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Screwtape: Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make.
Screwtape (a fictional character from C.S. Lewis) is a devil, a demon, a minion of Satan, a deceiver and tempter of men. Here he’s giving some advice to a younger devil on how to deceive. The devils want us to ignore genuine reason and commit fallacies. Like ad populum fallacies–appealing to the preference of a majority when the majority lacks knowledge.
Closely related to ad populum is an argument form we could call the ad futurum argument–the appeal to the future. This will usually be fallacious, and for more than one reason: because it’s not guaranteed that the future will be wiser than the past, because it’s hard to know just what the future holds, and because of the circular reasoning Screwtape points out (what the future holds will be shaped by what we do now on the basis of what the future holds).
In my 51st comment on Ricochet (“What Makes Men Good?”, #7) I pointed out that conservative appeals to history generally rely on solid inductive logic because they are empirical–we look to evidence in the past that economic liberty does more to reduce poverty than big government, and so on. Ben Shapiro’s new book is a case in point.
Leftist appeals to history are different: They commit ad futurum fallacies by arguing from the authority of a future where they assume everyone will agree with them.
Screwtape would be pleased.