Published on September 17, 2008
English 102: English 102 Lecture Three: Logical Fallacies When reasoning goes wrong in an argument for some reason or another, a logical fallacy has taken place. Most are unintentional, some are not, but you should be able to recognize them when they appear.: When reasoning goes wrong in an argument for some reason or another, a logical fallacy has taken place. Most are unintentional, some are not, but you should be able to recognize them when they appear. Ad hominem : Ad hominem Latin for “to the man” an attack directed at the person making the argument rather than the argument itself Example: My esteemed opponent is unfit to be governor because he drank too much in college. Ad misericordiam : Ad misericordiam Latin for “to the heart” an argument which manipulates the reader’s emotions rather than stating logical reasons why the audience should accept the argument (also known as unfair emotional appeal) Examples: We can’t allow the killing of innocent babies to continue! OR It’s my body, and I’ll do with it what I want! Ambiguity : Ambiguity an argument framed in language that allows for more than one interpretation, confusing the reader and weakening the argument Examples: People have equal rights, and everyone has a right to property. Appeal to authority: Appeal to authority an argument based on the actions and/or knowledge of real or supposed experts Example: Slavery can’t be that bad an institution since Thomas Jefferson himself owned slaves. Appeal to fear: Appeal to fear an argument based on an implied or explicit threat which is not rational Example: If we pull out of Iraq, the evildoers will come and attack us on our own soil again. Appeal to ignorance: Appeal to ignorance an argument based on assumptions that we have no evidence for Example: Since we don’t know how many innocent people have been executed, we should abolish the death penalty. Appeal to tradition : Appeal to tradition an argument that says something should be done a certain way simply because it has been done that way in the past Example: African-Americans are not allowed to join this Mardi Gras krewe. We’ve never let them join before, so why change now? Bandwagon: Bandwagon an argument that states that something should be done simply because everyone else is doing so Example: Other countries have legalized drugs, so why shouldn’t we? Begging the Question: Begging the Question an argument based on an assumption that has yet to be proved (can also be considered an argument with a missing claim) Example: We’ve got to fire the thieves in the police department. Circular arguments: Circular arguments arguments that repeat the same basic assumption used for the thesis as one or more of the reasons Example: People should carry guns to defend themselves because guns are made for self-defense. Composition: Composition arguments that attribute a trait of a member of a group to the entire group Example: A team of five NBA all-stars must be the best possible basketball team if each one is the best at his position. Death by a thousand qualifications: Death by a thousand qualifications arguments that fall apart when examined and qualified closely Example: Joey Stefano is the best worker in our company. (Which sounds impressive, until you discover that the company has only four people, and two are the president and vice-president.) Division: Division arguments that attribute a trait of a group to a member of that group Example: If the average American family has 1.8 children, then my sister and brother-in-law must have 1.8 children. Equivocation : Equivocation an assertion that falsely relies on the use of a term in two different senses in the same statement Example: The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal”, and since women are not men, it’s obvious why women are not equal to men. False analogy : False analogy arguments that compare two dissimilar things to a degree that the comparison breaks down. Example: Balancing the federal budget is just like balancing a family checkbook. False dichotomy or dilemma: False dichotomy or dilemma an argument that narrows the reader’s options to two, when there is always a third option (also known as the either...or fallacy) Example: We have only two choices: to build more nuclear power plants or to be completely dependent on foreign oil. Genetic fallacy: Genetic fallacy an argument against a claim on the grounds that the origins or originator of that claim is tainted (related to ad hominem) Example: The Declaration of Independence’s assertions about freedom are flawed because one of its writers, Thomas Jefferson, was a slaveholder. Hasty generalization : Hasty generalization arguments that form a general conclusion based on too little specific data (can also lead to stereotyping) Example: My friend is Methodist and doesn’t believe in premarital sex. Methodists must be against premarital sex. Hidden assumptions : Hidden assumptions arguments that do not directly state one of the basic assumptions they are based on. Example: The Jews were greatly affected by the Holocaust, and my history teacher spent three class periods on it. She must be Jewish. Innuendo : Innuendo arguments or statements that make indirect accusations. Example: My esteemed opponent says that he’s in favor of gay marriage, but of course that’s no real surprise. Oversimplification: Oversimplification arguments that exaggerate the truth because they make too broad a generalization Example: Taxation is unfair. Non Sequitur: Non Sequitur arguments that have a missing claim leading to an argument that does not follow on from the stated basis of the argument (“non sequitur” literally means “does not follow” Example: Since Leah loves good food, she should be an excellent chef. Poisoning the well: Poisoning the well an argument that shifts attention from the merits of an argument to the source of the argument (similar to genetic fallacy) Example: The Equal Rights Amendment would be a dangerous addition to the Constitution because Karl Marx favored equality of women in the Communist Manifesto. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc : Post hoc, ergo propter hoc Latin for “after this, therefore because of this,” also known as false cause an argument which attributes an effect to a cause simply because the cause predates the effect. Example: Mr. Rollins got into a car wreck after stopping off after work at a bar. The accident must have been caused by his drunk driving. Red herring: Red herring an argument that dodges the real issue by drawing attention to an irrelevant one Example: We can’t worry about the overcrowding in our classrooms until we solve the rise in crime rates. Reductio ad absurdum : Reductio ad absurdum Latin for “reducing to absurdity” reducing an argument to absurdity, meaning that the argument pushes to a ridiculous extreme Example: If we allow gay people to marry, they’ll be fighting for the right to have sex in public next. Rationalization : Rationalization blaming an effect on a cause which is least damaging to oneself and most damaging to that which you are attacking; also known as denial Example: I got a bad grade in English because my teacher hated me. Scapegoating : Scapegoating blaming an effect on a group, even when they may only share part of the blame Example: Our economy’s problems are all due to the amount of people on welfare. Slanting and Wishful Thinking: Slanting and Wishful Thinking These two are related -- Slanting: showing only the evidence that supports your side of the argument, a knowing omission Wishful thinking: finding and presenting only the evidence that supports what you want to hear Example: You’re trying to prove that the crime rate has gone down in Chicago. If you do research and find that the murder rate and thefts have remained the same but muggings have gone down and report that the crime rate has dropped using just the last fact, that’s slanting. If you went out and looked ONLY at the crimes rates that have gone down, that’s wishful thinking. Slippery slope : Slippery slope The assumption that if one thing is allowed, it will necessarily be the first step in a causal chain leading to something bad Example: If we allow gun control, we’ll eventually live in a country where we’ll have no personal liberties left. Straw Man: Straw Man An argument that reframes an opponent’s argument in easily attacked terms in order to attack it Example: No one in their right mind would support the death penalty given all the things done in its name, like executing children and crucifixion. Unrepresentative sample: Unrepresentative sample Basing an argument on a sampling of data that is either too small or does not represent the larger whole Example: I did a poll of ten of my friends, and five owned cell phones. Therefore, 50% of students on campus must own cell phones. DB #s 5 and 6: DB #s 5 and 6 For DB #5, choose five of the listed sentences and determine whether they are fallacious, then name the fallacy and explain why it applies to that sentence (NB: a sentence can have multiple fallacies going all at once!) For DB #6, give an example of an argument you’ve read, heard, or seen recently in the news or on television that you think might be fallacious, then explain why you think so.