Argument By Flame

Argument by Flame is one of the FallaciousArguments wherein an argument against something (or someone) is augmented with (or consists only of) "flames" against whatever is being argued against. By "flames", I exclude legitimate criticism--a criticism is considered "legitimate" if it address a (perceived) significant shortcoming of the target--even if the criticism turns out to be wrong. Flame instead refers to ContentFree? comments which are little more that claims that "X sucks".

When an argument contains nothing but flames, it is usually easily dismissed as a clueless rant. However, many informed speakers who are perfectly capable of sticking to technical arguments (and winning on these points) still feel the need to "spice up" their arguments with gratuitous insults and put-downs. Many speakers (and far too many readers) seem to believe that the inclusion of flames in an argument somehow enhances the speaker's depth of contempt for the subject--and that this emotional outburst strengthens the argument. And in some sense, it may; as Oliver Wendell Holmes so aptly put it, "Eloquence can set fire to reason". Eloquence, of course, often refers to a speaker's success in stimulating an emotional reaction in his audience, and ArgumentByFlame is usually intended to do exactly that. (See also WhatStrongEmotionsShow)

ArgumentByFlame is also readily found in politics as well; where it goes by the name "mud-slinging". Politicians find it easier (and far more productive, it seems) to point out the superficial faults of the opponent rather than to discuss the issues (and when the issues do get discussed, it's usually at a trivial level). Unfortunately, it seems that this sort of tactic works well; otherwise politicians would undoubtedly stop doing it.

Of course, those who argue by flame (particularly those with professional reputations to uphold) need to be careful; and overly zealous or offensive flame may backfire. BertrandMeyer was roundly criticized by much of the programming community after his polemic BewareOfCeeHackers, which was widely (and correctly, IMHO) seen by many observers as a low blow.

Labelling this a FallaciousArgument is itself an error of logic. Flaming is a style, not an error in reasoning. The point behind identifying different specific types of FallaciousArguments is exactly to assist audiences in separating style from errors in logic, so that both good-sounding invalid logic and bad-sounding valid logic can be evaluated accurately.

But an ArgumentByFlame is one where the entirety of the argument is its inflammatory emotional content. To say, for example, that C++ sucks, and anyone who uses it is an idiot, has no logical content, but only the emotion, and that emotion is presented as a universal truth, rather than a personal reaction.

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