OT: Petitio Principii, Worldview, and Sports Related Conversations

Over the last couple of weeks, the Blazers have been up and down. Some players have stellar games, other nights, the same players have terrible games. And I believe that I have noticed a pattern. Not in player performances but in fan reactions. And I think it makes a rather concerning study into how we root for our favorite teams and/or favorite players.

Nearly all of us like to think that we have opinions based on facts. That’s the standard by which opinions are judged in our general worldview. It’s a Western worldview, and perhaps a Modern world view. (I might go so far as to say that it is post modern as well, but not even post modernists can come to an agreement on what post modernism is, so I shall not try to attempt a guess.) Not every worldview accepts these conditions. But I dare say that enough of us here live by them well enough. 


So, does this bear out in reality? Are our opinions based on facts? Based on what I have observed, I would have to say no. It appears that nearly everyone forms an opinion first, and then finds the facts that support that opinion. This is the logical fallacy petitio principii (literally "assuming the initial point"). We assume our conclusion is true in trying to prove that it is true. And this bears out after each game. 


For example, let’s take the question "Should we trade Travis Outlaw?" It is my hypothesis that the opinion of nearly every poster has already been decided before assessing the evidence. When Travis has a good game, those who have decided to keep him are confirmed by finding the evidence that they were looking for, and use it to validate their predetermined opinion. They say, "See, I knew Travis was a keeper!" When Travis has a bad game, the evidence is dismissed as not pertaining to the equation, "after all, everyone has bad nights sometimes." And they are confirmed in their opinions because of this.


The same is true for the other side. If Travis has a good game, it is used to confirm the opinion, that is, used as a justification to trade: "Get rid of him now, while his trade value is high." If Travis has a bad game, it is an even greater confirmation: "how many nights are we going to let him lose the game for us?" 


It doesn’t seem to matter the issue, Outlaw, Miller, McMillan, Oden, Blake, Bayless, this principle is nearly constant. Sides are taken, then facts are marshaled with which to take the field. Rarely are any minds ever changed. Rarely is anyone persuaded. But this is exactly how our society operates these days. Whether Democrat or Republican. Whether pro-life or pro-abortion. Whether theist or atheist. Everything is decided subjectively in the public square. And that is a disaster of idiotic proportions just waiting to happen, or, more accurately, has already been happening for the last 20+ years.


We have completely fallen to the logical fallacy of petitio principii. In matters of sports, in matters of politics, in matters of religion, no matter the side, everyone in our culture is guilty of succumbing to this error. Idiocracy may have been prophetic.


Now, I don’t have an issue with taking a side. Taking a side is particularly what the facts are there for. If people didn’t take sides on whether or not to trade Outlaw then it would be pretty boring around here. If people didn’t take sides on what kind of coach McMillan is for our team, then why would anyone bother?


But without facts in charge of forming opinions, conversations become more shallow. When facts form opinions, they create nuances and ideas. When opinions assume facts, they create stale and repetitive bickering. Perhaps it is a difficult trap from which to escape. We have been well trained in it after all. It is never easy to adjust one’s worldview consciously. In fact, I am probably guilty of such a logical fallacy even from within this argument. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. But perhaps in identifying the issue, we can at least begin to crawl out from under it. 



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