Learning to spot a logical fallacy is an indispensable skill. Fallacies are failures in reasoning which render an argument invalid or false. Learn how you can enhance your critical thinking by spotting logical fallacies.
Arguments sell ideas. Ideas can set us free. Or, ideas can imprison us. Consequently, being able to identify the most common fallacies will help you avoid many pitfalls. It will keep you from buying into spurious and invalid claims and arguments.
“Before the truth can set you free you need to recognize the lies that make up your prison.” ― Guru Tua
In other words, learning to recognize the logical fallacies of argument will keep you out of mental prison.
As mentioned above, being able to spot an illogical argument is a valuable life skill. So, we’ll take you through some examples. This will help you see how these tactics are used.
This list of logical fallacies is just one aspect of logic. We recommend the study of all the logical tools. This toolkit includes this article containing the tools for spotting logical fallacies, logical reasoning and the list of logical axioms. Together they provide a type of mental inoculation against a host of harmful things. It protects against cultural and social programming and propaganda of all kinds. To be sure, these analytical sciences do not have all the answers. However, these sciences do provide tools to identify fact from fiction. This list isn’t exhaustive. It contains the ones you’ll encounter the most.
This is misrepresenting someone’s argument thus making it easier to attack. Here we see exaggerating, misrepresenting, or fabricating an argument. By distorting the other person’s argument it’s easier to present your own position as being reasonable or valid. This kind of dishonesty serves to undermine rational debate.
Example, “A” says we should put more money into health and education. “B” responds by saying, “A” hates our country. He wants to leave it defenseless by cutting military spending. In the above example “B” misrepresents what “A” said. Then fabricates assumptions. This follows a similar tactic to the slippery slope tactic below.
Slippery Slope Fallacy:
Asserting that if we allow “A” to happen, then “Z” will happen as a consequence. Therefore, we should not allow “A” to happen. The problem with this reasoning is that it avoids engaging with the issue “A” presented. Instead, it shifts attention to the baseless extreme hypothetical result. The merits of the original argument are then tainted by unsubstantiated conjecture.
Example: Rod says to Emily, if you believe in climate change, then the policies it requires will destroy our way of life. Consequently destroying our whole country and we will die, destitute and homeless. In this example, we see how Rod attaches unsubstantiated conclusions to the acknowledgment of climate change.
The Poor Argument Fallacy:
Presuming the substance of the argument is invalid because of the poor presentation of the facts. There are few things more frustrating than watching someone poorly argue a valid point. Much of the time a debate is won not because the victor is right, but because they are better at debating. They are better at presenting a compelling argument, even if it is completely wrong. No example necessary.
Substituting the Burden of Proof Fallacy:
Saying that the burden of proof lies not with the person making the claim, but with someone else to disprove their hypothesis or claim. The burden of proof lies with the person making the argument or claim, not upon someone else to disprove. The inability, or disinclination, to disprove a claim does not make the claim valid.
Example: Bertrand claims that there exists a God sitting on a throne in another dimension. Since it cannot be disproven, it must be true. Similarly, Bertrand claims God wrote a book and because we cannot disprove that God didn’t write it, it must, therefore, be true. This is an Argument From Ignorance. This is the assertion that their conclusion is true because there is no evidence to prove it is false. Don’t fall for this. The burden of proof is always on the person making the claim for the existence OF something.
Ad Hominem Fallacy:
Attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits instead of engaging with their argument. Ad Hominem attacks can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character. The result of an ad hominem attack can be to undermine someone without actually having to engage with their arguments.
Example calling someone a demeaning name when addressing them, “She’s bad.” If it continues to be used again and again, the common person will begin to associate “bad” with her, whoever she is, regardless if she’s actually done anything bad. You would think this simple tactic would be too transparent to work but sadly it still does.
Personal Incredulity Fallacy:
Saying that because one finds something difficult to understand that it’s therefore not true. Complex subjects like biological evolution through natural selection require some amount of understanding of how they work before one is able to properly grasp them. So, this fallacy is a fall-back strategy when one does not understand the complexity of the subject matter.
Example: Kirk draws a picture of a fish and a human. Then with effusive disdain asks Richard if he is stupid enough to believe a fish somehow became a human through random things happening over time. This example also shows how the Ad Hominem attack is incorporated in order to imply that Richard was stupid to give credence to the theory of biological evolution. Nice going, Kirk!
Loaded Question Fallacy:
Asking a question that has a built-in assumption. In this way, you cannot answer the question without appearing guilty of something. The loaded question fallacy is particularly effective in derailing rational debate because of their inflammatory nature. The recipient of the loaded questions is compelled to defend themselves.
Example: In a verbal sidewalk debate Phillip asks Ron, “have you had sex with our teacher all you want? No matter how Ron responds he appears guilty. If he responds “no” it sounds like an admission that he has had sex with the teacher. It’s just not as much as he wanted. If he doesn’t respond he “appears” guilty. The correct answer would be, “that is an absurd question.”
The Gambler’s Fallacy:
Believing that ‘runs’ occur to statistically independent phenomena such as a roulette wheel spins. This fallacy is responsible for creating an entire city in the State of Nevada USA. The overall odds of a ‘big run’ happening may be extremely low and improbable. Because each spin of the wheel is itself entirely independent from the last spin.
Example: Red had come up six times in a row on the roulette wheel. So, Greg presumes that it was close to certain that Black would be next. Greg has a 50/50 chance of losing again.
Black or White Fallacy:
Presenting two alternatives “as the ONLY” possibilities or choices, when in fact other possibilities exist. (Also known as the “false dilemma”.) This tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument. However, under closer scrutiny, it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than presented.
Example: “You either believe in the same God that I do, or you are a Devil.”
Begging the Question Fallacy:
A circular argument in which the conclusion includes invalid premises. The logically incoherent argument often arises where people have ingrained assumptions. These assumptions are often things that cannot be questioned. Consequently, they must be defended regardless of the other possibilities. or despite evidence against their deeply held belief.
Example: The word of Apollo is flawless and perfect. We know this because it says so in the great and infallible book of Apollo. So, Apollo exists. And, furthermore, because we give Apollo offerings and prayers he blesses us with miracles. This is evidence of the greatness of Apollo. Around and around it goes.
If this article resonates, there are more on our blog. Also, you may be interested in learning about our blended learning process. This is our curriculum which we use to teach several mind-expanding tools. It also aligns the Hero’s Journey. This is the term Joseph Campbell gave the pattern of consciousness development. Our learning process is available in two forms. You can take part in the virtual learning module or in our workshops.
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