When creating a logical argument, there are many different aspects that have to come together to ensure that your argument is sound and does not contain any flaws. One of these aspects is avoiding what we call “logical fallacies.” A logical fallacy is an error of reasoning that will weaken your argument and, in most cases, undermine it completely. Today, we’re going to look at the 10 most common logical fallacies.
Circular reasoning, or circular argument, is when the argument is restated rather than proven. In other words, instead of explaining why something is or isn’t true, you just fall back on the original argument as “proof”. Here’s an example: “Opium is sleep-inducing because it has a sleep-inducing quality.” You haven’t really explained why opium is sleep-inducing, you’ve just confirmed that it is in fact sleep-inducing. A typical formula for circular reasoning is “A is true because B is true, and B is true because A is true”. Another example of this would be: “The wind is invisible because I can’t see it, and I can’t see it because it’s invisible.” When constructing an argument, make sure to avoid this kind of logic by being as specific as possible about your proofs.
A hasty generalization is when someone makes a sweeping statement without considering all of the facts. For example, if a man walks through a town for the first time and sees 10 people, all of them children, he might conclude that all the town’s residents are children. This argument fails to explore all of the data surrounding the topic and attempts to suggest a conclusion based on this limited knowledge. This is also known as a “overgeneralization”, and is best avoided by exploring and presenting every aspect of an argument’s topic.
A slippery slope is a conclusion based on the premise that one small step will lead to a chain of events resulting in some significant event, which is usually negative. In other words, if we allow A to happen, then an unwanted Z will eventually happen, which means that A should not happen. Here’s an example: “If you don’t study on Saturdays, your grades will suffer. If your grades suffer, you won’t graduate school with high honors, which means you won’t get a good job. Since you won’t have a good job, you’ll have to live on the streets.” This implies that not studying on Saturdays will result in eventually being homeless. The problem here is that the main issue is being covered by extreme hypotheticals, with no real proof to support the argument.
A straw man argument is a technique where someone distorts an opponent’s claim so that it is easier to refute, or where someone tries to refute a point someone made by giving a rebuttal to a point they did not make. For example, if someone said “Schools should be more lenient with standardized testing,” a straw man reply to this would be “If we stop giving tests in school we are going to raise an ignorant generation that won’t have the skills to live in the real world.” This fallacy serves to undermine an honest and rational debate with unfounded claims.
An Ad Hominem is an attack on a person’s character or personal attributes in order to discredit their argument. For example, a mother might reject the judgements of a male pediatrician because he has never been a mother and couldn’t possibly understand the child’s situation. She has done nothing to directly oppose the doctor’s argument, but has instead tried to undermine his judgement without actually having to engage with it.
A false dichotomy, or false dilemma, occurs when an argument presents two points while disregarding or ignoring others in order to narrow the argument in one person’s favor. This is also known as an “either/or” fallacy. Here are a couple of examples: “You are either for us or against us.” “I thought you were a good person, but you didn’t donate to charity last year.” There are only two options given, when there are really more options available. This attempts to drive the argument in a direction where only one specific answer can be given in order to incriminate the opposing party.
Appeal to emotion
An appeal to emotion is when a writer or speaker uses emotion-based language to try to persuade the reader or listener of a certain belief or position.
An appeal to emotion generally follows the logical form: X is true. Think of how sad you will be if it’s not true, or think of how happy you will be that it is true.
Example: “I deserve a second chance to submit my assignment. This past week was so busy for me. I had football practice late every night, I had tons of homework in all my other classes, and my girlfriend and I just broke up.”
In general, what someone perceives to be unfair, how someone is feeling, or even things that someone might perceive to be moral or immoral do not carry much weight for making an objective argument.
A fallacy of equivocation is when an argument is presented in an ambiguous, double-sided way, making the argument misleading. This is also known as a “doublespeak” fallacy. Here is an example: “Hot dogs are better than nothing. Nothing is better than hamburgers. Therefore, hot dogs are better than hamburgers.” The word “nothing” in this case is used to refer to both “not anything” and “all things”. It’s important to precisely define your words and be consistent with their usage.
A Bandwagon Appeal is an appeal that presents the thoughts of a group of people in order to persuade someone to think the same way. It argues that one must accept or reject an argument based on peer pressure. Here are two examples: “Many people buy extended warranties; therefore, it is wise to buy them.” “My family holds this as a truth; therefore, everyone who disagrees is simply wrong.” These are not strong arguments, because they have no basis in fact.
A false analogy, also known as a weak analogy, is when two things that are unalike are being compared based on a trivial similarity in order to prove a point.
For example: “People are like dogs. They respond best to discipline.” This is an absurd analogy that attempts to correlate people and dogs based on one minor similarity.
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