Michael Sean Quinn*

Occasionally one hears the following argument in court: “Men and women of the jury, ‘If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, we all conclude it is a duck, ‘ and so it is in this case. Therefore. . . .”

One might as well say, “Jury members, consider this, what I am saying to you looks like a good argument flows like a good argument, and sounds like a good argument, we all conclude that is is a good argument, and so. . . .”

The trouble is that the fact of physical appearance, physical sound physical movement, are, even when taken together, not a good argument many empirical conclusions, including this one, “The thing you are being told about here and now is in fact a duck.” After all–and this is only one of many criticisms–we live in the computer, digital, cyber, algorithmic, electronic, quasi-robotic world  

The Duck Pattern of Argument is really quite a poor one. It exaggerates the reliability of sight perception; it underestimates diversity of perception; it pays insufficient attention to context; it does not appreciate the importance of doubt.  And that’s only the obvious problem. 

I admit, however,  that sometimes the Duck Pattern is a good place to begin, but there is no stopping there unless jurors and/or other audiences are simple-minded and/or ill-educated. 

A note to the young lawyer: If a would-be mentor suggests this form of argument to you as a good idea, find another mentor–one that is neither simple-minded, nor intellectually defective, nor demented. 

*Michael Sean Quinn, Ph.D., J.D., Etc.
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