Misleading Analogy, Guest Post by David Preston

Can you be lied to with an analogy?

–Technically, no, because an analogy is not a claim of substantial truth.

Can you be misled with one?

Yes, but that’s on you and not the analogy maker. It’s on you for not thinking critically and for MAKING a conclusion of truth based on an analogy that was never a CLAIM of truth in the first place

An analogy is merely a logical comparison between two things that are more or less like one another. People use analogies in argument to make the case that something is good or bad based on its similarity to something else that’s similarly good or bad in some way . . . but not in ALL ways. (And it’s important to understand that bit about not in ALL ways.) When you make an analogy, you want the two things you’re analogizing to be alike enough to be logically connected but different enough to show a categorical likeness rather than an individual one. The more disparate the two things are on the surface, the more likely you will be to capture your audience’s imagination. Or at least make them laugh.

Mark Twain said: “Politicians and diapers have to be changed often, and for the same reason.” That’s obviously a clever analogy. But does it constitute a good argument for anything? Like term limits, for example? No. And if you tried to use it that way, people would laugh at you, and not Mr. Twain.

The meme I’ve included here contains a much more complex analogy than Mark Twain’s one about politicians being full of shit. This meme likens birth control to water safety equipment and suggests that refusing birth control to minors on the grounds that it encourages sexual activity is like forbidding people to use life jackets because it encourages them to play in the water, where they could drown. The message actually is more layered and subtle than that, but the main analogy the author is making is between the idea that birth control causes sex and the (obviously non-sensical) idea that life jackets and oars cause drowning deaths.

Is this analogy more or less apt, do you think? Is a boat oar similar to a condom? Is a 16-year-old girl whose parents won’t allow her to have condoms like a child alone at sea without a life jacket? How are those things alike, and how are they different?

Remember: There’s no right or wrong answer here. There are only likenesses and unlikenesses that you, personally, will find persuasive or unpersuasive, depending on well you can critique the analogy.


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