Logic 101: Fallacies and the art of spotting bad arguments

Fallacies are fun! Ever wish you could win every argument someone proposes? Well, philosophers love that kind of stuff. In our line of study it’s all about proving the other guy wrong and making irrefutable arguments. Fallacies are arguments that have poor premises to support their conclusion. They are usually misleading, deceptive, and down right biased. Once you can spot them, you can surely thwart any bad argument and win. There are tons of fallacies, so today I’m only going to list five. I’ll surely create a part 2 when I have more time!

So Let’s learn how to spot fallacies huh?

Begging The Question

Begging the question is an argument that assumes the answer already in it’s premise. It serves as a pretty flimsy argument and looks a little something like this.

  • Person 1 – “Jesus must be the son of God.”
  • Person 2 – “How do you know that?”
  • Person 1 – “Because Jesus said he was.”

This is the kind of argument people use when they are frustrated and can’t think of a good reason to support their conclusion. Basically this guy is trying to prove that Jesus is the son of God through the fact that he said he was. the premise for believing just really restates the conclusion and offers no real support.

Red Herring Fallacy

The Red herring fallacy comes from an old hunters tale. A hunter takes his dog out with him one day and a long while into their day the man grows tired and wants to leave for home. The dog is still hot on the trail of the animal and the hunter can’t grab his dog to bring him home. So he takes an oily bag of dead red haring and brush it in the path in front of the dog. The dog becomes disoriented and the hunter is able to leash his dog and go home.

So what does this mean? Someone using a  red haring fallacies uses a none relevant point to divert their argument so they can win. Here’s an example of that:

  • “Soda isn’t the best thing for you. Everyone should drink coffee instead. Coffee really keeps you awake. “

The arguer starts with one conclusion that Soda is bad for you then completely abandons it to say that everyone should drink coffee and that coffee keeps you awake. That in no way supports why soda is bad for you, it just goes completely off track!

Slippery Slope Arguments

These fallacies are also easy to spot. Someone who uses this basically leads you down a hypothetical chain of events to prove ridiculous things. Kids could correlate to this argument when they have ever asked to do something their parents didn’t agree with.

  • Kid – “Can I hang out with billy, Mom?”
  • Mom – “No”
  • Kid – “Why?”
  • Mom – “Because Billy isn’t a good kid. If you hang out with Billy you’ll do bad things. Then you’ll get yourself into big trouble. Then he will make you do drugs. Then you will overdose and die. Do you want to die?”

Obviously Mom doesn’t like billy. So much so that she makes up these random chain of events that will lead to the child’s death. Sounds fallacious to me.

Ad Populum

Latin for “to the people,” Ad Populum fallacies are  supported by the appealing to the masses to prove their point. Here’s that in example:

  • Person 1– “The Giant’s are the best team in football.”
  • Person 2 – “What makes you believe that?”
  • Person 1 – “Everyone I’m friends with says it’s true so it’s true!”

Another name for what you see above is the bandwagon fallacy. It’s obvious how bad this argument is. Just because a lot of other people you know say it’s true, doesn’t make it so.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

This fallacy translates into “after this, therefore because of this.” It follows a pattern that goes like this. A comes after B, so  B therefore causes A. As you’re about to see this doesn’t work out quite well.

  • “I had some chocolate today. Then later on I got very sick. The chocolate must have made me ill.”

Because you had a piece of chocolate at some point of the day doesn’t necessarily mean that the chocolate caused the sickness. Just because you had the chocolate prior to becoming sick doesn’t entail that it was the reason for our sickness.

Conclusion

So there you have five explanations of fallacies. Try to catch your friends use these arguments against you. You can point them out and prove them wrong and perhaps win a few arguments this way. I’ll make sure to post more fallacies at a later date for you all. Until then, keep on thinking!

Posted in Philosophy.

4 Comments

  1. So if I didn’t check the date on this post, I would have thought it was posted because of our car argument about a certain car lol Anyway I hate when you use these terms to defeat me =(

  2. It’s also important not to go too overboard in trying to call people on fallacies, though – when making points people often don’t always say exactly what they mean, and oftentimes there’s more implied context that clarifies a point to where it’s no longer a fallacy – *if* you include the implied context. Sometimes it’s better to work that out than to just start up a frivolous argument over whether a given statement was a fallacy or not, in the interests of productivity. (But arguing can be fun too. :D)

  3. Fallacies are flaws in the reasoning process. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the conclusion arrived at through flawed reasoning is false. It becomes a mere rhetorical device that tears at the opponent’s ethos.

    Pointing out a fallacy when it is not relevant (specially when the truth value is conserved) can be regarded as pedantic, and it is in itself an informal fallacy known as argument from fallacy.

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