Logical Fallacies - Logical Fallacies A logical fallacy is...

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Unformatted text preview: Logical Fallacies A logical fallacy is an instance of misleading or deceptive reasoning. To the degree to which an argument relies on fallacious reasoning, it is flawed and is thereby in danger of being refitted. There are many ways arguments can be flawed. They can rely on irrelevant evidence; language may be used deceptively; or data may be used deceptively. A writer may draw a false conclusion or lead readers astray from the real issue. The following are some common fallacies which you should be aware of both as you read through other people‘s arguments and as you create your own. Be careful, though. 1Wl'iat may be a logical fallacy in one argument may he a valid line of reasoning in another. For example, a valid consequence argument can become a slippery slope argument {see #6, below), depending on the audience. 1. Ad Hominem Properly called an argumentutn act personanr, the ad hominem argument occurs when someone attacks the person he opposes and not the argument that person is advancing. This often happens in political debate when a candidate attacks his opponent’s character, or ethos, rather than discusaing the issue at hand: Senator X onlyI supports this program because he 's a spendthrtfi. As you may have read in the newspapers lately. he daesn ’t even have his personal finances under control. During the debate about women's suffrage, those opposed to women voting often tried to refiite suffiagists by claiming that no "true Woman" would want. the vote to begin with. A variant of this fallacy consists of identifying the argument astypical of a devalued group (or devaluing the group by associating it with an unpopular or problematic argument). In claiming that day care doesn 't harm children, Profissor Ypats himself in the camp of the ravingfeminists. That 's exactly the sort afblante-the-victitn mentality we can expect from conservatives. Do the other hand, it is entirely valid to consider the source of an argument; certainly, if the proponent of a position benefits personally, that is worth ltnmvi ng. We will take an argument about the situation in Northern Ireland differently depending on whether it is advanced by a Protestant or a Catholic, a native of England, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, or an Irish-American. Compare the first example above, a clear ad hominem argument, with the following two examples: Sonatar X only supports this program because it will provide additional jobs in his state. Senator X only supports this program because he knows it 's popular with eartain special interest groups, and he 's willing to pander to them to get hintselfre-eleeted. 91 Neither of the two sentences immediately above is truly an ad hanrinern arthment, although the sentence that accuses the senator of panderi ng to special interest groups is clearly phrased in a way inimical to the senator. Notice, however. that an argument doesn't become fallacious jast because it’s phrased rather viciously. Furthermore. the beliefs of the audience will often make the difference between an ad hominenr argument and an argument based on considering the source. 2. Ad Populum This occurs when the writer appeals to an audience‘s sanse of identity, encouraging the audience to be part of the crowd and join the popular side rather than think through the issues on their oust. “Flag-waving”—that is, the mindless use of patriotic themes to the detriment of substantive diScussion of the issues—is a Common instance of aclpapulunt argumentation. Consult your local bumper sticker for shortened forms of this kind of argument: America; love it or leave it. President James Buchanan used the aa’populurn argument as a sort ot‘smolte-screen in his inaugural speech in 135?. The issue that had just been “resolved” was whether new U.S. territories would allow slavery or not. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1354 canceled previous geographical limits on the spread of slavery set by the Missouri Compromise of 1320, and allowed settlers in newly created territories to vote on whether to accept slavery or not. The voice of the majority. speaking in the manner prescribed b y the Constitution. was heard. and instant submission followed Our own country could alone have exhibited so gratinI ana1 striking a spectacle of the capacity rgftnanfbr seb’igovernnrent. Whata bappycanccption. then, was it for Congress to apply this simpl e rule, that the will of the majority shall govern. to the settlement oftbe question ofa'omestlc slavery in the Territories 026}. The result of this “happy conception“ was the period in US. history known as "Bleeding Kansas,“ when pro-slavery and anti~slavery settlers fought each other, each side trying to insure that it would have the votes to control the territory. Note here, however. that Buchanan doesn’t argue the question itself; rather, he avoids argument by introducing the very fact of arriving at a solution—never mind what solution—as a compelling example of American superiority. 3. Appeal to Tradition Among the lines of reasoning that may validly be used to support arguments, Aristotle identifies one that consists of claiming that, if something was true in the past. it is still true. The fallacious usa of this kind of reasoning occurs when a writer relies inappropriately on what people did in the past to bolster a position in the present. it’s worth noting that both forms show up in our maxims: we have the saying, “That was then: this is now.“ and the parodied phrase. “But we‘ve always done things this Way?" We do not support the marriage ofpriests because priests have always been single. 92 Note that this particular argument is faliaeious because it relies upon an assumption that things shouldn’t change. This does not mean that one cannot make a valid argument based upon tradition. For example. one might argue that those who established the rule oi’priestly celibacy did so for a reason. and that that reason still holds. Sometimes the appeal to tradition is concealed. Arguments against a consensus model ot‘decist’onu making. for example, sometimes take the t‘orrn of saying something like the following: Brit nitintoteiy, someone has to entire the jinoi decision. and that means that one person has to he in charge. What is being argued here is not whether a decision can he made by bringing the group to a consensusuj uries work that way all the time. Rather, the argument might be paraphrased as: “But we‘re used to having one person in charge. That‘ s the way it” s always been done, and that’s the way i we‘re comfortable doing it." 4. Faulty Analogy This occurs when a writer malice an inappropriate comparison to the topic or issue at hand. t—‘tn analogy can he helpful in illuminating a complex idea, hut readers must check to see that the items being compared must match up logically. if" we don 't mode of distinction between on hoora- onri on ooh tree then why .t'hanio' tire dtlrrtngntsh n fares from it person? File Ehritrersity is into n store. the pay money and receiyecotmres in tumor. font tire troy-yon might hey a pair of shoes in o ninh‘. So. when i. es o customer. pnyfirntt coarse. {expert to get fitit' tittt'ttenn grade ofh’ or higher. 1’ chi-tn ‘t get it. So i dent in}! money heart! in the first case, one could say. “But we do make distinctions between acorns and oak trees!“ in the second, much depends on how the analogy is being used. The University is like a store in many ways. The analogy would work with a claim like, “shipping clasaes that you've paid for is like tossing one of the CDs you hought into the trash as you leave the mail.” However. classes aren‘t purchasahle objects like shoes; that is, you don‘t buy the class or even the grade you get For completing it. instead, one could argue that paying for a class is more lit-re purchasing a health club membership: it entitles the huyer not to a purehasahle object. but to the use of certain resources. 5. Hasty Generalization l' he writer jumps to a conclusion with little or no evidence to support that conclusion. in some cases. hot is operating is simple prejudice: in other cases. the writer is generalizing from too little data. Il-‘hile there may he those ofhrgh i ntet' i ignite-e who t-'iolnte the low at times, the horhorinn nun‘ ti lt' rigfertitle oi ways t'tot'nte it {C oolidgc 255}. 93 Men are afraid to commit to relationships. The current generation of senior citizens is extremely wealthy; why are the rest of its sahsiaizing their Medicare? America is the greatest nation on earth: it 's the most compassionate, the most courageous. analI the most moral. After all. look at all the money we contribute whenever there 's a disaster in another country! I5. Slippery Slope The writer presents an occurrence as inevitably leading to an extreme negative result. Whether something is a reasonable causal argument or a slippe ry-slope fallacy often depends on the audience. it" we permit eighth graders to renal any Blame 's Forever. soon they will he reading pornographic magazines in the classroom. it 's‘inst a short stepfi'ont letting people arrange to discontinue heroic measures that keep them alive when they 're {lying to euthanising all our senior citizens. A perfectly valid argument can he made that “you can‘t have X without first having ‘1’.” What the slipperynslope fallacy does is either jump over too many intervening steps or else mistake “no X without Y" for “if? happens, then X will automatically and necessarily follow." it is probably true. for example, that if children’s reading is so restricted that they are not permitted to read Judy Blume, then they’ll never get as far as being assigned pornographic magazines for schoolwork. But that is very different from saying that letting kids read Blume leads to letting them read pornography in class. There are so many intervening points between Blume‘s work and pornography that the argument. as stated, won‘t work. Again, the audience, the context, and the number and inevitability of intervening steps are all of vital importance in figuring out whether an argument will work or not. For example, many years ago. when marijuana first gained widespread popularity, and before many of its bad effects were widely know, it was argued that most of the people hooked on heroin had started with marijuana; marijuana ought therefore to be banned. Cine response (an argument by analogy—see #4, above} was that all the people hooked on heroin had actually started much earlier on milk, so if marijuana was to he banned for that reason, milk should he, too. '5'. Eitherlflr The writer only offers two alternatives or options {usually extreme) to an argument. She makes the debate too simplistic and does not allow for other points of view. Usually, of course, there are many more than two possibilities. When gttns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Either he 's telling the truth. or he 's completely insane. 94 A slogan quoted earlier, under #2, the ad pflpulum argument, also falls into this category: America: love it or leave it. Alter that bumper sticker had been out for a while, another one showed up, reading: America: love it and help malte it better. 3. Banal Claim a. claim is hanal when it could be true of almost anyone or anything. For example, during the first Persian Gulf War, a class discussion centered around why people seemed to find war so fascinating. Everyone in the class had been glued to their television sets, watching the bombing of Baghdad, and everyone knew that. it‘what had been on TV that evening had been the opportunity to watch a child being born or a class of first—graders start to learn to read or a formerly blind person‘ s first fe w hours of sight after an operation, the ratings would have been much lower. t-‘unong the ideas advanced was that war is exciting, that it‘s an important event, and that everyone can imagine themselves in battle. None of those arguments worked, of course, because they could all apply to at least one of the alternatives that had been discussed—participation in a birthing event. learning to read. and restoration of sight. Boolcs are hatter than television because hooks are a pleasant way to pass the lime. Tiger Woods is exceptionally admirable as an athlete because he spends longr hours practicing his sport. One could also combine the logical fallacies of hasty generalization and banal claim by saying: hooks are hatter than television because hooks are educational. This argument fails to note that television can also be educational, and that not all books are educational. As for the second example. while Woods is certainly to be admired, this particular claim about him does not distinguish him from most other athletes. 9. Begging the QuestianlCircular Reasoning This kind of fallacy occurs when you take as your premise the point you intend to prove. Here's one that was common in the last century. Women don't want the vote. Those who say they do are either not really representative of women. or else they are lying—that would he the only way to account fiir their insistence on having the vote. when we ltnow in fact that no true woman really wants to involve herself in politics. even to the extent of having a vote. .-‘trguments about the nature of authority can often end up being circular. The Bible is God 's Word. How do we know? Because it says it is. 95 Michael Shermer, in his book Why People Believe Weird Things. notes that there are also cases of scientific circular reasoning: What is gravity? The tendeneyfor objects to be attracted to one another. Why are olgieets attracted to one another? Because of gravity (Si-53). [By the way, many people misuse the phrase “hog the question" when what they really mean is “raise the question.“ To beg the question means to take as given the question under dispute.) Iii. Misrepresenting Opposing Positions Perhaps the mo st well-known form of misrepresenting opposing positions is the “straw man" argument. A writer constructs a “straw man“ when. instead of arguing with heliefs her opponent actually holds, she creates an extreme form of an opposing position—a form not actually held by the opponent. A. variant of the strawman argument lies in selecting from the range ot'opposing positions the most extreme and treating it as the norm. Often. the straw man position goes beyond any position actually held hy any member of the opposition. Arguing against a straw man is easy enough, hut it won‘t persuade a thoughtful audience. Examples of“straw people” are the raving, man-hating, bras burning feminist who wants to destroy the family. the rabid. hate-filled Christian who wants to impose hihlical laws on the United States and start a new inquisition, the student who sits up nights putting errors into his paper specifically to annoy the teacher. and the teacher who is out to get his students. l 'm glad Dr. Kerorlrian was convicted. heeause i don 't helierefamily memhers should he allowed to trill of their reiativesjust hecause those relatives are sufi’eringfi‘ont incurable diseases. i see the English Department has revised its moi or requirements so they 're organised by period and type of literature rather than hy author. That means in theory a student could get a degree in English without ever studying Shakespeare! l ’m not so riding my child to a school where they won rt let hint study the greatest writer in the English language! 11. Leaving out Relevant Information or Introducing Irrelevancies: Misusing the Audienee’s Schemes if you do not provide full information, you may undercut your argument or mislead your audience. Make sure you understand the schemas your audience is using to interpret events and pro ride enough information in the contest of those schemas. For example. it' the President tries to cut the budget for the arts. hut Congress goes ahead and restores the funds, the President cannot validly make the following claim, even though it’s literali y true: lulu opponent says i do not support the arts. But the fact is. the arts hare lost not one cent of fitnding under my administration. 96 The reason is that the audience will interpret his claim according their schemes for such things, which will mean that they will understand him as saying he supports funding the arts, not that the arts were funded over his protests. A particularly nice example occurs in many commercials for medical products. The claim is often made that “more doctors," “more dentists," “more hospitals" use a particular pro duct--a mouthwash, a toothpaste, a pain reliever, etc. We might assume, on the basis of schemes for selection of materi als to be used in a professional context, that the decision is made based on which of the many available products is best. Actually, a product is often used because the company supplies it free or at greatly reduced rates. IE. Errors or Weaknesses in a Causal Argument This may include presenting a situation or event as the main reason when it is really only a contributing factor, or giving invalid or untrue reasons. For example, ifthe President in #l l observes that, since the budget is set up to take inflation into account, and therefore the dollar amount budgeted for the arts is more than it was when he first got into office, and if he decides that signing the budget makes hint the causcr of anything in the budget, he might try to say something like this: I have actually inrrensec'fimdingfor the arts. Of course, he‘s not the one who caused the increase—inflation and Congress, working together, did that. And calling it an increase at all is a case of providing insufficient information, since people will interpret the claim using their schema for budget increases, which means the increase has to be reasonably substantial (not, say, fifty cents in a multi‘billion dollar budget]. in that context, an increase that only ex ists to cover inflation is not a real increase. 13. Special Pleading or Misusing Connotation This is related to the line of reasoning called “characterization” {see p. T3). Often, the terms we use to describe or identi fy things aren‘t neutral. It is in fact possible to present exactly the same situation positively or negatively, depending on your choice of words. f amfimr,‘ you are stubborn; he is pig-lterrrferl. All three of these adjectives denote the same kind of behavior: an unwillingness to change one‘s mind, once it is made up. But the connotation is very different. Similarly, anti-war protests in the United States are sometimes described as will-US. protests. One can of course conscientiously protest a particular war without being against one‘s country. LikewiSe. consider the differences between a politician and a sluresmau; between being aflecliorrnie and touchy-yeah]; between being firigel and being stingy. 9? 14- 'on Sequitur blon- scquizur is Latin for “i I does not Foilow‘ and refers to an argument vvhose conclusion does not f0] low its prcmisc. There is a breakdaxvn in the can se~andveffecl Iogic, A (03- company once defended a gas-Hie by saying that it couldn‘t be sexisliraf’ler 3!]. il had been developed. by a woman! It takes a large, iJ-zrer'riatr'ortaffiv known universr'ijr h'ke (he Universig‘ anazyia-ur! to supporr irrrpor—ran; curzurai‘ events {like the piano conrperizion. Thereforer students Ivho choose to attend suzaiier scitoois like 313-” firtawr and Oberlin are giving up (he opporrunz‘r); to e_rper('ence Finporzzznr cuiudr'a! (ICIEI’EIJIES like concerts, Bestiares [av Signmcanl thinkers. and profession-a (I; produced prays. N0 Ivan-d2:- (he {fierce-Jr rare is so {on} nowada/vsf Kids do}: ‘3’ learn (:rgek and Latin in school an)» ntore. Because n:aw{1r Indianapons 500 Ivirtn'ers use XYZ spark plugs, you shou Jar use the-m in ya";- car. (or)! Mr paper isfr—ee oflagicaffartiacies, 50 it deserves an A. References Buchanan, lame-:5. "Inaugural Address, Wednesday, March 4, 1857." lizaugura! Addresses afrhe Pre ‘z'd'enis afzfae Unified Slalg‘; (pp. 3 25—] 32}. Washingtun. D.C.: United States Gox-‘crrimenl Printing Office- 1989. [Cicero_ Marcus Tullius]. Rhetorica ad Herenniuna. Trans. Harry Caplan. Cambridge. MA: Han‘arcl University Press, 1 98 l . Coolidge, Calvin. “Lt-saugura'! Address, March 4. 1925." Irraz4gura1 Addresses afiire Presiaferirs of the United States (pp. 247~256 3. Washingtoni D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, I 989. Sherrner, Michael. Wh‘v Peapa'e B‘s-{fave Weird TJJfIJgT. New York: W. H. Freeman 3:. Company, 1977. PFF‘)S.'I, Cer I 1:97.130 98 ...
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Logical Fallacies - Logical Fallacies A logical fallacy is...

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