LSAT in Real Life: The Logical Fallacies of Charles Ramsey

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Last week, Charles Ramsey rose to Internet fame with one TV interview following the rescue of three women in Cleveland who had been kidnapped for about a decade. And it was one hell of a TV interview (see below), covering everything from how surprised he was to find kidnapping victims in the house next door to a rather cynical take on race relations in the US — or at least in Cleveland. And as often happens when someone goes from unknown to media darling in so short a time, in the days since he was first on TV we’ve found out some unsavory details from Charles Ramsey’s past.

It turns out that Ramsey was convicted of domestic violence more than 10 years ago. But if we were to try to deny him credit for his recent good deeds on that basis, we’d be committing an ad hominem fallacy, attacking the person rather than the argument. There’s no defending what he did way back then, but we can’t assume anything on that basis about his motivations last week. For his part, he acknowledges his past and claims his past transgressions helped him become who he is today.

On the other hand, it would be just as wrong to claim that his heroic actions last week absolve him of past wrongdoing, or that they cast doubt on what really happened between him and his ex-wife 10 years ago. It’s entirely possible for someone to behave commendably in one situation and contemptibly in another.

There’s been some dispute over how responsible Ramsey was for the rescue of the three women. In his own interviews, he acknowledges that others were part of the rescue, but centers the narrative on himself. Some neighbors who were also there claim that they deserve more credit, and that Ramsey wasn’t the central figure he claims he is, though no one disputes that he was there and helped out.

It’s hard to figure out who’s telling the truth in such a situation. If we were to deny Ramsey credit just because his version of the events has been disputed, we’d be committing an absence of evidence fallacy. Even if his version of what happened isn’t entirely accurate, he might still deserve credit for participating in the rescue. And it’s possible that his version of events is the accurate one. It’s certainly the funnier one.

If you haven’t yet, you must check out this interview with Anderson Cooper the day after the rescue. While Ramsey certainly enjoys his moment in the limelight, he makes clear that he doesn’t want any material compensation for his good deeds. As he makes clear, after all, he has a job. With a paycheck. You’ll have no doubt about that after watching the interview.

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