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Logic and Legitimacy

The comments on the other thread have raised some interesting issues, but it's difficult to cover much ground in that context, given the inbuilt limitations. So I thought I'd try to outline some of those issues in a separate, standalone post. It seems to me that the two main ideas under debate are the question of Barack Obama's legitimacy regarding his holding the position of president, and what it would mean to an American citizen if they believe Obama's presidency is not legitimate. In this post, I'll try to deal with the former issue, and leave the latter, no matter how interesting it is, for another day.


The Logic

a) The form of the argument regarding the legitimacy of Obama's presidency can be studied independently from the argument itself, so I'll do that first. As I have already said, back in my university days I had to memorize & practice the traditional valid forms of argument, and the one which I think applies here is MP, or modus ponens. Here it is:



If P then Q
P
therefore Q



Here is an example of this (valid) form of argument:

If Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, then he is an American citizen.
He was born in Hawaii.
Therefore Barack Obama is an American citizen.

The form of argument known as modus ponens (affirming the antedecent) is not to be confused with the fallacious form of argument known as "affirming the consequent" which takes the form:

 

If P then Q
Q
therefore P



Here is an example of that (invalid) form of argument:

If Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, then he is an American citizen.

He is an American citizen.
Therefore Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.


b) I think it would be useful to take a look at an intermediate form of the argument, something which would take a step forward from abstract logic and connect our understanding of modus ponens to a specific type of subject matter. So the next step is to consider the following:

If individual x is not eligible to hold political office y then individual x's holding political office y is illegitimate.
Individual x is not eligible to run for political office y.
Therefore individual x's holding political office y is illegitimate.



c) We can now take a look at the actual argument being put forward regarding Barack Obama's holding the position of president. Here is the argument:


Premise 1: If Barack Obama is not eligible to run for the position of president, then Barack Obama is currently holding the position of president illegitimately.

Premise 2: Barack Obama is not eligible to run for the position of president.

Conclusion: Therefore Barack Obama is currently holding the position of president illegitimately.




The Premises


a) The opening premise of the argument is a conditional statement. We must remember here that a conditional statement does not assert that its antecedent is true, it speaks only of the logical connection between its antecedent and consequent. What the opening premise claims then is that if Barack Obama is not even eligible to run for the position of POTUS in the first place, then he cannot legitimately hold that position so he now holds that position illegitimately. The consequent does appear to follow from the antecedent, so in the absence of any coherent argument to the contrary, I will let the opening premise stand.

 b)  The argument's conclusion is pretty straightfoward. It is an assertion that the consequent of the opening premise's conditional statement is true. As we have seen, the argument (which has the form modus ponens) is valid, so if the antecedent in the first premise is true, then the consequent will be true.

c) The success of the argument turns on the second premise, which asserts that the antecedent of the opening premise's conditional statement is true. The writer and researcher Bob Gard has argued that Barack Obama is not eligible to run for the office of president, which can be expressed in logical terms by saying that the second premise of this argument is true.

d) There are limitations to who is eligible to run for the office of president in America. When the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California, the press said time and again that he could never run for president. If my understanding of Bob Gard's argument is correct, any individual who runs for the office of POTUS must be a "natural born" citizen. What this means in logical terms is that being an American citizen is only a necessary condition for running for the office of president. It is not a sufficient condition.

To explain those terms, let's look at an oft-used example. In order to drive a car legally, one must have reached the minimum driving age, have passed a driving test, have a driving licence (that is to say, it must have been issued and must not have been revoked for any reason), one must either own a car or have permission to drive it, and the vehicle must also be insured. In the UK, one must also have an up-to-date tax disc displayed on the windscreen. These are all necessary conditions for driving a car, but obviously none is a sufficient condition. In a nutshell: Just because you're old enough to drive, doesn't mean you're legal!
  
Obama may be an American citizen, but as I understand Gard's argument, being "natural born" is also a necessary condition for running for the office of president. That is to say, anyone who runs for president must be an American citizen and they must be "natural born", just as anyone driving a car must be old enough, and they must have a driving licence, etc. in order to be legal.

The question of whether Barack Obama is a "natural born" citizen, as I understand it, has to do with the status of his parents, not whether he was born in Hawaii. So one may try to argue that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, and that may be true or it may not be, but the logical point I'm making here is that that does not address the second premise of Gard's argument.

That is to say (if I am understanding Bob Gard's argument correctly), an individual can be born in Hawaii and therefore be an American citizen, but it does not follow that they are a "natural born" citizen. So one might argue that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, and therefore the claim that Barack Obama is not eligible to run for the office of president is false, but actually that does not refute the second premise of Bob Gard's argument.


Conclusions

a) The logic behind Bob Gard's argument is good; that is to say modus ponens is a valid argument form. That means that the conclusion of the argument follows if both premises are true. The opening premise is true, and Bob Gard believes that he has proved that the second premise is also true.

b) The second premise of the argument is not refuted by a counterargument claiming that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

c) It does not follow from (a) and (b) that premise 2 is true. (That doesn't mean it's false either.)

d) Bob Gard has done a lot of research on this subject, and he believes that he can demonstrate that the second premise is true. The only way to determine whether Gard is correct is to examine his data, which can be done either by reading through all the source documents, or by reading the e-book he has made available. I suggest that the latter would be the more efficient course of action.

e) Anyone living in the UK could provide a copy of their birth certificate without any problem at all. I could go and get mine right now; I could scan it and email a copy to anyone in the world in under ten minutes. Or if I had to, I could get in my car and drive anywhere in the country, lay it down in front of someone, and say there it is.  And in the UK, one must produce such documents occasionally; for example when you apply for a new passport, the rules nowadays are quite strict. Photos, personal documents, etc. are required. In addition, one must have a doctor (for example) sign a statement saying that they have known you for a considerable amount of time, and that you are indeed the person in the photos, etc.. So any British citizen could provide you with a copy of their birth certificate, and they have to produce such documents occasionally too. It's just not a problem.

Why on earth then would Barack Obama spend so much time and money defending himself in lawsuit after lawsuit against American citizens who want to know if he's eligible to be employed by them as president of their country?

If someone asked to see my birth certificate in order to prove that I was eligible for say, a new passport, or some job that I wanted, then I'd be happy and able to do so. What I wouldn't do is say: Give me the passport anyway, or the job, I demand it, but I'm ready to spend millions in solicitors' fees so that I don't have to show you my birth certificate. That would not be rational behavior on my part.

f)  It is reasonable to expect someone applying for the position of president of America to be able to verify that they are eligible for the position. If any job applicant not only fails to do so, but refuses to do so, then it is reasonable for their employers-to-be to wonder why. After all, as Obama himself says ...



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