12 Logical Fallacies to Avoid

Hi, all.

I hope you are doing well. This week will be a short post, as promised!

Communication is key. Period. It is used in relationships, community, society, or anything that involves people. Often times, however, we communicate very poorly. There are many reasons for this, but one of the problems (that I often see on social media) are logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is simply an argument that implements incorrect thinking. There are two types of fallacies 1) Formal fallacies and 2) Informal fallacies. For this post, we are concerned with informal fallacies. An informal fallacy is an argument that follows the formal rules of logic, but are incorrect in terms of their content—the evidence in the argument does not lead to the conclusion. Here is an example before moving on to our list:

  • Pure-blood wizards are vanishing in the Harry Potter universe.
  • Sirius Black is a pure-blood wizard.
  • Therefore, Sirius Black is vanishing.

There is nothing wrong with the formal rules. If you want to impress your friends or bore your enemies, the above syllogism is an example of modus ponens:

  • If p then q,
  • p,
  • Therefore q.

But, we would still say the ‘Harry Potter’ argument is incorrect. Sirius Black is not vanishing. There must be an informal fallacy lurking in the background here. But what? Well, check out this list of informal fallacies to avoid when communicating!

 

1) Hasty Generalization

An argument that forms a conclusion on the basis of insufficient evidence.

Example: This political party said blank, therefore it must be bad!

Just because the disliked political party said it, doesn’t mean that it was wrong or bad. Sometimes the people you don’t like are correct.

2) Sweeping Generalization

An argument that applies a general principle to a specific case to which it does not apply.

Example: If you have a college degree in ‘x’, then you must be qualified for job ‘x’ over someone who doesn’t have a degree.

A college education is good, but it does not entail that that person is more qualified than someone else. If I got a college degree in music, specialized in voice, I would not be more qualified to be the lead vocal in The Avett Brother’s band. Trust me, they are more qualified!

3) Weak Analogy

An argument based on an analogy that does not fit the situation

Example: “Destroying this gate will be easy. I once destroyed a pillow fort wall of blankets!” Gimli said to Legolas as they approached the Black Gate.

Well, Gimli is in for a surprise! His analogy of the pillow fort blanket wall doesn’t quite stand up to the task at hand of storming the Black Gate…. By the way, Gimli never actually said this. Dwarves are prideful, but not stupid!

4) Equivocation

An argument that uses the same word multiples times, but changes its definition during the argument.

Example:

  • Pure-blood wizards are vanishing in the Harry Potter universe.
  • Sirius Black is a pure-blood wizard.
  • Therefore, Sirius Black is vanishing.

The word “vanishing” applied to “pure-blood” is meaning that there are not many pure-blood witches and wizards around. They are marrying non-magic people and, therefore, they are not having pure-blood children. However, Sirius Black, though being a pure-blood, is not vanishing. The word used this way is ill-equipped to describe Sirius Black’s condition.

5) Complex Question

The conclusion is assumed in the question presented in the argument.

Example: You are an avid DC comics fan and hate Marvel Comics and your archenemy is attempting to ruin your day:

“Are you a Marvel fan?”

“Absolutely not!!”

“Does your wife know you are a Marvel fan?”
“Umm….”

The second question is a favorite of little kids. At least, when I was in elementary school this question was posed often as a way of catching the other little tike in a bind—though it wasn’t usually about comic companies. It assumes that you are a Marvel fan in asking whether your wife knows it. So, this question isn’t a valid question to answer. So, make sure your children know and are equipped to handle the logical fallacies of grade school!

6) Begging the Question (Circular Reasoning)

            An argument that never addresses the issue at hand, but assume the issue is settled (This is very close to the Complex Question, but is slightly different).

Example: I am undefeatable at the board game Settlers of Catan because I cannot lose!

Essentially, the problem here is that the statement is repeating itself. You could rephrase it as I am undefeatable because I am undefeatable. It doesn’t prove anything. Especially in Settlers of Catan…only the dice decide your fate. And it is often not pretty.

7) Ad hominem

Latin for “against the person,” this is an argument against the opponent, not their arguments.

Example: Christianity can’t be true because there are bad people who claim to be Christians and did terrible things.

On a more serious note, many have used this as an argument against Christianity, citing the Crusades as points against Christianity. The point in acknowledging this fallacy is that a religion cannot be judged based on the people. Religions should only be judged based on the teachings of that religion—this goes for any beliefs, political groups, worldviews, etc. For one, the person claiming a certain religion may not be following the religion’s teachings. The Crusades do not disprove Christianity. All it proves is that some used the banner of Christianity to wage war on others.

8) Ad populum

            Latin for “argument to the people,” this is an argument that appeals to a large number of people instead of appealing to explanatory scope or evidence.

Example: Everyone believes Superman could beat Batman. Therefore, Superman could beat Batman.

This argument doesn’t prove anything. Batman might fool everyone and beat Superman. Or, maybe Superman would beat Batman. Or perhaps, they might learn that their mothers had the same name and become best friends….Okay, okay. That last one was a joke. No way that would ever happen, right? Right? Anyways, the argument doesn’t prove anything by appealing to a large number of people.

9) Red Herring

An argument that diverts the attention off of the subject at hand to another, irrelevant subject.

Example: People against abortion must hate women.

The abortion debate, whether you are for or against, revolves around the unborn fetus in determining whether it should be considered a human life or not. The argument in no way revolves around women’s worth or someone’s feelings regarding women. And bringing up this “argument” only distracts from the real, helpful conversation.

Another, lighter example would be any episode of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Child-version Freddy accused the school bully, Red Herring, as the person in the monster costume every episode. No wonder why they named the bully Red Herring. Better luck next time Freddy.

10) Straw Man

            An argument when one distorts and inflates another’s position and proceeds to argue against the inflated position

Example:

  • People should avoid Harry Potter because it has witchcraft in it.
  • Witchcraft is evil and wicked and teaches people to be evil and wicked.
  • Anything that teaches people to be evil and wicked should be avoided.
  • Therefore, people should avoid Harry Potter.

Harry Potter does not teach people to be evil and wicked. This argument inflates what the Harry Potter series is actually about. Anything that teaches people to be evil and wicked should be avoided, but since Harry Potter does not teach people to be evil and wicked, this argument accomplishes nothing.

11) Argument from Ignorance

An argument formed from the lack of evidence

Example: “Well Timmy, I didn’t see a monster under the bed. So, I guess there is no monster.”

Yikes! Look out, Mom! Not only did you base your conclusion on the absence of evidence—therefore being convicted of committing an informal fallacy—but you also might have a monster on your hands! She’s in double-Jeopardy, here. I mean, for all she knows, the monster could be invisible.

12) Genetic Fallacy

            An argument that attempts to explain the other opponent’s belief in order disprove that belief.

Example: “You only believe in God because you can’t handle the harsh reality of life.” (Both Freud and Nietzsche used this argument against religion)

These kinds of arguments should be avoided because they don’t say anything worthwhile. Explaining the reason for a belief does not disprove the belief. The explanation could even be true, but it wouldn’t disprove the belief. Maybe people can’t handle the harsh reality of life. Yet, perhaps God knew people couldn’t handle it so he put it in the heart of people to look for Him. And this is why we have religion. You could also call this a “just-so” story. It “just-so” happens that you believe ‘x’ because of (whatever). Just-so stories amount to, “Cool story, bro,” but not much else.

Well, I hoped you liked this list of a few informal fallacies to avoid in a conversation! And as always, think well and have a good week.

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