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On Analogies

By Matthew Yglesias

"On Analogies"

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I did a post the other day that used an anecdote from my real life to illustrate a point about the concept of self-defense. Since the point was relevant to the debate over the fighting in Gaza, I tried to explicitly say that I didn’t want the story to be read as an analogy since I don’t believe in trying to conduct arguments by analogy. Well along comes Michael Moynihan to point out that the facts in my story don’t precisely parallel the situation in Gaza.

This, though, is why I don’t believe in analogies. If you make an argument that hinges on an analogy then people fire back by pointing out some respect in which the situation you described isn’t precisely analogous to the thing you’re arguing about. It then becomes a contest to specify the analogy so as to exactly mirror the situation you’re debating. In which case you may as well just debate the situation. Long story short—these analogy fights are stupid.

But to repeat, I wasn’t offering an analogy. I was, rather, offering an example designed to prove a narrow point, specifically that a claim of self-defense doesn’t operate as a blanket license to wreak destruction. Granting that the situation in Israel isn’t identical to the situation on the bike (and the differences cut both ways—the blame in the bicycle case lies 100 percent with the rock thrower, which isn’t the case in the Holy Land) the point is simply that the particular mode of argument that relies on saying “self-defense!” does not, in fact, suffice to vindicate Israel’s actions.

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