I had my first date with Polly the following evening. This was in the nature
of a survey. I wanted to find out just how much work I had to do to get her
mind up to the standard I required…
I went back to my room with a heavy heart. I had gravely underestimated
the size of my task. This girl’s lack of information was terrifying. Nor would it be enough merely to supply her with information. First she had to be
taught to think. This loomed as a project of no small dimensions, and at first I was tempted to give her back to Petey. But then I got to thinking about her
abundant physical charms and about the way she entered a room and the way
she handled a knife and fork, and I decided to make an effort.
I went about it, as in all things, systematically. I gave her a course in
“Polly,” I said to her when I picked her up on our next date, “tonight we are
going over to the Knoll and talk,”…
We went to the Knoll, the campus trysting place, and we sat down under on old oak, and she looked at me expectantly.
“What are we going to talk about?” she asked.
“Logic.” She thought this over for a minute and decided she liked it. “Magnif.” she said.
“Logic,” I said, clearing my throat, “is the science of thinking. Before we can think correctly, we must first learn to recognize the common fallacies of logic. These we take up tonight.”
“Wow-dow!” she cried, clapping her hands delightedly. I winced, but went bravely on.
“First let us examine the fallacy called Dicto Simpliciter.”
“By all means,” she urged, batting her lashed eagerly.
“Dicto Sympliciter means an argument based on as unqualified generalization.
For example: Exercise is good. Therefore everybody should exercise.”
“I agree,” Polly said earnestly, “I mean exercise is wonderful. I mean it
builds the body and everything.”
“Polly,” I said gently, “the argument is a fallacy. EXERCISE IS GOOD is an unqualified generalization. For instance, if you have heart disease, exercise is bad, not good. Many people are ordered by their doctors NOT to exercise. You must QUALIFY the generalization. You must say exercise is USUALLY good FOR MOST PEOPLE. Otherwise you have committed a Dicto Simpliciter.
Do you see?”
“No,” she confessed. “But this is marvy. Do more! Do more!”
…”Next we take up a fallacy called Hasty Generalization. Listen carefully:
You can’t speak French, I can’t speak French, Petey Burch can’t speak French. I must therefore conclude that nobody at the University of Minnesota can’t speak French.”
“Really?” said Polly, amazed. “NOBODY?”
I hid my exasperation.
“Polly, it’s a fallacy. The generalization is reached too hastily. There are
too few instances to support such a conclusion.”
“Know any more fallacies?” she asked breathlessly.
“This is more fun than dancing even.”
I fought off a ware of despair. I was getting nowhere with this girl,
“Next comes Post Hoc. Listen to this: Let’s not take Bill our picnic. Every
time we take him out with us, it rains.”
“I know somebody like that,” she exclaimed.
“A girl back home- Eula Becker, her name is. It never fails. Every single
time we take her on a picnic-“
“Polly.” I said sharply, “it’s a fallacy. Eula Becker doesn’t CAUSE the rain.
She has no connection with the rain. You are guilty of Post Hoc if you blame
“I’ll never do that again.” she promised contritely. “Are you mad at me?”
I sighed deeply.
“No. Polly. I’m not mad.”
“Then tell me some more fallacies.”…
I consulted my watch.
“I think we’d better call it a night. I’ll take you home now and you go over
all the things you’ve learned. We’ll have another session tomorrow night.”
I deposited her at the girl’s dormitory, where she assured me that she had had a perfectly teriff evening, and I went glumly to my room. Petey lay snoring in his bed, the raccoon coat huddled like a great hair beast at his feet. For a moment I considered waking him and telling him that he could have his girl back. It seemed clear that my project was doomed to failure. The girl simply had a logic-proof head. But then I reconsidered. I had wasted one evening: I might as well waste another. Who knew? Maybe somewhere in the extinct crater of her mind, a few embers still smoldered…I decided to give it one more try.
Seated under the oak the next evening I said, “Our first fallacy tonight is
called Ad Misericordiam.”
She quivered with delight.
“Listen closely,” I said. “A man applies for a job. When the boss asks him what his qualifications are, he replies the he has a wife and six children at home, the wife is a helpless cripple, the children have nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, no shoes on their feet, there are no beds in the house, no coal in the cellar, and winter is coming.”
A tear rolled down each of Polly’s pink cheeks.
“Oh, this is awful, awful,” she sobbed.
“Yes, awful,” I agreed, “but it’s no argument. The man never answered the boss’s questions about his qualifications. Instead of he appealed to
the boss’s sympathy. He committed the fallacy of Ad Misericordiam. Do you
I handed her a handkerchief and tried to keep from screaming while she
wiped her eyes.
“Next,” I said in a carefully controlled tone, “we will discuss False Analogy. Here is an example: students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during examinations. After all, surgeons have X-rays to guide them during an operation, lawyers have briefs to guide the during a trial, carpenters have blueprints to guide them when they are building a house. Why then, shouldn’t students be allowed to look at their textbooks during an examination?”
“There now,” she said enthusiastically, “is the most marvy idea I’ve heard
“Polly,” I said testily, “the argument is all wrong. Doctors, lawyers, and carpenters aren’t taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are entirely different, and you can’t make
an analogy between them.”
“I still think it’s a good idea,” said Polly.
I muttered. Doggedly I pressed on.
“Next we’ll try Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.”
“Sounds yummy,” was Polly’s reaction.
“Listen: If Madame Curie had not happened to leave a photographic plate in a
drawer with a chunk of pitchblende, the world today would not know about radium.”
“True, true,” said Polly, nodding her head, “Did you see the movie? Oh, it just
knocked me out…”
…”I would like to point out that the statement is a fallacy. Maybe Madame
Curie would have discovered radium at some later dates. Maybe somebody else would have discovered it. Maybe any number of things would have happened. You can’t start with a hypothesis that is not true and then draw any
supportable conclusions from it.”…
One more chance, I decided. But just one more. There is a limit to what flesh
and blood can bear.
“The next fallacy is called Poisoning the Well.”
“How cute!” she gurgled.
“Two men are having a debate. The first one gets up and says, ‘My opponent is a notorious liar. You can’t believe a word that he is going to say.’…Now,
Polly, think. Think hard. What’s wrong?”
I watched her closely as she knit her creamy brow in concentration. Suddenly, a glimmer of intelligence – the first I had seen – came into her eyes.
“It’s not fair,” she said with indignant. “It’s no a bit fair. What chance has the second man got if the first man calls him a liar before he even begins talking?”
“Right!” I cried exultantly. “One hundred percent right. It’s not fair. The
first man has POISONED THE WELL before anybody could drink from it…Polly, I’m proud of you.”
“Psaw,” she murmured, blushing with pleasure.
“You see, my dear, these things aren’t so hard. All you have to do is concentrate. Think – examine – evaluate. Come now, let’s review everything we have learned.”
“Fire away,” she said with an airy wave of her hand.
Heartened by the knowledge that Polly was not altogether a cretin, I began a long, patient review of all I had told her. Over and over and over again I cited instances, pointed out flaws, kept hammering away without let-up. It was like digging a tunnel. At first everything was work, sweat, and darkness. I had no idea when I would reach the light, or even IF I would. But I persisted. I pounded and clawed and scrapped, and finally I was rewarded. I saw a chink of light. And then the chink got bigger and the sun came pouring in and all was bright. Five grueling nights this took, but it was worth it. I had made a logician out of Polly; I had taught her to think. My job was done. She was worthy of me at last. She was a fit wife for me, a proper hostess for my many mansions, a suitable mother for my well-heeled children. It must not be thought that I was without love for this girl. Quite the contrary, I determined to acquaint her with my feelings at our very next meeting. The time had come to change our relationship from academic to romantic.
Getting bored? or getting excited? Just take a look at Love is a Fallacy (3) Shall we.