- Published: September 6, 2022
- Updated: September 6, 2022
- Level: Undergraduate
- Language: English
- Downloads: 41
Informal fallacies are those that have faulty premises which do not end up supporting their conclusions. They are present throughout our culture and are used in many ways, shapes and forms. It is unfortunate that they are so common as they obscure reasoning and argumentation, and may even lead to people making incorrect or destructive decisions. A case in point is the recent State of the Union address by the president of the United States, Barack Obama.
In this speech, President Obama said that America was facing a “ Sputnik moment.” This was an interesting premise and one that was designed to gain the attention of millions of Americans, even those who did not remember what Sputnik was. The facts are as follows: Sputnik was a satellite sent into orbit by the Soviet Union. It was the first ever satellite and marked the dawn of the Space Age. Americans were shocked that the Soviet Union was able to beat them in this manner. They believed they were richer and more technologically advanced. Sputnik was a wake up call. It encouraged America to innovate faster. They were eventually the first country to land a man on the moon. Obama suggests that America has fallen behind countries such as China in terms of economic growth and research. Obama argued that this is a new Sputnik moment that must spur America on.
This is the fallacy of hasty generalization. It may sound like a persuasive argument but the premise that America in 2011 is like America in the 1950s is a false one, as is the notion that a clear goal such as landing a man on the moon is comparable to increasing economic activity and research. Sometimes nice sounding rhetoric is not effective. The truth is that it was not a concerted government effort that landed a man on the moon, it was the hard work of engineers dedicating themselves to specific task. The tasks Obama envisages for the future are very general and hard to accomplish. Unlike the Soviet Union, China and other rising countries are not simply houses of cards. They have real interests and ambitions. The notion that federal spending is the way for America to move forward is a hasty generalization of the power of government and a hasty reading of history. Furthermore, America has much less money and influence in the world than it did in the immediate post-war era. America’s horizons are more limited now than then. The premises that President Obama bases his argument on do not match up with the conclusion.
President Obama is an excellent orator and a convincing communicator, but not all of his rhetorical premises match up with his conclusions and calls to arms. In this case he is suggesting that America is facing a challenge like it faced sixty years ago. However, the challenge back then was very specific and the circumstances were quite different. Today the challenges are general and the international situation is more complex. The premises do not match the conclusions and this is a rhetorically fallacious argument.
Alberts, Sheldon. (January 26, 2011). “ Our Sputnik Moment.” Ottawa Citizen. http://www. ottawacitizen. com/news/Sputnik+Moment/4167938/story. html
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