Retrospectives, Looking Forward A response to Jewell Boyd's "Questioning Logical Fallacies" by Glen Southergill, Ph.D.

To my esteemed readers: my response below makes use of buttons to link between elements of Jewell Boyd's "Questioning Logical Fallacies: a site dedicated to logical fallacies and educating about them, questioning and transforming their usage, and showing their relevance in everyday life" and some of my thoughts. I must stress "some thoughts" as I am aware in this moment of writing that Boyd's work will remain with me into the foreseeable future as I continue to grapple with logical fallacies through my own limited and restrictive ways of understanding. While my response is intended to be read as a form of conversation between webtexts, I would urge my readers to fully review Boyd's original webtext in the sequence she thoughtfully prepared in order to share in my appreciation of it, and likewise be inspired and challenged over time.

In most if not all college writing courses that study argumentation, students receive orientations to what Jewell Boyd refers to "fallacy theory" in her remarkably insightful webtext. However, as Boyd gestures towards correctly, these lessons rarely (never perhaps) critique the histories behind fallacies nor recognize that their applications "can cause alienation or silencing of certain groups of people and types of logic" ("Main Argument"). Boyd's intervention offers a very significant contribution drawn from feminist rhetorical theories and multimodal composition, especially when understood in the context of a liberal arts education that provoked her "to make connections across classes, and to question everything" ("Student Reflection").

Boyd uses a unique webtext affordance to define and then problematize existing definitions with remarkable affect. She begins by placing different reputable sources to essentially converse in sequence, and then calls attention to their observable relationship with "error." Errors then become mistakes, to be avoided or to be challenged as an ill. We as viewers and participants in the webtext may be reminded of Boyd's stated intention to "educate" in her introductory video. Aware of how existing definitions equate fallacy with error, mistake, and logical vice, we approach a fork in the road by which we may elect to learn about specific logical fallacies or about fallacy history. These two questions thereby receive a vital context. In definition or history, fallacies themselves can be directly interrogated rather then simply memorized or otherwise weaponized.

Works by Brittney C. Cooper and Donna Haraway contribute directly to Boyd's question "who gets to decide, and who does not get to decide, what counts as knowledge and what does not" ("Research Approach/Methodology"). Boyd then digs richly into this exigency through a series of pages enhanced through external links (signified by "+" signs) and sensibly arranged pages. Fallacy theory, she observes, engages in "call-out culture" that enhance adversarial approaches to argumentation more aligned with win/loss victory/defeat paradigms than shared responsibilities for advancing structures of knowledge or belief collaboratively or communally. Also Boyd observes the uses of fallacy naming conventions that can confuse, exclude, and function to alienate potential users of fallacy theory. Readers thus receive a form of charge to both question the exclusive nature of who constructs knowledge of fallacy theory, and how fallacy uses often constitute misuses. Naming represents a central rhetorical function: to name is to give structure, to structure is to invite response, and to invite response is to advance knowledge in the social constructionist senses. Naming misuses enables writing better uses.

In light of her very well founded criticisms, we may return to the original context (education) and wonder whether fallacy theory remains viable or not in college teaching or learning. Boyd provides a very strong and sensible yes in response to this question, with an "if" attached. We should not "do away" with fallacies for the fact that doing so would "recreate this same [exclusionary] system" ("Are Logical Fallacies Still Useful and Positive"). Rather we should use them "if" we do so "correctly." Herein lies another significant application of feminist rhetorical theory in Boyd's work: her assertion that fallacies if taught more correctly can assist "members of the public identify sneaky and manipulative rhetorical moves," as well as "take back agency or power that others try to have over us" ("Are Logical Fallacies Still Useful and Positive").

Therein lies a lingering challenge, which I hope Boyd as well as other members of the field continue to pursue: to write new approaches to inventing and teaching fallacy theory that promote inclusion and empowerment. For students of fallacy theory regardless of station or rank, we should look to Boyd's work with a mixture of deep pride and enthusiasm. Boyd employs critique in the most productive inventive sense, as well as works through both multimodal composition and feminist theories in order to open important spaces for future thought.


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