The "Taxi-Cab Fallacy"

For the first time, yesterday, I ran up against the first mention of the 'taxi-cab fallacy.' I was redirected to an article by William Lane Craig (who I don't take as being particularly credible) in which he mentions the fallacy off hand. This is a fallacy I haven't heard of before (I tutor introductory logic at Fresno State, periodically, so this is good stuff for me to know) and since it isn't really clear what the fallacy looks like from the discussion in Craig's article, I figure I'd look it up.

The form of the fallacy seems to be commonly articulated like this:

"The 'Taxi-Cab Fallacy is committed when one hops in and assumes a certain system of thought or worldview in an attempt to make a particular point but then jumps out of the system of thought when it suits their fancy."

The problem, to me, is that this seems vague. Clearly, this is meant to be an informal fallacy, so I thought I'd try and articulate it generously to see what people are getting at. Obviously, it requires a particular argument form wherein a non-Christian (this is an explicitly Christian apologetical usage; I haven't seen it used in any other context) quotes a command in the Bible, then demands a non-Biblical justification.

So, here's a potential construction, very strongly abbreviated, of what this argument appears to be driving at:

Skeptic: The Bible asserts (Ex. 21:20-21) that if a servant dies while being beaten by his master, the master shall be severely punished. However, if the servant should linger for a day or more, then the master shall not be punished. Can you give a [non-Biblical] justification for that?

Obviously, the concern of the individual invoking the fallacy is the use of the term "justification"; if the purpose of the argument is to challenge a particular version of 'divine command theory' by asserting that the command is not 'good' (whatever we mean by that; something like 'desirable', on my non-realist usage) then there is a serious problem.

Because divine command theory operates on the primitive proposition that the assertion made by the text act as the standard for what it is good, the Biblical assertion acts as a sufficient condition for the consideration of that action as 'good' regardless of any perceived ethical value of the maxim.

The issue here is actually simple question begging (it seems to me that it can also be a non-sequitur, depending on how you articulate the problem; but I think the question begging articulation is far more simple) on the part of the atheist.

Of course this is logically fallacious. It is not fallacious, though, to make a simple assertions about the logical consequences of adherence to divine command theory. I have made arguments (against divine command theory; not against any particular religion in general) of this form:

Philosotroll: If it is the case that the assertion of a deontic proposition (Oxp - x [subject] ought to do p [action]) by a particular being G [God] makes that deontic proposition true then [by instantiation] if G asserts 'x ought to kill/rape/enslave y', then it is the case [it is true that] 'x ought to kill/rape/enslave y.'

This form seems perfectly logically valid, to me. I am not asking for a justification from the Biblical theorist. I have just supplied a logical consequence of the view of divine command theory; the assertion of the antecedent is usually taken to be primitive by the divine command theorists. Because it is primitive, it acts as a sufficient justification; the divine command theorist doesn't feel the need to offer an explanation of why it is the case.

This particular argument plays a roll in a larger series of arguments that I am still attempting to articulate in ethics. I have made a simple assertion about some of them in a paper I wrote a year or so back (The Two Gods of Monotheism) asserting that divine command theory is really just a 'stick and carrot' game theory system, with no relation to any sort of 'intrinsic' values. (I don't believe that the concept of 'intrinsic moral values' is meaningful, anyway.)

My personal view of atheism asserts that it is best to stick to the simple assertions, when attempting to articulate arguments:

There is no [subject] x such that x has the enumerated properties sufficient for being 'a god', however qualified.

For me, the 'divine command theory' moral system is really not that interesting.

What is interesting is a fallacy that I locate in many arguments in Christian apologetics. There is an assertion that the divine theory proposition (which I have expressed above) is true and that it acts as a sort of 'intrinsic' property.

Apologist: I will grant (1) it is the case that the assertion of a deontic proposition (Oxp - x [subject] ought to do p [action]) by a particular being G [God] makes that deontic proposition true. But I also assert that (2) the property of being true is an objective, intrinsic property of Oxp [in all instances where G makes the proposition true] and, therefore, (3) that p [action] is intrinsically and objectively good.

Now this is the move that a lot of atheists are trying to attack when they commit to the question begging that Craig references. I believe they're attacking it wrong; firstly, they have to put the apologist in this position. You only have to commit the apologist to (1) and (2), because (3) is a valid logical consequence of (2). The typical skeptic's move is like this:

Skeptic: Well, if G asserts that you ought to rape your son with a wine bottle, then it follows from (1) that the deontic statement is true. Is it the case that, per (2) raping someone with a wine bottle is intrinsically ethically good?

There are a few outs here, but they are mostly terrible. I actually think that the skeptic is on the moral high ground, and is making a valid logical critique of the incompatibility of (1) and (2) in terms of our moral intuitions and social standards. There is nothing fallacious (either Yellow Cab or otherwise) about that argument.

I have been generous to Craig, and other apologists, in asserting that there are instances in which they may be right in accusing atheists of question begging. But they still have to answer the simple challenge. This is my preferred articulation:

Philosotroll: You have the option to hold one proposition as primitive (or privileged) to the other. Either (1) it is the case that the assertion of a deontic proposition (Oxp - x [subject] ought to do p [action]) by a particular being G [God] makes that deontic proposition true or (2) the property of being true is an objective, intrinsic property of Oxp.

There's a larger schema at play here that I don't really have the space to explain (since I'm over 1,000 words in this post already). It is sufficient to say, though, that either one has to peg the 'divine command theorist' as strictly a 'divine command theorist' or an 'intrinsic, moral realist'. The two positions are not compatible, and once we show that divine command theory is primitive, then you can start to attack that proposition on its own logical grounding, and on the basis of the things that it forces you to be committed to (like the potential goodness of wine bottle rape).
 

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