Is the Pundit's Fallacy a Fallacy?

Since Matt accused me of committing the pundit's fallacy(and although I claimed in his comments that I didn't, I sort of did,) I got to wondering what makes it a fallacy, exactly. The pundit's fallacy putatively occurs when a pundit sets forth his own preferences as the solution to some kind of strategic political problem. So if Kerry is trying to become president, and I want federal money to save the narwals, I'd argue: “Kerry has thus far failed to recognize the vast but quiet pro-narwal constituency. A firm commitment to use federal resources to save the narwals could be the difference between victory and defeat on election day. Blah. Blah. Narwals.”
Clearly, this is ridiculous. But this kind of thing is a fallacy only if one misconstrues the intended illocutionary force of the pundit's punditry. If the point of the pundit's utterances are merely assertive, well, then the conditions of satisfaction are correspondence truth. If there is no vast narwal constituency, and it could not tip the election, then our pundit's speech act goes unsatisfied. However, the illocutionary point of acts of punditry are very often directive, trying to get somebody to do something, so that the state of the world changes, rather than simply report on the state of the world. The pundit is trying to get enough people to believe that there is a narwal constituency so that (1) the Kerry people feel enough pressure to make promises about doing something about narwals, and/or (2) more people join the constituency, on the belief that many people are already on board, in order to increase the likelihood of (1).
Now, the narwal cause might be dead in the water (not sorry!), but it seems likely to me that this kind of thing often works. You can create a consensus by claiming a consensus, or by claiming the uniquely effective means to a widely shared end. If you can get enough people to share your preferences, then your preferences come to have actual political heft, and one way to get people to share your preferences is by persuading them that satisfying your preference would satisfy some other preference that they already have.
I have no doubt that acts of punditry with this kind of illocutionary point can and do meet their conditions of satisfaction. We are not surprised to learn that “It's a little drafty in here,” can be intended to communicate a request to close the window rather than comment on the draft conditions in the room. We should not be surprised to learn that a claim of strategic necessity for one's own preferences can be used to alter other people's commitment to one's preferences rather than make a comment on what's really stategically necessary for what. So there is no good reason to think of this as a generally fallacious form of utterance. If a pundit out of myopic enthusiam asserts that their pet idea REALLY WILL make all the difference, that's one thing. But if the pundit is trying to recruit allegiance to their pet idea by, in effect, asking people to imagine how their pet idea COULD make a difference, to try it on, to consider it, then it's all good.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

2 thoughts

  1. This may be unrelated to payday loans, but this is something that deserves attention. Washington Mutual, recently purchased by J.P. Morgan Chase in the largest bank failure in US history, disclosed $8.1 billion in debt, and $32.8 billion in assets. Once depositors started to withdraw about $16.7 billion over eight days, Washington Mutual had a “liquidity problem.” According to Wikipedia, a “liquidity crisis occurs when a business experiences a lack of cash that is required for day to day operations, or meet debt obligations when due.” All J.P. Morgan had to pay to acquire Washington Mutual was $1.9 billion in an FDIC auction, and put themselves in a position to decide Washington Mutual’s future, and out of the FDIC’s hands. The FDIC would have had to pay billions out to insured customers of Washington Mutual, and many think that would have drained the FDIC’s own funds down to dangerous levels. J.P. Morgan Chase has assured Washington Mutual customers that it will be business as usual. However, with more and more bank failures looming over the horizon, how long will it last for? Payday advance is a mere drop in the bucket when compared with these events.

  2. when the problem is to produce such goods in the first place. Assuming that the good exists is hardly a solution to the problem of how to produce it. Similarly, by excluding exit or choice among options as an option, the problem of distribution of rights and obligations is

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