Wish-I’d-said-that Dep’t

Since everything is a little bit like everything else, analogy is a weak tool for analysis.

&#8212 Jon Elster, Strong Feeling

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

13 thoughts on “Wish-I’d-said-that Dep’t”

  1. Except that the human brain works by recognizing likeness. Analogy is very deep in the structure of our consciousness & while it has its weaknesses as a mode of thought, it is the companion of reason, not its enedmy. The effort to banish analogical thought is one of the symptoms of scientism.

  2. Well, Q, that's a really eloquent rejoinder. Care to actually, you know, use reason to respond, or are you just into that well-know mode of internet thought, snark?

  3. Ammmm….I wasn't referring to Joe Duemer's comment but to the Elster quote. Mine was an attemptedly jokey play on the "like" of Elster's principle of omnisimilehood, with aspirations of being a disproof by pun of its purported implication. (There's a very deep, Nietzschean point about the ineliminable metaphoricity of language in there. Somewhere.)

  4. Two comments.
    1. The statement employs an analogy or extended metaphor ("strength" vs "weakness") taken from the domain of physical action and applies it to the domain of mental action. So it's either self-defeating or a very sly self-referential joke.
    (Speaking of analogies, this reminds me of the fate of the verification theory of meaning.)
    2. A hammer is a great tool, but it still doesn't tell you where to strike, or how hard. Which is to say, for those who don't like analogies, the notion that a tool should be "strong" enough to render human judgment about its appropriate use superfluous doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

  5. "Since everything is a little bit like everything else, analogy is a weak tool for analysis."
    Funny to complain about analogy when using a sub-class of analogy known as "metaphor".
    The question when analyzing an analogy is figuring out whether or not the likeness is material to the question at hand. The fact that a gun I shoot with is the same color as the night sky is probably not a useful 'likeness' for most purposes. But the fact that an electric oven utilizes heat in much the same way as a gas oven might be useful in many instances.
    When used properly, analogy is a ray of light illuminating the both the mind and the objects of its reflection.
    (Ambiguity of the reference to 'it' is intentional)

  6. Q bitch-slaps Elster!
    Analogy is "weak" only to those whose analyses aren't carried out in the real world. Law, for instance, is a messy place; analogies to precedents don't have the refreshing neatness of a mathematical proof, but they're what we've got.

  7. In context — see the book — it's clear that Elster doesn't mean that analogy is always a weak tool, only that it's usually a weak tool for developing scientific explanations. His example is whales and sharks: Whales and sharks appear "analagous", but in fact we may learn more about whales by studying bats than by studying sharks. Which is itself debatable; it depends on what you want to explain about them, as Elster himself appears to concede. But the point here is that you miss these nuances from the aphorism alone. Which is why aphorism is a weak tool for analysis.

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