Beware the slothful induction


If ever there was a logical fallacy which seemed to epitomize intellectual dishonesty, it is slothful induction.

Slothful induction, sometimes called “ignoring the evidence,” is the fallacy whereby an inductive argument is denied its proper conclusion, despite strong evidence for the inference.  If that still doesn’t quite make sense, allow me to explain.

First, what is an inductive argument?  Simply stated, an inductive argument is one made from the available facts. In other words, like a detective at a crime scene gathering clues about the crime, an inductive argument builds to a conclusion by piecing together the details, the evidence, that support it.  It’s the “most likely” conclusion – or inference –  based on what has been collected, observed, tested, measured, and analyzed.

One exhibiting slothful induction, either willfully or through an absence of aptitude, refuses to accept what is most likely true despite the evidence presented.  It is a forgiving name in that this fallacy gives the benefit of the doubt to the denier, by chalking up their unwillingness to acknowledge evidence to their laziness, not their confirmation bias.

However, more often than not, the denier committing this fallacy is not lazy, but rather simply does not like the direction the evidence is heading.  She chooses to ignore it.  I sometimes call this the “head in the sand” defense or to use more colorful language, the “head up one’s own ass” defense.

A very good essay discussing the slothful induction fallacy can be found at The Illogic Primer.  Within that essay, there is a key phrase that I want to point out,

“Usually it (slothful induction) is a red flag that someone is not principally interested in the truth of a matter. And, because inductive arguments are at best probabilistic, not definitive, someone can always hold out against the preponderance of evidence.”

So if you find yourself in a debate where the evidence you are presenting is being ignored, what is your recourse?  You have very little to be honest.  You are in a debate with an individual who does not value evidence and reason, therefore you will not be able to use evidence and reason to influence the argument.

In the words of the great philosopher/poet Kenny Rogers, you have know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.  When faced with slothful induction, sometimes your only option is to walk away (or run).

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