Beyond Fallacy

Lord Chaitanya and associates "‘In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the name of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.’" (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.5.32)

A person’s intelligence is often judged by how they are able to communicate. Someone who stutters and stammers or who uses coarse language is generally viewed as immature or unintelligent. This is the general stereotype that is attached people from rural areas, i.e. “hicks from the sticks”. The educated are viewed as more intelligent because they can articulate thoughts very well and also can successfully craft arguments and defend them against attacks. But just because someone speaks eloquently, does it mean they are smart?

David Boies and Ted Olson - famous laywers In today’s age, scientists and mathematicians are viewed as intelligent simply based off the work they do. The disciplines of physics and astronomy are considered to be beyond the understanding of the average person. When describing the ease with which a certain task can be completed, one will often say, “Hey, it’s not rocket science.” Aside from scientists, lawyers and politicians are also viewed to be very intelligent. Winning elections is not an easy task, and it takes someone with a keen awareness of how to interact with others to be successful. Politicians must take controversial stances on issues and be able to withstand the scrutiny that comes their way. Lawyers have an even tougher job. Their task is to help people who are in trouble. Sometimes their clients are undoubtedly guilty under the eyes of the law, but the lawyers do everything in their power to sway the opinion of jurists in their favor. David Boies, the famous lawyer who defended Napster and Al Gore, and the late Johnny Cochran, the lead attorney for O.J. Simpson, are some of the more famous lawyers of recent times. They are widely accepted as being very intelligent.

A good lawyer uses negation as their primary tactic when arguing cases. Any claim or statement can easily be broken down or defeated simply by using negation. For example, most people widely accept the fact that the sky is blue. Yet someone else can question that statement by asking, “How do you know the sky is blue? Do you know what blue is? Who taught you what is blue and what is not? And who taught them? How do we know that they are not wrong? Just because everyone else believes the sky is blue, does that make it so?” This is a simple example of how negation works, but in the legal arena, it can be taken much further. Jurists can question authority and even cite prior case law in their favor. Word jugglery is the name of the game. A good lawyer will pick apart the text of a law and try to interpret the words to have a new meaning that buttresses their position.

Famous politicians Lawyers and politicians who are viewed as intelligent often find their way onto television shows, either doing interviews or participating in roundtable discussions and debates. A quick study of their arguments shows that they make heavy use of fallacies. A fallacy is a misconception or false conclusion that comes about through flawed logic or reasoning. There are many many different types of fallacy, but we will focus on three of the most commonly invoked ones.

Ad hominem is a very popular fallacy, which is easily recognizable. Person A will make a claim such as “Chocolate chip cookies taste good.” Person B will then say, “Well, Person A is overweight and a liar. Hence, his statement is false. Chocolate chip cookies don’t taste good.” The fallacy of this argument is quite obvious. Person B has not even addressed the issue of how chocolate chip cookies taste. Whether Person A is overweight or dishonest has nothing to do with the validity of their statement.

Tu quoque is another commonly used fallacy. Examples of this can be found almost daily when watching the news. In America, the news typically focuses around the actions of government, and more specifically, the President. The President is always saying something, signing some legislation, or meeting with a group of people. The President’s detractors always look for ways to criticize him. It is quite common for a politician to make the claim, “President A has just agreed to raise taxes. This will be horrible for the economy and the country.” In response, another politician will say, “Well, President B, President A’s predecessor, also passed a similar tax increase bill. I didn’t hear you complaining back then.” This is another obvious fallacy because whether or not President B performed the same action is irrelevant to the claim made about President A. The second politician doesn’t address the claim made by the first politician, thus they have no basis to disprove it.

The Straw Man fallacy is another commonly used logical trick. Person A makes the claim that “Government healthcare is a bad idea because it takes away freedom.  Care will be rationed and there will be no control on demand.” In response, Person B says, “People who are against government healthcare want sick people do die.  They don’t care enough for the poor and they’d rather see people denied medical treatment than fork over any of their own money.” Person B has twisted Person A’s argument into something easier to attack. Person A is not addressing the larger issue of helping people pay for medical care, but rather a smaller issue of government run healthcare. Person B knows that Person A will have a harder time arguing against the idea of sick people dying, therefore they twisted the argument. Person B’s argument is a fallacy because they have not addressed the claim made by Person A.

Armed with knowledge of the various fallacies, we can get a better understanding of just how often they are used. It is much easier to defend an argument or defeat another’s claims by using a fallacy than it is to use normal logic. In this sense, we see that many of the people that are viewed as intelligent are actually just very good at word jugglery. Their arguments, by themselves, don’t have much to stand on. In reality, logic itself has limits. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the material world is composed of five gross elements and three subtle elements, one of which is the mind. Logic, math, and science are products of the human mind. As great as we take the human brain to be, it is nonetheless a product of material nature, meaning it is subject to defects.

Lord Krishna The Supreme Absolute Truth cannot be understood simply through logic and argument. To prove this fact, Lord Krishna, God Himself, came to earth in the form of a pious brahmana some five hundred years ago. Born in Navadvipa, India, Lord Chaitanya grew up to be a learned scholar, respected by all. In His youth, He was known as Nimai Pandita, and He defeated great logicians, including Keshava Kashmiri. Lord Chaitanya’s primary mission was to spread Krishna consciousness throughout India and the world. At the time, the impersonalist Mayavada school was very popular India. They relied heavily on logic and negation in their religious philosophy. They incorrectly asserted that the famous Vedanta-sutras of Vyasadeva described the Supreme Absolute Truth to be formless. Mayavadis engaged in serious study of Vedanta, using the Vedic terms neti neti to negate everything in the material creation.

Lord Chaitanya, being Krishna Himself, wanted to prove the folly of relying simply on negation, and to establish the superiority of devotional service to the Lord. He talked with a famous Mayavadi sannyasi named Prakashananda Sarasvati, and converted him into a devotee of Krishna. Lord Chaitanya was known primarily for His great exhibition of loving sentiments towards Radha and Krishna. He started the sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. He and His associates would tour India and loudly chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Lord Chaitanya Because He engaged primarily in chanting and dancing, many great scholars took Him to be less intelligent. Lord Chaitanya was actually the smartest person of His time. This fact was on display during a famous discussion He had with His friend Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. Lord Chaitanya took a verse from the Shrimad Bhagavatam relating to God being described as atmarama, and asked Sarvabhauma to explain it. Sarvabhauma then gave Lord Chaitanya nine different meanings. Lord Chaitanya was pleased, but then the Lord Himself gave sixty-one different meanings to the same verse, none of which touched on any of Sarvabhauma’s explanations.

Lord Chaitanya’s logical explanations supported His most important teaching: that Krishna is beyond the realm of thinking. Any argument can be picked apart through negation or through logical tricks, but Krishna is beyond fallacy or any other arguing technique. Lord Chaitanya was the smartest person of His time, yet He used His intelligence to always chant the names of Krishna. This sort of activity seems simplistic, but that is the whole point. Logic and argument are products of material nature and they can easily draw the mind away from the real mission of life, that of knowing and loving God.

"If you are indeed interested in logic and argument, kindly apply it to the mercy of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If you do so, you will find it to be strikingly wonderful.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.15)

Lord Chaitanya and associates worshiping Radha and Krishna Lord Chaitanya proved that the only proper way to explain anything is to relate it to Krishna, or God. Janmady asya yatah, “The Supreme Absolute Truth must be the source of everything.” Krishna is the fountainhead of all knowledge, so if we explain everything in terms of Him, we will be showing the highest intelligence.

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