The specific claim mistake

Sometimes a person will make a request that sounds reasonable if you don’t look at it closely. Consider this tweet, which is about George Reisman’s essay “Why Nazism Was Socialism and Why Socialism Is Totalitarian”:

His request for me to pick a single claim sounds reasonable, but it is irrational.

Suppose that I take position X and you say that position X is wrong. I don’t know what you think is wrong with X. So if you reply to position X by saying that you want me to pick some specific part of position X for you to refute, then you’re asking me to do something for which I don’t have the relevant knowledge.

There is another problem with asking me to pick a part of position X for you to refute. In general, position X isn’t just an unrelated heap of facts. Rather, position X is an explanation: an account of why something is true. It could be the case that position X makes some specific false factual claim, but that a close variant of position X doesn’t make that factual claim. For example, in his essay on why Nazism is a variety of socialism, Reisman writes:

But what specifically established de facto socialism in Nazi Germany was the introduction of price and wage controls in 1936. These were imposed in response to the inflation of the money supply carried out by the regime from the time of its coming to power in early 1933. The Nazi regime inflated the money supply as the means of financing the vast increase in government spending required by its programs of public works, subsidies, and rearmament. The price and wage controls were imposed in response to the rise in prices that began to result from the inflation.

Let’s suppose that the Nazis didn’t inflate the money supply until 1934, so that factual claim is false. That wouldn’t matter much because it would just change the timing of the inflation, not its results. So a refutation of Reisman’s position would involve explaining why some particular claim is wrong and that explanation would have implications beyond the specific claim you refuted. So the refutation won’t just be about a single claim.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

2 Responses to The specific claim mistake

  1. Why doesn’t he pick any idea in the essay, of his choice, and point out that it’s false? It’d make more senes if he picked the claim. You could pick a random claim but if you do there’s a good chance he’ll say “that claim is ok but the essay is still false overall, due to other errors”. Just giving him a random claim from the essay would have been a decent option tho, imo. The biggest problem with it is that i think he’ll quit discussing after a short number of back-and-forths regardless of the contents, so anything that doesn’t make progress FAST won’t work well, and picking a random claim he doesn’t dispute would not make FAST progress.

    PS I think you should have named and linked the essay in question in the blog post at or near the start, so ppl would know what ur talking about. Your quote yourself saying “The essay” in the tweet but ppl don’t know which one.

  2. I named and linked the essay.

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