The Chocolate Cake Argument

September 13, 2004

Many of my students used the Chocolate Cake Argument in their first homework. This is a common argument in polemics and politics - Eric Muller castigates Michelle Malkin for using a chocolate cake argument to smear Richard Kotoshirodo.

What is a chocolate cake argument?

Chocolate cake contains eggs, milk, and flour, all of which are good things; it is a perfectly reasonable breakfast food.
As you can see, I get the term from a Bill Cosby comedy routine. But, it is a serious rhetorical fallacy. If you only present a portion of the evidence, you can make an argument for almost anything, from the banal as in the comedy sketch to the shameless as in what Malkin does to Kotoshirodo to the tragic. It is sloppy thought and sloppy reasoning.

The chocolate cake argument is also remarkably brittle. It ignores all evidence, or all meaningful evidence, contravening the speaker's point. Because it does not address this evidence, balance it, or try to fit it into the speaker's narrative, the narrative can almost always be derailed by a small dose of cold hard fact. I tell the kids that it is far better to acknowledge contravening evidence and then tell the reader why their argument is BETTER, advice that makes it much harder to argue anything you want but that makes for a much higher quality of debate.

But, it does make for weaker comedy. "Dad is great! He give us chocolate cake! . . . Daddy made us eat this chocolate cake and grapefruit juice."

Posted by Red Ted at September 13, 2004 02:46 PM | TrackBack

... I've never seen a person have a conniption...

Boy, how I love that routine, even if it is flawed logic!

Posted by: Eden at September 13, 2004 04:20 PM
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