worry that even skeptics might engage in this kind of thinking though. Consider how we react when laws that we disagree with are introduced. Often our reaction is anger, or the assumption that the law was introduced as an attack on a specific group of people (women, homosexuals, the poor, etc). Is this always logical thinking, or is it just a gut instinct? While I don’t have a conclusive point here, I think this is a tactic that we should keep in mind both to police ourselves and to understand how to approach people who disagree with us. Knowing HOW someone is arguing can make it much easier to debate them on their own terms and thus actually have a conversation with them.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at

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