Sunday, February 9, 2014

It's Fischer Time!

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)

It's that time again! You know, when I relate something I read online to something I learned about in David Hackett Fischer's Historians' Fallacies.

In today's episode, we consider the fallacy of the perfect analogy (pp. 247-251), which, our hero explains, "consists in reasoning from a partial resemblance between two entities to an entire and exact correspondence."
One must always remember that an analogy, by its very nature, [Fischer continues,] is a similarity between two or more things which are in other respects unlike. A 'perfect analogy' is a contradiction in terms, if perfection is understood as it commonly is in this context, to imply identity.
Which brings us to our example from my recent reading:

". . . [T]he analogy certainly isn't perfect," explained United States Senator Mike Lee, of Utah, to his audience at the National Prayer Breakfast, of his description of "three types of conversations I had with my father, only one of which can properly be analogized to a legitimate prayer."

But we would never fault the good Senator for an imperfect analogy. A good analogy serves its purpose as a heuristic device only, nothing more; and certainly not as a perfect explanation of a thing through the referencing of a different thing.

This is, so far as I can discern, the only flaw in Senator Lee's worthy remarks. They deserve to be read and reread.

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