Let’s detect and undo one of the most popular intellectual fallacies ever

As a case in point, consider my recent post arguing that Andrew Sullivan is the most influential public intellectual of the last twenty-five years.  Such a claim will raise the status of Sullivan.  While I am happy to see his status raised, that is not my point.  My point is merely that he has been very influential, and in the sense of changing actual real world outcomes, a claim which most other public intellectuals of high status cannot even begin to make.  The comments on the post are mostly weak, especially those comments critical of Sullivan.  Some people are arguing that Sullivan does not in fact deserve higher status.  And that in turn is causing them to misjudge, or fail to judge at all, the claim about his influence.

If you can avoid this fallacy consistently, and unpack the positive claim from any and all implications about changes in status, you will think much better and learn much more.  I find also that very smart people are not necessarily more protected against this mode of fallacious reasoning.

Many blogs of course pander to this very fallacy.  Why not be more explicit?  One could put a post up with the person’s name and photo and simply write: “OK people, let’s argue in the comments whether this person deserves a higher or lower status.”  But that would be too explicit, and it would lower the status of the blogger and commentator, so something else is written and the same debate ensues.


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