Sunday, December 14, 2008

Inference #4 – Analogies

Analogy is a pattern of inference that uses a familiar relationship as a basis of comparison to a relationship that is not as well understood. They are used frequently and can be very powerful, but it is important to remember that they rely on the degree of similarity between the two relationships (familiar vs. unfamiliar) that under examination.

There are two kinds of analogies that we will discuss: literal and figurative. A literal analogy is one in which we make a direct comparison between two things, and a figurative analogy is where we compare the relationship between two things to the relationship between two OTHER things to describe how one relationship is like another. I will explain both in the following, and I am sure that you probably use both kinds everyday already. The purpose of this message is to help you analyze their use as inferences, and help you better analyze them whether you are using one or you are talking to someone that is.

A “holiday appropriate” example of literal analogy would be used for gift buying. For instance, your friend’s son is on your shopping list and you are having a difficult time buying for him. You reason that you are not very familiar with your friend’s son, but know your friend fairly well. Your friend then is the “familiar relationship” in this analogy. You have never met your friend’s son, but you have heard your friend speak of him and know that they share a physical resemblance as well as some similar interests. Your relationship with the son is, therefore, the “less-familiar relationship”.

Your wife asks you what you got your friend’s son and you tell her – a set of screwdrivers.

She says “Why did you pick screwdrivers?”

You say “Because I thought he would appreciate them and get good use out of them.”

She says “Why do you think so?”

You say “He is a lot like his dad; same height, same weight, same eyes. And the father said they share many of the same interests like fishing and football. His dad is always busy fixing things and uses screwdrivers a lot. The son probably likes fixing things too, and could use the screwdrivers.”

The inference here is one of analogy – literal analogy. Dad likes fixing things, and the son is a lot like dad. Therefore, the son likes fixing things too.

I think we can begin to see where analogy can go wrong. The son may be very much like the dad in many respects, but may not share his love for fixing things. The fact that two things are alike in SOME respects doesn’t mean they are alike in ALL respects, nor does it mean they are alike in the respect that is under examination.

I am not sure that I can make the leap that the son likes fixing things just because the son shares SOME of the father’s interests, and the father likes fixing things. I would need more. Since the father said they share an interest in fishing, maybe I would try that. Why? Because that is an inference of EXAMPLE (fishing is an EXAMPLE of things that the son liked to do, based on a credible source – his father). The stronger inference is a better indicator.

The test for a good analogy (literal or figurative) is whether the essential similarities outweigh the essential differences in the characteristic under consideration. An analogy that fails the test is referred to as a “false analogy”.

A figurative analogy is on in which we are not so concerned about the things we are comparing, but the relationships between them.

For example, we have a friend that LOVES the Beatles and has every CD by them EXCEPT for one. We don’t know which one they don’t have and can’t find out before the holidays, so we decide to buy the ENTIRE COLLECTION of Beatles CD’s to make sure we get the one that our friend is missing. We tell our wife of our plan and she says “That’s like trying to kill a mosquito with a machine gun!”

Now, she is not comparing our friend to a mosquito or a CD to a mosquito or our friend to a machine gun or anything like that. She is comparing the relationship between needing one CD and buying the whole collection with the relationship between being troubled by a small thing and taking unnecessarily drastic measures to correct the trouble.

Notice that in the literal analogy, the things being compared (the father and son) are the same kinds of things (both are comparable people). In a literal analogy, the farther things get from being comparable, the more difficult it is to make analogous observations. “You are a man; Julius Caesar was a man. He liked his chariot. Therefore, you would like a chariot” is pretty far-fetched because you and Julius Caesar are not very similar as men. If the comparison was to be made between men, I would pick several others that were more comparable (your neighbor, brother, co-worker) and make it again. If it I didn’t seem to stand, I would reject it.

A great deal of advertising is based on the premise that, if advertisers find an actor with whom you identify, and can show that actor enjoying or benefitting from the use of the advertised product, that you will draw the analogy yourself and decide “The actor is like me; I am like me; The actor enjoys the that soda; Therefore, so will I”.

Next week, we will cover the last two analogies and recap the last three months worth of newsletters into a coherent lesson. You will all be brilliant in a week!

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1 comment:

MADy said...

Thanks, gave a clear perspective of the difference. Have an English paper today, hopei do well.