Is It Wrong To Analyze The Trayvon Martin Shooting?

Is it wrong to analyze the logic of arguments related to the Trayvon Martin shooting?

One commenter thinks so. My response:

In December 2010, I wrote about the logical fallacies surrounding the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. A commenter responded, "There is a point where LSAT logic holds no relevance in this argument..."

Being an LSAT tutor, I believe logic is always relevant, whether it's finding a flaw in an argument, a weakness in it, or a principle underlying it. And, fine, I'll admit that I live and breathe this logic stuff.

So a little part of me died inside when I got a somewhat-similar comment on this week's blog post analyzing the logic surrounding the Trayvon Martin case:

OK, I think this is an inappropriate discussion. If you are going to discuss the Trayvon Martin case from a legal aspect, do so. However, placing it in a LSAT problem format is disrespectful, THIS is real life NOT an LSAT necessary v. sufficient question. Yes, proper scrutiny should be given to the situation, but NOT like this. To understand why this is improper take the closest person you have lost and place THEIR name in the place of Trayvon's in the above scenarios. Hope you get the picture.

This isn't a blog focused on the law - it's a blog focused on logic. As such, I'll leave the discussion of the legal aspects of the Trayvon Martin case to the lawyers. However, there's still a place for a discussion of the logic related to the case, just as there's a place for general op-eds in the mainstream media.

The blog post discussing the case didn't make light of it in a goofy LSAT-style problem. The fact that this blog happens to be focused on LSAT prep doesn't mean that any discussion of logic that occurs on the blog is reducing the issue discussed to a multiple choice question.

We can, and should, use logic to make sense of real-world situations. Logic serves as an effective tool, helping us to advocate our points of view. When a topic is controversial, sensitive, or heartbreaking, it's easy to let emotion take over. However, these are the situations in which it's most important to ensure that our arguments are logically sound and as airtight as possible. Otherwise, we leave ourselves vulnerable to criticism from others, including our opponents. It's hardly disrespectful to examine the situation in an effort to determine the validity of claims made by others and to help people make arguments that are more logically sound.

Back in the summer of 2010, the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy raged for months. Constant exposure to logical fallacies surrounding the topic finally led me to get on the soapbox to address them. I have a hard time believing that it was disrespectful to Muslims in general, 9/11 victims, and their families for me to use the lens of logic in discussing a situation relevant to them.

Similarly, I have a hard time believing it's disrespectful to Trayvon's memory to use logic in discussing what happened to him. The only context in which I believe that would be the case is if we had reason to believe that Muslims, 9/11 victims and their families, Trayvon, or Trayvon's friends and family, were somehow especially opposed to the use of logic. Then, we'd have reason to believe that we were acting contrary to their wishes.

In the absence of such information, I say we use our reasoning abilities whenever we have the chance. But that's just me. What do you guys think?

Photo by erikeckel


  1. If every lawyer and every judge applied logic only to the cases that didn’t “disrespect” someone, I think we’d be in a world of hurt.

    -Rider of Rohan

  2. I suppose a person can use other resources to learn LSAT logic if your examples happen to rub her the wrong way. I suppose there’s a degree of wisdom one should use in discussing certain topics or using certain examples. But in my estimation, you used good judgment. Like you wrote, you didn’t use this case as the subject of one of your hilarious logic games.

    SINCE you framed this as a moral question, (“Is it wrong…”), that means we’re engaging in moral reasoning, which of course requires logic. That said, it seems to me this person is engaging in special pleading (see he/or she fails to justify why this case should be exempt from reasoning through a moral question…

    Or, I could be wrong and should go back under my rock...

    -Rider of Rohan

  3. who cares what stupid people think?

  4. Reposted from Facebook:

    its not wrong if its a part of your analysis, but it is wrong if it comprises of the entirety of your analysis. As a philosophy major with an emphasis on public policy (pre-law), and someone who has taken symbolic logic as well as logic in practice, I have come to been taught the shortcomings not only by my professors in logic, but by my professors in ethics. The problem, namely, is its inability to portray truth value. Most people believe "what is logical is what is true" However this just isn't the case. For example, lets consider if A then B, if B then C. A=C. This is logically sound, but it doesn't assert truth. How? pretend that A-apples, B-bananas, C-carrots. Although the structure of argument is logical, it is not true...Apples certainly do not equal Carrots. my personal favorite cases of the failure of logic is the Prisoner's dillema, and the monumental failure of logical positivism. Anyone interested in this should look those two cases up, much too long to type out. Even where logic should be strongest, displaying empirical or scientific data, it is shaky. The easiest example of this is Logic's inability to distinguish an "accidental generalization of physical phenomena" from actual "laws of physics" in the way logic attempts to express a law of physics symbolically. Or how about the contradiction of Modal Logic with contemporary quantum physics? Once again, it fails to display truth value despite its structure being logically sound. Other than the numerous logical paradoxes you can google, i suggest if you really want to know why logic cannot be the entirety of your of analysis, especially in a moral scenario such as the shooting, you should focus your search on the latest development in logic & physics, and focus on the philosophers Kant, Hume, Nozik, Locke, Rawls, Mill or virtually anything in meta-ethics and their conflicts between their philosophies. If you're going to look at Mill, focus on the Utility Monster paradox, and the doubling population paradox, both great displays of how logic in morality fails. Or you can see how logic fails in the principle of utility as displayed through Rawls, or even point out some logical inconsistencies between Kant v. Mill.

    sorry so much of my explanation was so general, its just that there are like, a million cases of the frailty of pure logic all I could think to do was to cite cases that you could look up and become better aware. After all, they explain it much better than I can hope to.

    Anyways, I'm sure philosophy majors with the same emphasis will also be able to cite similar cases

    1. "As a philosophy major with an emphasis on public policy (pre-law), and someone who has taken symbolic logic as well as logic in practice, I have come to been taught the shortcomings not only by my professors in logic, but by my professors in ethics."

      hm...mostly appealing to authority rather than the actual content of your arguments..

  5. ^To the above, I think your point is broader than what we're actually discussing. What you're discussing are the limits of logic by the human mind which, of course, there are. That's a different topic altogether. Logic is still a reliable process to get to the truth and (as the author said) in the absence of all available evidence, logic will be a guide to the TM case if we use it correctly which is why it's also important to constantly practice our critical thinking skills.