Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Justice Scalia: Towering Intellect or Homophobe?

In a lecture series at Princeton promoting his new book, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was asked about his opinion on homosexuality. In answering this question, Justice Scalia commits an excellent example of the False Analogy fallacy. This is a fallacy in which one makes a comparison that isn't really apt or appropriate. As reported by the Associated Press, Scalia responded in the following manner:
 “It’s a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the ‘reduction to the absurd,’” Scalia told Hosie of San Francisco during the question-and-answer period. “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”
Regarding the first part of Justice Scalia's comment, I must admit I am a bit confused as to what he is actually claiming. I am familiar with the reductio ad absurdum or reduction to the absurd as a style of argument. It involves showing that commitment to a particular belief or position will ultimately lead one to a contradiction, but I fail to see how it applies in this instance. I guess Justice Scalia is trying to claim that supporting homosexuality generates the contradiction, but I am not sure what the contradiction is or how it is generated by support for homosexuality.

Regarding the second part, here we have a nice example of a False Analogy. Justice Scalia seems to be arguing that there is some sort of equivalence between the bans on murder and homosexuality. I must say, try as hard as I can, I really can't see Justice Scalia's point. As near as I can tell, these two activities have almost nothing in common. One involves the permanent taking of another person's life and the other involves two people having consensual sex. In the question that Scalia poses, it seems that a perfectly reasonable answer would be, "Yes, we can have moral feelings about murder and other stuff." The fact that Justice Scalia seems unable to recognize this difference between laws against homosexuality and murder is deeply disturbing and raises serious questions about the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of the United States.

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