February 27, 2009

"Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular 'Logic' on TV Judge Shows."

A college course at Berkeley. From the official description:
TV "Judge" shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years. A fascinating aspect of these shows from a rhetorical point of view is the number of arguments made by the litigants that are utterly illogical, or perversions of standard logic, and yet are used over and over again. For example, when asked "Did you hit the plaintiff?" respondents often say, "If I woulda hit him, he'd be dead!" This reply avoids answering "yes" or "no" by presenting a perverted form of the logical strategy called "a fortiori" argument ["from the stronger"] in Latin. The seminar will be concerned with identifying such apparently popular logical fallacies on "Judge Judy" and "The People's Court" and discussing why such strategies are so widespread. It is NOT a course about law or "legal reasoning." Students who are interested in logic, argument, TV, and American popular culture will probably be interested in this course. I emphasize that it is NOT about the application of law or the operations of the court system in general.
Cool. This is the kind of teaching that I liked to do at home with my kids when they were growing up. You know, when you're watching junk TV, there are many creative educational opportunities. Do you help your kids see logic fallacies when you're watching TV? Do you do it in a way that the kids respond to and love or do they think you're weird and annoying?

From "The 15 Strangest College Courses In America," via New Alert.

56 comments:

Smilin' Jack said...

when asked "Did you hit the plaintiff?" respondents often say, "If I woulda hit him, he'd be dead!" This reply avoids answering "yes" or "no"...The seminar will be concerned with identifying such apparently popular logical fallacies...

That's not a logical fallacy. Assuming the plaintiff is also standing there, it clearly implies that the answer is "no."

I'd advise "students who are interested in logic" to avoid this course.

k said...

Yes! I used to do this all the time. The payoff is, as they grew up, and heard and learned additional information, they maintained some degree of skepticism and critical thinking in their approach to the new stuff. I call that a victory! (Mine are now 22, 20, 18.)

Roost on the Moon said...
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John said...

Cool, this is like what we used to do in the dorms. For example we'd watch Hawaii Five-O reruns, and wonder how Steve McGarrett could just shut down the island any time he wanted to ("Call the airport Danny. Nobody gets in, nobody gets out.") Or why, on Star Trek, Kirk and company never thought to carry any spare dilithium crystals on board the ship.

I never suspected I could have skipped those boring calc and physics classes and just got credit for the bull sessions.

rhhardin said...

Do you help your kids see logic fallacies when you're watching TV?

I never learned anything because I'd always lost TV privileges until my grades improved.

paul a'barge said...

I like to teach my grandson while we watch Overhaulin'.

He gets a good education in pranking.

John said...

One thing I've learned from Judge Judy is how wise my own lawyer was in preparing me for the one time in my life I had to appear in court (for my divorce). He told me that no matter what the other side says about you, you do not grimace, you do not roll your eyes, sigh, hiss, or make the slightest sound or gesture. Let the other side do that. You want the judge to know you are the calmest, most reasonable human being on earth.

Obviously nobody tells that to the litigants on Judge Judy. They may even tell them the opposite -- really ham it up folks! -- because it makes good television.

Paul Snively said...

Weirdest college course? GroƟ Gott im Himmel, anything that gets modern kids to give any thought to logic or formal reasoning generally is a good thing. These things used to be taught routinely, and their lack today is rather excruciatingly obvious.

Wahrheit said...

I point out to my four-year-old the techniques advertisers are using to make him want Lucky Charms, How Wheels, etc.

He says he understands, then adds that he still wants them.

BTW, I do not get the modus tollens reference above. "If I woulda hit him, he'd be dead!" is an unproved assertion, not a fact. "If P, then Q, not Q therefore not P" does not apply if Q is, for example, an assertion that a blow from a blowhard is 100 percent fatal.

QED

fcai said...

My favorite recent moment was when asked by Judge Judy what her disability was, a defendent said "I have angoraphobia."

I had a tiff with an angora cat, and still have scars to show for it, I never thought that was grounds for disability.

See the things you can learn from television? Shame on those who would call it "junk television"!

JohnAnnArbor said...

Or why, on Star Trek, Kirk and company never thought to carry any spare dilithium crystals on board the ship.

Or why the holodeck continued to be used in Next Generation Trek, even though it was a clear and present danger to the crew.

Salamandyr said...

It bothers me that a college course has such an error of fact right in the college description. TV court shows haven't "become" popular in the last 3-5 years. They have been around for much longer than that. "The People's Court" at least as long as the 80's. It seems to me the heyday of these kinds of programs was in the mid 90's, when you could watch Judge Judy, her husband, the People's Court, or Mills Lane all at different times, in addition to all the other tabloid programs that infested the airwaves at that time.

JohnAnnArbor said...

I think the first such show was with a Judge Watts, in Detroit in the 1950s.

Wahrheit said...

Divorce Court was popular over 40 years ago--used to watch it when I was six or seven years old. I think it used actors to "recreate" the divorce, however, which is why it was so much classier than Judge Judy and the real nutballs appearing there.

DenisEugeneSullivan said...

Greetings:

This is just another neo-conservative plot. Who else would benefit from voters who could think?

Marcia said...

The course description starts with: "TV 'Judge' shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years."

The last 3-5 years? This seemed way off to me. A quick IMDB check shows Judge Judy has been on since 1996 and Judge Joe Brown started in 1997. I didn't bother looking up the People's Court because I remember Dustin Hoffman obsessing over Wapner in 1987.

I think this course deserves a "lameness" tag. But at least we know that Berkley professors recycle.

Smilin' Jack said...

Wahrheit said...
BTW, I do not get the modus tollens reference above. "If I woulda hit him, he'd be dead!" is an unproved assertion, not a fact.


Doesn't matter. The point is that the assertion "If I woulda hit him, he'd be dead!" is logically equivalent to the assertion "no" in answer to that question. Either assertion is equally false if in fact the respondent did hit the plaintiff (assuming he's still alive.)

Christy said...

Don't you think they are popular for the same reason Jerry Springer is? So that everyone with an IQ over 100 can laugh at how stupid the participants are and feel superior?

But to answer your question, I usually just say "that's not true, but it makes a scarier story," and the kids in my life roll their eyes. With nuclear explosions being the big bad in so much modern drama, I'd go crazy if I allowed myself to get all excited about how much they get wrong on TV.

I am personally lucky that as a kid 40 years ago I watched "60 Minutes" with someone who deconstructed it and taught me much about listening for what is omitted.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The weirdedst college course I ever took was one about advertising and sumbliminal seduction. The teacher had evidently just read the book...(I was the only student in the class who had read the book and also the oldest student and about the same age as the professor, because I was coming back after having my child) . He was trying to make the case that in advertising there are hidden sexual messages.

Bascially, I thought there was some truth in the subliminal images and suggestions, but the teacher was over the top and saw sex in every ice cube or cloud formation. He didn't like it when I pointed out that a lot of the sexual thinking was probably frustrated internal projection on his part.

Stupid class. We learned nothing.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Whenever I would point out the logical inconsistancies in movies and shows my then 14 year old daughter would say

"Verisimilitude Mom...verisimilitude"

Smark alek teenager with a good vocabulary :-D

rhhardin said...

Hit is a problem, to start with.

It might be a touch. Probably an aborted hug. She pulled away.

Academic situations dreamt up are one-sided to produce an unjustified certainty.

Ruth said...

It seems like one of those remedial college courses to me. In my opinion there are way too many of them, if this is not the case with this course it could definitely be called "a Mickey Mouse" course. You properly taught your children, I would bet they did not require any remedial course in college.
On the other hand I just found out I am an old fogie and I am on facebook.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1879169,00.html

EDH said...

Here's Johnny Rotten's appearance on Judge Judy. I thought he did quite well.

Big Mike said...

Professor Althouse, without courses like these how can a Big Ten school field a football team?

On the other had, that StarCraft course would have helped my younger son's GPA.

mariner said...

If I woulda' had kids, they'da loved it!

David said...

"It bothers me that a college course has such an error of fact right in the college description. TV court shows haven't "become" popular in the last 3-5 years."

Correct. (But if you really want to see ahistorical assumptions, go to the history department.)

As to the critical thinking aspect of this course that so enthralls Althouse, I suppose it's a good idea, since most high schools seem to be grossly lacking in encouraging critical thought. The kids with parents like Althouse are fortunate to get a home schooling supplement.

How about a course like this focusing on the statements of Congressmen and Congresswomen at public hearings?

David said...

By the way, the main lesson of the Judge Judy show is: "Don't argue with Judge Judy."

I like Judge Judy. She brooks no bullshit, and is just enough of a hip shooter to keep everyone a little off balance.

David said...

"Do you do it in a way that the kids respond to and love or do they think you're weird and annoying?"

Althouse, why do you suppose that 98 of 100 commenters ignore the questions you pose? Are your questions weird and annoying?

In my family, the kids responded because they found my comments weird and annoying.

Paddy O. said...

Smilin' Jack is right. "If I hit him, he'd be dead" seems logically valid. Clearly, he isn't dead, thus he did not hit him. Whether or not the hitting would in truth cause death is besides the point.

There are two issues here. One is the idea of a logical fallacy being present or not.

The other is the language usage by the culture(s) represented in the courtroom which may or may not be equivalent to the language use in a college classroom.

Seeing this only as a study in logical could be missing a more substantial effort in translating a supposed common language into shared meaning.

But then I last had a logic class about 15 years ago...

hdhouse said...

If you can stand to watch junk television then these seems a logic use of the time.

As a lover of the pro se setting (I'm 1 for 1 in the Second Circuit even) it would have been helpful to me to have Ann as a mother...although she is old enough to be my daughter.

Buford Gooch said...

Ann, I did the same thing with my kids. That, along with many other "education through fun" things caused all of them to be smarter than their dear Daddy (and I was a national merit scholar).

Richard said...
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SteveR said...

My kids learned more from Humogous Entertainment CD games (eg. Freddy Fish and Putt Putt) than anything on TV but my kids grew up in the PC age.

Penny said...

David asks, "Althouse, why do you suppose that 98 of 100 commenters ignore the questions you pose?"

Because she isn't our mother, maybe?

Steven said...

Or why, on Star Trek, Kirk and company never thought to carry any spare dilithium crystals on board the ship.

It's not like it's their ship; they're a government-owned military vessel. They only get the parts the procurement system issues them. Bureaucracy in action. (And since the Federation doesn't use money, the crew can't even buy some backups at their own expense.)

Seven Machos said...

A great point, Penny. It's our thread, dammit. We may not own the means of production, but we have creative rights.

fcai said...

Not only did I not hit him, but I'll never do it again.

I love that argument.

john said...

Penny said...
David asks, "Althouse, why do you suppose that 98 of 100 commenters ignore the questions you pose?"

Because she isn't our mother, maybe?


Professor, it's obviously time for a cafe.

I think it would be great for Chip Ahoy (or someone else good at this) to photoshop a picture of President Obama standing on an aircraft carrier, in flight suit, below a large "Mission Accomplished!" banner. For his announcement today, very appropriate I'd say.

And also to take note of President Obama's unspoken but, undoubtedly, heartfelt "I and our country thank you, President Bush, for a job well done."

Shawn Levasseur said...

"TV "Judge" shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years"

Unless this course description is from the early 90's, someone's been asleep for a long time.

Judge Judy's been on for well over a decade. And though it was out of production for a few years in the 90's the People's Court goes all the way back to 1980.

Penny said...

I have no quarrel at all with Althouse, Seven Macho. Nor with David for asking an observant question.

I took it to be a "parental" question though. Led the discussion in that direction, and VOILA!

All of a sudden we got ourselves some STEW!

Joan said...

This post cracked me up, actually -- just last weekend I went on an extended rant because my kids were watching Bee Movie on HBO, and I could not believe how stupid it was. Bad enough with the talking bees -- that I was willing to accept, but the whole all plants dying within days of the bees going on strike? That made no sense whatsoever. Even my second grader was ragging on the writers. It was just lame, and there was no good reason for it.

So yeah, we do the critical thinking here quite a bit. My 6th-grader is relentless and distrusts just about everything he hears on TV or radio news. He knows that everything has a spin and he wants to know what it is. In a way I regret that he has already lost that type of innocent faith, but in the long run I know it will do him good.

Seven Machos said...

Penny -- I was 100 percent sincere. Tangents are the best.

Chip Ahoy said...

the litigant answered, "If I hit him he'd be dead," in order to not answer the question. He deflected to an absurdity.

Bragging about his imagined fighting prowess is not an answer. Nikolay Vitali Wladimir hits people who don't die so by deflecting to the absurd the litigant might as well have answered, "Yes."

He intended to suggest that if he really really really seriously meant to hit the guy he'd be dead. Since he's obviously alive, then whatever pushy-shovey tussle they did was below his studly manly-man definition of a serious hit. So what if his jaw is broken and his teeth knocked out, that still wasn't an actionable hit because, chuh, the guy is still alive and here in court whining.

Then Judge Judy goes, "IASKEDYOUAQUESTION, SIR, DIDYOUHITTHEMANORDIDN'TYOU?"

Then the guy goes sheepishly, "Uh, uh, maybe a little bit."

The thing that makes me despair, and this absolutely defies all reason and logical thinking, Judge Judy makes more annually than all nine Supreme Court justices put together. If only they would cover that in the Berkley class.

Penny said...

"Tangents are the best."

Would sine, and secant agree?

reader_iam said...

Question: Do you do it in a way that the kids respond to and love or do they think you're weird and annoying?

Answer: Yes.

(Though we don't watch much "junk-tv," per se--at least in the stereotypical terms--together, which doesn't matter any because goodness knows we do & experience enough other junk things.

OK to embrace the distinction w/o a difference?)

Bob said...

TV "Judge" shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years.

More like 20 years, I think. Where does the time go?

Donna B. said...

The last big "popular entertainment argument" we had in my household was way back when. The 19 year old had taken the 13 year old to the theater to see "A Few Good Men" and darling hubby thought that was incredibly wrong because the rating was 17 or older (don't remember the proper terminology)

We have this family discussion on what the ratings mean, why a rating should, or should not be given on language (or insinuated violence, ie, suicide) and honor and law and... so on, and so on.

"A Few Good Men" has become a family favorite movie because of all the discussion.

But it was logic, the logic of the 13-year-old, who asked the best questions (ie, hardest to answer) and demonstrated her understanding of the movie that swayed all to her opinion.

She is now a lawyer. Go figure :-)

Michael McNeil said...

There was a funny episode of the “Judge Alex” court TV show a year or so ago wherein one gentleman was suing another for hitting him in the face with a snowball — a hard snowball: It seems the defendant had been riding around in his Hummer together with a dashboard full of iceballs, throwing them at random passersby as a lark — which in this instance broke the plaintiff’s glasses and bruised his face.

The risible thing is, the suer turned out to be a concealed-carry permit holder in his state, who was carrying at the time, and he described going through the evaluation in his mind (that concealed carrier's are trained to do) to decide whether the assault on him fitted criteria warranting a lethal response, determined that it didn’t — whereupon Judge Alex (a former prosecutor and cop) asked him with a grin: “So after you decided not to kill him, what did you do then?”

As the plaintiff laid out, he simply noted down the defendant’s license number, did some background checking, and filed suit — that’s how things are done in America.

The guy won his lawsuit, but didn’t get pain and suffering — just replacement glasses.

traditionalguy said...

What's happened to our intellectual Althouse of the Liberal Arts groupies?? I awake to find a world that prefers to watch Judge Judy in their Snuggies, if they bother to get out of their flannel sheeted bed at all. Has the new rule over us by Obama, Pelosi, and Reid stunned us into playing a role as socialist subjects, i.e., children who accept nonsense as collective entertainment? I am going back to bed now.

wile_e_coyote said...

SJ nails it on the first post.

The course description reads:

For example, when asked "Did you hit the plaintiff?" respondents often say, "If I woulda hit him, he'd be dead!" This reply avoids answering "yes" or "no" by presenting a perverted form of the logical strategy called "a fortiori" argument ["from the stronger"] in Latin.

This is the example chosen to illustrate the point of the course: that certain arguments found in pop culture are "utterly illogical" or "perversions of logic."

Unfortunately for the instructor (not to mention the students), the example chosen is in fact utterly logical. It's a valid example of modus tolens, not a "perversion" of (or any version of) an a fortiori argument. In fact, from this description, I doubt that the instructor understands what an a fortiori argument is.

It's a bit silly to quibble about the logic of contestants on Judge Judy, and very silly to teach a college course about it; but if you're going to do it, you'd better know something about logic. At least enough not to blunder in your course description. Which is more ridiculous: the arguments made by participants on Judge Judy or the descriptions of rhetoric courses at the premier public university in the world? Apparently the latter.

Other posters have noted problems with the response, which is indeed absurd if taken literally. But those problems have nothing to do with logic, they rather concern the (obvious) falsity of the one of the premises of the argument. This isn't a good answer in court, no doubt, but the complaint that an obvious, intentional exaggeration is literally false isn't such a great complaint. However that may be, the argument is logically pristine.

Roger Sweeny said...

Salamandr, Marcia, David, Shawn, Bob,

You are absolutely correct that judge shows have been around for much more than 3-5 years. But I think something has changed. Previously, there were only a few tv judges, and in any time period there was only one judge show on.

In the last 3-5 years, the number of judges has exploded, and afternoons will find two or three judges competing for an audience in the same time slot. There has to be an awful big audience for that to make sense.

Roger Sweeny said...

The thing that makes me despair, and this absolutely defies all reason and logical thinking, Judge Judy makes more annually than all nine Supreme Court justices put together. If only they would cover that in the Berkley class.

That's like saying the court jester makes more money than the king. It may be true, but the king has more power--and power is worth an awful lot.

If you could have the money of Judge Judy or the power of a Supreme Court justice, which would you choose?

mises said...

Roger, I would take Judge Judy's money over the Court's power in a second. It is hard to believe that most people would choose otherwise.

rightwingprof said...

The last 3-5 years? Where has this guy been? Judge shows, like Jerry Springer, are *so* early 90s.

Roger Sweeny said...

Supreme Court justices make $208,100 a year. Peanuts in comparison with Judge Judy's millions and a lot less than a senior partner at a high-powered law firm makes.

But combine that with the power of one of the nine and you have a combination that I feel pretty sure more than 90% of the faculty at Harvard Law, Yale, Stanford, etc. would choose over Judge Judy.

Bickham Fam said...

"TV "Judge" shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years."

I think this statement in the course description is not referring to the existence of judge shows but referring to the recent increase in popularity ratings. In instance, Judge Judy's popularity in particular has increased in recent years and overtook Oprah Winfrey show in the 2007-2008 Nielson ratings season for the #4 spot. In contrast, her first season (1995) rated near the middle of daytime shows, on or under par for other court shows.