Fallacies In Frederick Douglass' The Essay
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Douglass asks, "Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it" (Douglass, 1852). However, this statement was simply not true; the humanity of blacks was a seriously debated point at that period of time. He repeats this phrase in two more phrases, "For the present it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race" and "the manhood of the slave is conceded" (Douglass, 1852). Furthermore, he provides a significant amount of evidence that supports his proposition, but those statements only highlight his circular argument, because he always begins not with the proposition that a slave is human, but with the proposition that nobody doubts that slaves are human.
The third fallacy that Douglass employs is the appeal to belief. "Appeal to Belief is a fallacy that has this general pattern: Most people believe that a claim, X, is true. Therefore X is true. This line of 'reasoning' is fallacious because the fact that many people believe a claim does not, in general, serve as evidence that the claim is true" (Nizkor Project, Description of appeal to belief, 2011). Douglass states, "There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that slavery is wrong for him" (Douglass, 1852). However, this does not mean that slavery is necessarily wrong. For example, the same statement could be made of prisoners, but the majority of the population would argue that prison is appropriate for criminals.
To a modern audience, Frederick Douglass' famous speech the Hypocrisy...
...However, it is important to keep in mind that Douglass was not speaking to a modern audience, but a country where roughly half of people supported the institution of slavery. This audience would have been very aware of any errors in Douglass' argument. In his speech, he employed three logical fallacies, which actually weakened his very strong condemnation of slavery. He used an ad hominem fallacy when suggesting that God would never approve an inhumane practice like slavery; a begging the question fallacy when he suggested that nobody doubts that slaves are men; and an appeal to belief when suggesting that because slaves all find slavery objectionable, it must be morally wrong. These arguments would not have been persuasive to people who were invested in the idea of slavery, given that the inhumanity of slaves and divine providence were two common arguments people made in favor of slavery. However, for an audience that supported Douglass, these fallacies would not have been as evident, because they would have taken the statements as true without requiring Douglass to support them.
Douglass, F. (1852, July 4). The Hypocrisy of American Slavery. Retrieved February 20, 2012
from the History Place website: http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/douglass.htm
The Nizkor Project. (2011). Description of ad hominem. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ad-hominem.html
The Nizkor Project. (2011). Description of appeal to belief. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-belief.html
The Nizkor Project. (2011). Description of begging the question. Retrieved February 20, 2012
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