This is a guide to using logical fallacies in debate. And when I say "using," I don't mean
just pointing them out when opposing debaters commit them -- I mean deliberately
committing them oneself, or finding ways to transform false arguments into perfectly
Debate is, fortunately or not, an exercise in persuasion, wit, and rhetoric, not just logic. In
a debate format that limits each debater's speaking time, it is simply not reasonable to
expect every proposition or conclusion to follow precisely and rigorously from a clear set
of premises stated at the outset. Instead, debaters have to bring together various facts,
insights, and values that others share or can be persuaded to accept, and then show that
those ideas lead more or less plausibly to a conclusion. Logic is a useful tool in this
process, but it is not the only tool -- after all, "plausibility" is a fairly subjective matter
that does not follow strict logical rules. Ultimately, the judge in a debate round has to
decide which side's position is more plausible in light of the arguments given -- and the
judge is required to pick one of those sides, even if logic alone dictates that "we do not
know" is the answer to the question at hand.
Besides, let's be honest: debate is not just about finding truth, it's also about
you think a fallacious argument can slide by and persuade the judge to vote for you,
you're going to make it, right? The trick is not getting caught.
So why learn logical fallacies at all?
I can think of a couple of good reasons. First, it makes you look smart. If you can not
only show that the opposition has made an error in reasoning, but you can give that error
a name as well (in Latin!), it shows that you can think on your feet and that you
understand the opposition's argument possibly better than they do.
Second, and maybe more importantly, pointing out a logical fallacy is a way of
an argument from the debate
rather than just weakening it. Much of the time, a debater
will respond to an argument by simply stating a counterargument showing why the
original argument is not terribly significant in comparison to other concerns, or shouldn't
be taken seriously, or whatever. That kind of response is fine, except that the original
argument still remains in the debate, albeit in a less persuasive form, and the opposition is
free to mount a rhetorical offensive saying why it's important after all. On the other hand,
if you can show that the original argument actually commits a logical fallacy, you put the
opposition in the position of justifying why their original argument should be considered
. If they can't come up with a darn good reason, then the argument is actually
removed from the round.
Logic as a form of rhetoric