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Analogy is a systematic comparison between structures that uses properties of and relations between objects of a source structure to infer properties of and relations between objects of a target structure. (Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind

1: inference that if two or more things agree with one another in some respects they will prob. agree in others
2: resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike: similarity b: comparison based on such resemblance
3: correspondence between the members of pairs or sets of linguistic forms that serves as a basis for the creation of another form
4: correspondence in function between anatomical parts of different structure and origin (Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online)

Analogy is a basic human reasoning process used in science, literature, art, education, and politics. Analogy can be used to make predictions, provide explanations, and restructure our knowledge. Analogy is also used to influence public opinion, fight battles, win wars, start and finish relationships, and advertise laundry detergent. (Kevin Dunbar)

Dr Kevin Dunbar, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Dartmouth college, provides the following information on terminology for analogies: 

Different researchers on analogy use different terminologies, however most researchers distinguish between two main components of an analogy -- the Source and the Target. The Source is the piece of knowledge that one is familiar with. The Target is usually the less familiar piece of knowledge. When one makes an analogy, one Maps features of the Source onto the Target. In the case of the Earth-Mars analogy, the Source is the Earth and the Target is Mars. By Mapping features known about the earth onto mars it is possible to make predictions about the types of features that will be found on Mars, such as water and life. Thus, analogy is a very powerful mental tool to discover new things. As well as distinguishing between the Source and the Target researchers in analogical reasoning often distinguish between Superficial and Structural feature. Superficial features are things such as Mars being round or having a red hue. Thus, making an analogy between Mars and a red Stop sign would be an analogy based upon the feature red, which is a superficial attribute. Structural (or Relational features) refer to the underlying sets of relations between features (first order relations), or relations among relations (second and third order relations). In the case of Mars, structural relations might be the Seasonal movement of dark streaks across the surface of the planet and the presence of dust devils. Noting these attributes and relations led to the hypothesis that these are the same as dust devils on earth and that the same mechanisms that produce dust devil trails on earth are what is happening on Mars (As you can see analogy can be complicated). The major virtue of analogy is that it allows a person to go beyond the superficial. (Kevin Dunbar)

For a history of the use of term analogy by logicians and theologicians consult the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


The Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldoun points out the risk of analogies:

Analogical reasoning and comparison are well known to human nature. They are not safe from error. Together with forgetfulness and negligence, they sway man from his purpose and    divert him from his goal. Often, someone who has learned a good deal of past history remains* unaware of the changes that conditions have undergone. Without a moment’s    hesitation, he applies his knowledge (of the present) to historical information, and measures    such information by the things he has observed with his own eye, although the difference    between the  two is  great. Consequently, he  falls into an  abyss of error. (Quoted  by Abba 
Eban, Diplomacy for the Next Century, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998)

The use of historical rhetoric may lead to false conclusions about the likely outcome of current or future events, and in some cases this may lead to unnecessary conflict. Drazen Pehar discusses several ways in which historical rhetoric generates conflict: “historical analogising sometimes leads to an overly offensive, self-confident posture. It sometimes leads to a significant lowering of the threshold of tolerance as it negatively affects self-image, i.e. sense of honour. And last but not least it sometimes plays the role of a deterrent to deterrence and makes leaders too restrained, too cautious in acting, which then gives an opportunity to belligerent leaders of this world to pursue their own policies. For instance, French leaders were reluctant to make an offensive move against Hitler because a) their image of World War I implied that offensive equals disaster; and b) because they did nothing to question the applicability of that source-analogue to the future developments they expected in their relations with Hitler.” 

While these dangers suggest that historical rhetoric should not be used by politicians and diplomats, Pehar suggests that it would be difficult to eliminate it from political rhetoric: “the human mind has a biological inclination to reason inductively; that is, to reason about future happenings through the prism of past experiences. We reason via analogies. By instinct we set expectations on the basis of our past experience and nothing may be changed with that.” Furthermore, “the world community is divided into nations with each nation measuring the time of its existence along the historical line of its evolution. And each nation considers its historical traumas and recoveries especially important; something like milestones on the path leading from its past to its present. Nations thus treat their particular histories as stores of their collective memory, which serve both the purpose of maintaining their particular identities and the purpose of providing answers to challenges of the present time. Diplomats are still their nations’ humble servants and therefore cannot avoid using historical analogies in presenting their nation’s views or interests.” 

As a solution Pehar proposes the “ambiguation” of analogies: 

Diplomats should choose a "golden mean", and try to balance and combine certain aspects of both historical rhetoric and ambiguous language in order to satisfy their instincts but also to make this satisfaction less dangerous, less capable of generating first mental and then armed conflict. In other words, diplomats may continue using historical analogies but they should be made more ambiguous and less suggestive.

The idea is very simple. All we have to do is to loosen the link between a source of historical metaphor and its target. In that way a diplomat could still retain a historic image, an idea of historic precedents, using language which would also retain the flavour of national identity or national narrative. By using ambiguated historical analogies, though, diplomats could, with the same stroke, raise their awareness of the fact that the final decision is theirs to make, as the “loose” historical analogising would leave enough elbow room for them to act as individual and adaptable thinkers or decision-makers. Namely, ambiguated historical analogies do not deduce from the past a straightforward or rigid image of the future.

For more on Pehar's suggestions for a "diplomatic" style of historical analogy read "Historical Rhetoric and Diplomacy: An Uneasy Cohabitation," (Language and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2001).

Historical analogies are a variety of analogy often used by politicians and diplomats to explain or make a prediction about a current or future event based on events in the past. The past event is used as a source, while the present or future situation is the target of the analogy.
Drazen Pehar, researcher on language and diplomacy, "suggests several reasons that historical analogies are used by politicians and have such a strong effect on public opinion: “…historical analogising is an essential part of national narrative and national identity. Nations tend to group around their most central and deeply rooted memories. Over time many of those memories acquire the status of lasting symbols that nations use to describe their contemporary concerns or fears as well. [Analogies] …help people symbolically transcend the limitations of time and space. …the need for spiritual transcendence is one of the main sources of motivation for the use of historical analogies in dealing with international affairs." 

A second function is “identity maintenance. Historical rhetoric not only provides nations with the sense of worldly immortality; a surrogate of religion, but also with an answer to the question “Who are we?” Historical rhetoric explains the lasting origins of a nation. Typically, when a crisis occurs in the life of nation, responses to it are couched in a language of past models, of past dealings with a crisis similar in shape if not in essence. When a president says that the nation must look to its past for a vision and inspiration to guide its present choice, he actually says that if applied to the present, models from the past will help the nation maintain its spirit and sense of specific identity.” 

A third function “is simply to provide a sense of cognitive orientation in international affairs. The future is always open and undetermined, and the number of international actors and the complexity of their relations are too high to give a straight clue about future developments.” Historical analogies “indicate a direction for actions in this world, which would otherwise remain too complex to allow for an intellectual grasp. Historical analogy simply projects an image of past developments into the future and thus makes the future cognitively manageable.” 

A fourth function of historical analogies is as an “anti-depressant; a colourful imagery which neutralises a boring and non-dramatic kind of political reality. Historical analogies make international relations intriguing, interesting, worth watching and participating in, which without such a drama-producing imagery would not be case. They put things and relations, as it is said, into perspective and make them tastier, less boring and more purposeful. Historical rhetoric sets a scenery or stage linking the past with the present and the future into the chapters of single drama to offset the bad feeling that nothing important or big is happening.” "Historical Rhetoric and Diplomacy: An Uneasy Cohabitation, " Language and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2001)


Analogy "1968" - "2002" - Palestinian Leadership

The Economist (13.04.2002) on p. 40 discusses the future of the Palestinian leadership and makes the following analogy: "'We will fight. This is our Karameh,'" vows a Palestinian figher in Jenin. Karameh is a village in Jordan where Israeli soldiers and Palestinian guerrillas first fought hand-to-hand in March 1968. Coming after the Arabs' defeat in the 1967 war, it was the moment when Mr Arafat and his Fatah movement became the undisputed custodians of the Palestinian cause. The leadership then was young, refugee, underground, guerrilla and revolutionary. Out of the ruins of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem, the next leadership may be similar."
Date entered: 4/16/2002 8:26:29 PM

World War II Analogy

In spring 2002 the American media frequently pointed to a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, giving as evidence the increasing number of attacks on synagogues and other Jewish centers, and increasing public support for right wing political parties in some European countries. On May 10 the BBC reported that a major US Jewish group used the following analogy urging Hollywood stars and producers not to attend the Cannes Film Festival:
“The American Jewish Congress ran an advert in Hollywood's trade newspapers comparing modern day France to the Nazi-sympathetic regime set up in Vichy during World War II…The advert listed alleged similarities in the country between 1942 and 2002, including the fire-bombing of synagogues and schools and attacks on Jews in French streets.”
In Le Monde, on May 14 leading members of the French Jewish community responded that despite the unfortunately high number of recent anti-Semitic attacks in France, the situation in 2002 is not similar to that of 1942, when anti-Semitism was state-sponsored. The comparison, they said, offended every Frenchman, every Jew, and the memory of everyone who died in the Holocaust.
Contribution by: Hannah Slavik
; Date entered: 6/18/2002 12:46:42 AM

Bush/Churchill Analogy

The Guardian newspaper has printed an interesting discussion on the Bush/Churchill analogy (August 29-30, 2002). The analogy can be summarised as follows:

  1. Churchill was a great leader and a powerful orator. Bush sees himself as one too.
  2. Churchill symbolises unflinching opposition to appeasement, first to Hitler, then during the cold war to Soviet communism. Bush sees himself in the same light re Saddam Hussein and Iraq (terrorism and the axis of evil).
  3. Churchill was a lone voice which was proven right in condemning the nazis and urging war against them. Bush is a lone voice which will ultimately be proven right when he wins the war he is urging us to wage against the Iraqis.

Michael White (political editor) who wrote the initial article (Searching for a hero: why America has turned to Winston Churchill, Thursday August 29, 2002) starts out by claiming: 'It is hardly surprising that President George Bush and the hawks in his administration invoke the memory of Sir Winston Churchill with ever growing fervour as they plead the historic necessity of a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.'

But how apt is the analogy? How does one measure its aptness? And how dangerous might a misleading analogy be?

Question 1 concerns what IS said: How apt is the analogy to the argument being made? is it possible to measure its aptness by means of empirical variables such as (a) the salience (b) the relevance and (c) the number of parallels drawn? Or does the success of analogy, like that of other rhetorical devices, depend on less empirical variables such as the mood & expectations of a given audience at a particular time, and the skill of the orator in gauging that mood?

Question 2 concerns what ISN'T said: How much more apt are the alternative parallels that might be drawn, thereby undermining the current analogy? Is the ultimate test of an analogy how it stands up to rival analyses … and to ridicule?

One of the benefits of the discussion on the Bush/Churchill analogy is that it offers examples of how analogies fall short. They can be attacked for these (and other?) shortcomings:

  1. The narrow focus and distorting reductionism of a given analogy.
  2. The impertinence of some of the proposed analogous traits, either because one party obviously fails to measure up to the properties it aspires to, or because it doesn't conform to the finer-grained implications the analogy triggers.
  3. The existence of other analogous traits which undermine and possibly even reverse the argument.
  4. The existence of an alternative argument (possibly including a rival analogy) which over-rules the one under discussion.

If analogies are so easy to knock down, why do we resort to them so readily?
Contribution by: Biljana Scott

Date entered: 9/10/2002 7:44:52 PM

Bush/Churchill Analogy - Views of 4 Historians

Michael White's article draws attention to the larger context of Churchill's personality and achievements, questioning the reductionist nature of the analogy:

'In Britain the wartime prime minister's long public career is associated with many achievements, some of them admired, some remembered with anger or embarrassment…. Never mind that the great man's record is a good deal more complex, and certainly more interesting than the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, seems to think. He was a social reactionary as well as a champion of liberty, a Victorian aristocrat and imperialist rebranded as a democratic orator in the cauldron of war.'

Ben Pimlott undermines the analogy on four counts:

1. The choice of analogy is not a considered one but the result of American ignorance (but Pimlott's judgment is so bigoted as to invalidate his point: 'Churchill is the only Englishman any of them has ever heard of. Bush is a Neanderthal with no knowledge of the world').

2. The impertinence of the Hitler and Saddam Hussein analogy: there is no comparison between them since the latter is not an expansionist within the region.

3. The impertinence of the Bush and Churchill analogy since unlike Bush the Neanderthal, 'Churchill had a great deal of knowledge.'

4. A more pertinent alternative explanation: Blair's attention seeking.

Lord (Robert) Blake concedes that the Munich crisis posed a threat, as does Saddam Hussein today (though this is a very coarse grained analogy), and he also recognises that we might turn to leaders such as Churchill when we feel under threat. He identifies one important difference and one unanswered question which undermine the analogy however:

1. 'I don't think Churchill was an advocate of a pre-emptive war [like President Bush]; that is a very different matter.'

2. 'Whether or not Churchill's policies would have succeeded, had he been in power, is another matter."

Philip Ziegler concedes that Churchill saw the danger in nascent fascism long before anyone else, that he wanted to rally opinion, to rearm and prepare for the inevitable war and that he disapproved of any policy which postponed the possibility of that conflict even at the risk of a bigger one later on, but states (without supporting argument) that:

1. Munich is not a remotely tenable analogy.
2. Churchill is one of the very few non-Americans whom educated or half-educated Americans have been taught to revere.

Peter Hennessy concedes that 'Churchill is that the man rightly lauded for seeing off Hitler in the 1940s', but undermines the analogy on two fronts:

1. Churchill proved to be as much of a nemesis to the Americans as a hero: 'Churchill is also the man who infuriates the White House in the 50s for trying to get a summit with Stalin's successors and hanging on to office until 1955 in the hope of sorting out the cold war into a manageable form before thermo-nuclear weapons got out of kilter... It was a policy of containment which its detractors considered to be appeasement.

2. Hennessy condemns the analogy as lazy thinking: As for what Bush and Rumsfeld are doing, when you want to do something and need instant justification with brand recognition, you invoke Munich. Eden also invoked Munich at Suez, he said Nasser was Mussolini. It's not good enough; it just doesn't work; it's not on. It's lazy thinking."
Contribution by: Biljana Scott
Date entered: 9/10/2002 7:52:09 PM

Bush/Churchill Analogy – Reader’s Views

Dr E. C. Hulme, lists numerous parallels, and identifies one factor which he hopes will be indeed prove analogous (implied is his regret that at the moment this is not the case), namely the ability to discriminate between leadership and dominion:

'The real issues are hegemony and control of resources: then lebensraum for the master race, now oil to fuel the world's predominant economy. One hopes that now, as then, the British people and government will prove capable of distinguishing between leadership, as it may be properly exercised by a country first among equals, and dominion, which remains unacceptable.'

J Edwards sees the analogy as perfectly apt:

' US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld is right. It is just like in the 1930s, when the threat of Hitler was ridiculed by so many European leaders. Appeasement was the order of the day then as now. The only real ally we have in the Middle East is Israel, and we have all sold out the Jewish state at the expense of false alliances with the Arab and Muslim world.'

Andrew Winstanley finds the analogy utterly impertinent, except in one respect, which he discloses in order to criticise Bush:

'It is almost unbelievable that George Bush et al have been comparing the dangers of Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler. The Bush family fortune was made by Prescott Bush by financing the Nazis, from their ascent to power right up until the point that Roosevelt had Nazi assets frozen under the Trading with the Enemy Act in 1942 (see Indeed, the only connection there seems to be between Saddam and Hitler is the assistance given to each of them by the Bush family.'

George Galloway MP similarly proposes a novel parallel:
'Mind you, it could be that Churchill blazed a certain trail in that he was the first man to use chemical weapons against the Iraqi Kurds more than 60 years before Halabja.'

As does John Bishop:
It's too easy to sneer at George Bush's urge to compare himself to Winston Churchill. But there could be a parallel: Gallipoli. Right hero, George, wrong war. Oh, and a lousy result.

Contribution by: Biljana Scott
Date entered: 9/10/2002 8:04:31 PM


30 Jul 2012

A friend of mine asked me, the other day, whether I was worried about the impending gravitational effect of the alignment[1] between the Sun and the supermassive black hole at the center of our gal

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The final paper in this volume, by Jovan Kurbalija, is based on the experience of ten years of research and development work in the field of information technology and diplomacy.

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