Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Note on the Healthcare Debate

Recently, I've noticed the same argument popping up again and again on my Facebook feed. It goes something like this:
P1: There are people in America who desperately need healthcare.
P2: We should provide healthcare for these people.
C: We should support my political party’s healthcare plan. 
This commits what is called the non sequitur fallacy. In other words, the conclusion does not follow from the two premises. Another premise is needed to complete the argument.
P1: There are people in America who desperately need health care.
P2: We should provide healthcare for these people.
P3: My political party’s healthcare plan offers the best sustainable solution for providing healthcare for these people.
C: We should support my political party’s healthcare plan. 
When one states the argument this way, one sees at once why the third premise is so often ignored. While the first two premises are obvious and uncontroversial among all people of good will, the third premises is highly controversial and requires a detailed argument – involving a lot of math. Thus it is easier to simply ignore premise three altogether and portray your opponents as disagreeing with premise two. In reality, however, your opponents do not disagree with premise two; they disagree with premise three.

This non sequitur fallacy is not limited to the healthcare debate. I see it all the time in various political debates. For example:
P1: Many people in America are trapped in poverty.
P2: We should help these people.
C: We should support my party’s economic relief plan. 
Once again, the key premise – and the only controversial premise – has been ignored entirely (i.e. my party’s economic relief plan provides the best sustainable solution for helping people trapped in poverty).

For about a decade I have been teaching or studying at Christian universities, and I have noticed that my Christian peers are particularly susceptible to this fallacy. We hammer premise two, bringing the full weight of biblical righteousness to bear upon it, but in so doing, we forget that no one really disagrees with that premise at all. The real debate concerns premise three.

If we want to have serious discussion, and not just talk past (or shout past) each other, we need to stay focused on premise three.

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