The intentional fallacy
October 20, 2002
The letter of Tony Hershey, Esq., (Aspen Times, Oct. 14) complains that Cliff Weiss, in the debate about the Entrance to Aspen, has committed what the logicians call the ad hominem argument ? an attack upon the person rather than addressing the issue at hand.
Mr. Hershey, Esq., has, however, committed no less a fallacy, trying to give stature to himself by pointing out that our founding fathers, beloved presidents, and other noble folks have been lawyers (or what he calls “attorneys”). This is hardly a representative sample, and one can think of a long list of lawyers who have been scoundrels, rogues and evil doers.
In any event, Mr. Hershey, Esq., noting that Mr. Weiss has ignored the context of the line, “Let’s kill all the lawyers,” intends to set the record straight about Shakespeare’s intention in “Henry VI.”
But while we may be able to infer from Henry VI what Cade, Dick the Butcher and other characters believed about any number of issues, Dick the Butcher’s line is no more evidence for what Shakespeare believed about lawyers than “Out, damned spot” is evidence for what he believed about laundry detergents.
Mr. Hershey, Esq., commits here what is called the intentional fallacy. To say that Dick the Butcher’s statement about lawyers is just the opposite of what Shakespeare believed is as foolish as quoting out of context.
What we can say about Shakespeare is that he knew how to use the language and that he would not employ such tortured prose as Mr. Hershey, Esq.’s. Nor would he mistake “loan” (a noun) for “lend” (a verb) or use “quote” (a verb) for “quotation” (a noun).
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Finally, while it is true that Shakespeare stole his plots from others, as do all good writers, we now live under the copyright law. And Mr. Hershey, Esq., of all people, would do well to cite the source of the clause he has lifted without attribution from the Internet document, “Pre-Law Advice at the College of Charleston”: “that if a disorderly revolution were desired, killing all the lawyers was a necessity.”
Maybe we don’t need to kill all the lawyers, but perhaps we should insist that they learn some elementary logic, express themselves well and acknowledge their sources.
Otherwise, Mr. Hershey, Esq.’s reference to “lawyers and other educated men” will turn out to be an oxymoron, and Mr. Hershey, Esq.’s “attorneys” will turn out to be not “Protectors of law and order,” as he would have it, but intellectual anarchists.
Robert D. Denham