The second is the cultural and/or historical—and here things get a bit more interesting. The first of the great philosophers to tackle not only big ideas, but the way people argued those ideas, was Aristotle. He compiled them in a work called On Sophistical Refutations. The title for the book actually came from the term for wandering teachers in ancient Greece, for sophist is from the goddess Sophia, who represented wisdom. It’s no small irony that the goddess’s name came to represent its opposite—bad reasoning, or sophistry.
Now, on to the example. A recent article on the Huffington Post, called The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers, by Anis Shivani, has generated much traffic and many comments. As with most such lists, comment has been furious and negative, usually with comments claiming the writer neglected this hack or had impudence for including that hack. By and large, the list is pretty good, although one could tally a list a hundred or a thousand times the length, due to the MFA writing mill scams, and still not get all the names of all the bad writers clogging up bandwith and contributing to deforestation.
The article and its comments are exemplary models of logical fallacies, online, and in action. First, let me tackle a comment that exhibited a typical logical fallacy. The commenter chided Shivani on using a dangling modifier in his mention of nature poet Mary Oliver, who actually was once a good poet, but has not written anything of worth since Ronald Reagan left office. Shivani’s ‘solecism’?:
'America’s best-selling poet along with Billy Collins, and that tells you all you need to know about how the public views American literature.'
Now, you may ask, what exactly is wrong with Shivani’s sentence? Well, what is a ‘dangling modifier’?
Incorrect: While driving on Greenwood Avenue yesterday afternoon, a tree began to fall toward Wendy H's car.
(It sounds like the tree was driving! This actually appeared in a newspaper article. An alert reader wrote, "Is the Department of Motor Vehicles branching out and issuing licenses to hardwoods? Have they taken leaf of their senses?")
Adding a word or two makes the sentence clear.
Correct: While Wendy H was driving on Greenwood Avenue yesterday afternoon, a tree began to fall toward her car.