Instead of reasoning from empirical and measurable evidence, it fiddles with semantics and tortured parables.
So when a card-carrying philosopher contributes practical insight to political discourse, we should pay attention.
The philosopher in question is Gary Gutting of the University of Notre Dame and his contribution in today's "Opinionator" blog on the New York Times web site, goes straight to an issue that bothers many of us who try to understand people who don't agree with us, even when our arguments are laden with irrefutable facts.
The problem, Gutting avows, lies in the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning.
"All humans are mortal, Socrates is a human, therefore Socrates is mortal" is deductive reasoning. In logic class, we called this a syllogism. If the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Adding facts to the premises -- for example, Socrates is 99 years old and has a beard -- doesn't change the conclusion.
Inductive reasoning uses premises that are generally true, but leave some room for exception. An inductive argument suggests the truth, but does not entail it.
"Humans seldom live to the age of 100, Socrates is a human, therefore Socrates won't live to be 100," is inductive reasoning that moves from generalizations to a specific instance. But in this case, the added information that Socrates is 99 years old, can change the conclusion.
Gutting points out that this is the problem with much of the political debate around debt reduction. All sides are marshaling the "facts" that support their position, but few of us trouble to ensure that we have gathered all the relevant facts.
"Ignoring relevant facts can give us false confidence in the strength of our positions in political debates," Gutting says. "I put forward a barrage of indisputable facts that show, with a very high probability, that my view is correct. But you construct an equally impressive argument refuting my view. Each of us may conclude that the other is irrational or ignorant. But we should beware of the sense of the inviolability of our own positions when what we really need is a serious effort to argue from all the relevant facts."
In other words, what's missing in our political debates, is a dose of humility.