Make Sense. Some folks recognize “The Con.”

Swimmers see shark attack in shallow waters.
Dangers of the Deep End: Shallow waters can be dangerous too.

With another presidential election around the corner, I appreciated this assignment on epistemological academic discourse. Question: Can going off the deep end win arguments?

Epistemology

Epistemology” has been defined as the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge and the study of the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief (“Epistemology,” 2001). The mission of epistemology is to clarify misconceptions about knowledge, how it should be applied, and how it should be explained (Rescher, 2003). Therefore, it is small wonder why those considered as the great philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) promoted the importance of epistemology to culture and society: Epistemology seeks the interpretation of truth to advance knowledge for the use of humankind to make informed decisions (Atoi, 2018). Throughout history, however, argumentative assumptions have purported themselves to be epistemology, when if fact, such misrepresentations are actually fallacies intended to deceive, control, and manipulate- sometimes in error and at other times with intent (Wakaki, 2017).

Epistemology and Assumption-based Argumentation

One such case may be represented in a dated article by Eraut (1994). The work was intended to provide insight into why educators may not have embraced educational technologies at the levels of gusto expected during its infancy. After writing, “… claims about the effectiveness and utility of educational technology serve an important political purpose in attracting resources and sponsorship, and claims about the theoretical foundations of educational technology play an important part in justifying its academic status, for which criteria related to disciplined and research-based study usually count for more than those related to utility” (p. 1883), Eraut appears to have fallen victim to his own suppositions. 

Epistemological Fallacies

For instance, Eraut identified Finn (1960) as a seminal author and “one of the key individuals” that helped advance learning technologies in America. However, Eraut identifies several epistemological fallacies that may explain why Finn’s academic discourse may not have achieved the intended results.

First, Eraut’s references Finn’s argument that, since many areas of North American society was transformed by technology, education would inevitably undergo a similar organizational and cultural change. Similarly, Eraut attributes Finn with arguing, if educators clung to “outmoded” and “old concepts” and did not embrace educational technologies, academia was “going overboard,” “sinking,” and would end up “tossed to the sharks.” Finally, according to Eraut, Finn resorted to arguing educators that did not use audiovisual technology during instruction might “go down the drain. (Yipes!)

Considering most educators are well-versed on the evaluation of logic and fallacy during academic discourse, such words were probably highly scrutinized back then and concluded to represent nonsense. This would not have advanced Finn’s cause.

Refuting the Common “Non-Argument” or “How to Rightfully Divide the Truth”

To avoid errors in epistemological logic, Janaway (2018), an internationally-respected and popular neurosciencist, psychiatrists, author, and member of the American Council on Science and Health, suggests several techniques to strengthen logical arguments during academic discourse. First, instead of arguing inconclusive causal assumptions such as, since one thing happened, another result would inevitably occur, Janaway proposes academic discourse explore trends that might drive culture and societies toward advances such the cost-saving benefits and the effectiveness of using learning technologies during instruction. Instead of slippery slope arguments based on nonsensical assumptions and outlandish metaphorical worst-case scenarios intended to shock and frighten, Janaway advocates academic discourse be devoid of hyperbolic imagery and focus instead on pro-con rationale positioning grounded in facts, logic, and evidence. Janaway also advises against false dichotomy or false dilemma premises during academic discourse to instead explore reasonable foreseeable options that can be evaluated rationally and logically. In addition, Janaway warns against making strawman, false associations, bandwagon naturalistic, anecdotal, circular reasoning, and exaggerated generalization arguments that fail to address the topic of discussion.

But, Janaway appears to particularly take offense at emotional arguments that manipulate through guilt and pity and abusive ad hominem, and red herring arguments that present themselves as logic – but are actually personal insults. Finally, Janaway explains that the common thread in fallacy arguments is that the “logic” used claims to represent knowledge, but instead are misrepresentations of information, assumptions in terms and intent, or diversions with the intent to manipulate and deceive. Therefore, Janaway advises fallacies be met with Sagan-Hitchens Razor logic which dictates: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Or, in short – “put up or shut up!” (Janaway, 2018).

(As I stated earlier, this assignment was appropriate considering we are in a presidential election season, when the need to seek truth should be of utmost importance to voters.)

Jennie’s Perspective

Reading Eraut’s article in view of Janaway’s advice, I cannot help but wonder if epistemological-deficient logic and arguments that insult instead of reason might not be why some educators appear confused or divided concerning why they should integrate the use of learning technologies into their curriculum. I agree with Janaway that, during academic discourse with educators, scholars have earned the assumption that they can detect false arguments and are prepared to refute manipulative, emotional, and overpowering heavy-handed logic.

But, I can also see how this might not apply in situations where academic discourse has ulterior motives other than seeking truth. In such cases, the need to follow Janaway’s “put up or shut up!” becomes essential to the health and well-being of us all.

I’m just sayin’ …

References

Atoi, E. N. (2018). The Epistemology of Truth-Claims in the Global Multi-Religious Ambiance. Studies in Interreligious Dialogue, 28(1), 129–147. Retrieved from http://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2066/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLAiGW7181231001452&scope=site

Epistemology. (2001, June 5). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

Eraut, M. (1994). Educational technology: Conceptual frameworks and historical development. The international encyclopedia of education2, 1882-1899.

Finn, J. D. (1960). Technology and the instructional process.

Janaway, B. (2018, June 19). 10 Common Logical Fallacies And How To Fight Back [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://drbenjanaway.com/2018/06/19/10-common-logical-fallacies-and-how-to-fight-back/

Rescher, N. (2003). Epistemology : An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Wakaki, T. (2017). Assumption‐based argumentation equipped with preferences and its application to decision making, practical reasoning, and epistemic reasoning. Computational Intelligence33(4), 706–736. https://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2147/10.1111/coin.12111

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