What is a fallacy? A fallacy is an illegitimate attempt at persuasion that superficially seems correct. People want to change the way you think, even if they consciously or unconsciously know that they have a weak or invalid argument. Sometimes, a person unwittingly argues using fallacies, without the intent of eeceiving you or others. Other people deliberately resort to fallacies because they know that no logical basis exists that would convince you to adopt their beliefs. Buy the book about logical fallacies and then continue reading below to learn the answer to the question, “what is a fallacy?”
What is a fallacy?
A fallacy can be persuasive, especially for an audience that either trusts the speaker or does not have critical thinking skills. Be careful, because the persuasive power of a fallacy could lead you down a long road of bad decisions. You might also feel tempted to use fallacious arguments for changing core beliefs. to trick people into following your beliefs. Don’t do that. Learn about the common types of fallacies right here. By the way, fallacies are never proofs.
Affirming the consequent
Consider a valid modus ponens argument (discussed in our chapter on deductive arguments) in the following form:
P1 If A, then B.
– or –
P1 If today is Wednesday, we will have spaghetti.
P2 Today is Wednesday.
∴ We will have spaghetti.
The second premise affirms the antecedent of the conditional proposition, and the conclusion affirms the consequent of the conditional proposition. A modus ponens argument is always valid.
A fallacy occurs when an argument that looks like modus ponens is not valid. Someone might do this to borrow from the authority of modus ponens or simply make a logical error. Consider the following:
P1: If William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies, than William Golding was a great writer.
P2: William Golding was a great writer.
∴ William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies.
– or –
P1 If Nixon was beheaded, then he is dead.
P2 Nixon is dead
∴ Nixon was beheaded
The fallacy is called affirming the consequent because its second (or categorical) premise affirms the consequent rather than the antecedent, as it would do were it a modus ponens argument. You could disprove the fallacious argument by stating that the fact that Willing Golding was a great writer does not necessarily require that he had written any particular book. Shakespeare, for example, was a great writer and he didn’t write Lord of the Flies.
Denying the antecedent
Suppose you made the following modus tollens arguments:
P1 If A, then B.
P2 Not B.
∴ Not A.P1 If Bob is seven feet tall, then he is at least six feet tall.P2 Bob is not at least six feet tall.∴ Bob is not seven feet tall.
Modus tollens arguments are necessarily valid. The second premise, aka the categorical premise, denies the consequent of the conditional proposition and the conclusion denies its antecedent.
A speaker might either accidentally borrow from the authority of modus tollens to make a fallacious argument called denying the antecedent. In this case, the categorical premise denies the antecedent of the conditional and the conclusion denies its consequent.
Affirming the consequent takes the following form:
P1 If A, then B.
P2 Not A.
∴ Not B.P1 If Bob is seven feet tall, then he is at least six feet tall.P2 Bob is not at least seven feet tall.∴ Bob is not at least six feet tall.
Bob could be at least six feet tall and still be less than seven feet tall.
Try these examples as counter arguments to denying the antecedent:
P1 If Bob is a Conservative, then he is a Republican.
P2 Bob is not a Conservative.
∴ Bob is not a Republican.
The above argument is not valid because a person can be a Conservative without being a Republican.
– or –
P1 If Reagan was beheaded then he is dead.
P2 Reagan was not beheaded
∴ Reagan is not dead.
The above argument is invalid because we know that Reagan is dead. We also know that he was not beheaded.
Straw man fallacy
Straw man: A fallacy where a critic attacks a different argument than the one the critic pretends to attack.
People who use the straw man fallacy create a substitute for the original argument and then pretend that the second argument is the original one. Straw man arguments take the following form:
Original conclusion: Most people would never become addicted if drugs were legal.
Straw man: No people would become addicted if drugs were legal.
Here, you could make a valid argument that most people would not become addicted to drugs if they were legal. Someone wanting to attack that argument will argue against the second conclusion as though it were the first, pretending to discredit your argument.
We found an example of a straw man fallacy on Bing just a few minutes ago:
Donald Trump rejects some polls as inaccurate. His conclusion is based on publicly available data and the opinions of many experts who take issue with the way the Democrat Party has colluded with the Democrat Corporate Media cartel to use misleading polls to suppress the Trump vote.
Rather than arguing with Trump’s valid conclusion, the publisher chose to manipulate readers by arguing instead against a second conclusion: “Donald Trump rejects polls as inaccurate.” By arguing for the validity of a single poll, the publisher can discredit the straw man and make readers believe that they have discredited Trump’s argument.
A moral dilemma
The Democrat Corporate Media cartel pretends to report the news. Instead of supplying news, they, with the intention to deceive, they report fiction and then craft a straw man to support it.
By simply arguing against “Donald Trump rejects polls as inaccurate” rather than against “Donald Trump rejects some polls as inaccurate,” Bing and its publisher partners have completely misled readers who thought that they were reading the news.
Do you understand the power of the straw man?
Protect yourself from straw man deceptions by always asking yourself if the stated argument accurately represents the actual argument.
Ad hominem circumstantial
An ad hominem circumstantial fallacy attempts to use the circumstances that have precipitated the argument to pre-empt or ignore the argument. This type of fallacy is plentiful in political, social and business circles. Consider the following:
We shouldn’t pay attention to Wikileaks’ evidence of Hillary Clinton crimes because Wikileaks’ publishes stolen information.
Or another example:
Don’t believe Joe’s claims about super-drug A because Joe’s getting paid by the company that makes super-drug A.
In both examples, the speaker or author dismisses a valid argument by focusing on discrediting the circumstances that made the argument possible.
Ad hominem circumstantial arguments often have money and self-interest at their core.
Ad hominem abusive and poisoning the well
When someone discredits an argument based on the character of the person making the argument, they argue using an ad hominem abusive fallacy.
Consider the following:
Don’t listen to Donald Trump’s appeal to the black community because Donald Trump is a racist!
Rather than debating the merits of Trump’s appeal, Hillary Clinton and her allies chose to poison the well by assigning a destructive label to Donald Trump.
Here’s another ad hominem abusive argument that was common during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign:
Donald Trump can’t discuss foreign policy because he doesn’t have any experience in government.
Rather than debating the merits of Trump’s comments on foreign policy issues, the Democrat Party sought to prevent anyone from taking him seriously.
The format of an ad hominem abusive argument is as follows:
Trump is [fill in the blank].
Therefore, you cannot consider Trump’s argument.
– or –
This guy has a criminal record! You can’t listen to this guy!
Ad hominem abusive arguments aim to either prevent someone from making an argument or prevent people from listening to an argument. For that reason, ad hominem abusive attacks are described as poisoning the well. After destroying the authority and reputation of a person, the audience will be less likely to accept an argument made by that person.
An ad hominem abusive argument attacks the person making the argument as hypocritical, inconsistent or otherwise flawed rather than attacking the argument in question.
“You too!” arguments are fallacies called tu quoque (say it like Two Kwo Kay). Suppose someone accused you of being fat. Rather than arguing that by certain official guidelines you are not fat, you point out that your accuser is also fat. We’ve seen some tu quoque in the 2016 election cycle. Consider the following paraphrased discussion.
Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton: You have mistreated women. Just look ghow you defamed your husband’s rape victims.
Hillary Clinton in response: Well, you’ve mistreated women too.
Of course, we don’t know for sure that Donald Trump has ever mistreated a woman, but assume that Hillary Clinton accepts that as a proof. In such a case, it is a tu quoque fallacy.
How about this exchange between two criminals:
Criminal 1: We can’t trust Bob, because he’s a criminal.
Bob: Well, you’re a criminal too!
The fallacy doesn’t address the premise that we can’t trust Bob. It simply diminishes Criminal 1’s credibility.
Begging the question
As a presumptive fallacy, an argument that begs the question assumes what it tries to prove.
Here’s a classic example of begging the question:
I know that the Bible is true because it’s the word of God!
I know this because the Bible says that it is the word of God.
Rather than accepting the challenge of forming a non-faith-based argument in favor of the Bible being God’s word, the arguer begs the question and has the Bible prove itself to be the word of God. In other words, the premises of the argument assume that its conclusion is true.
Here’s another example of begging the question:
P1 God Exists.
∴ God Exists.
Although begging question often fails to persuade, some people improve on it by making it appear more like a real argument by chaining arguments. For example:
P1 Matter has always existed.
∴ The world has always existed.
P1 The world has always existed.
∴ The world was not created by God.
Politicians and preachers alike, often try to improve the persuasiveness of begging the question using the following strategy:
Beginning of speech: Premise 1 is true! [blah blah blah blah blah very long speech blah blah blah] therefore Premise 1 is true!
In the above case, the speaker uses obfuscation to disguise his fallacious argument.
When an argument contains a disjunction as a premise or only offers two options when a third option is available is a false dilemma. Consider the following example:
P1 We must either import more oil from the Middle East or develop solar power.
P2 We shouldn’t import more oil from the Middle East.
∴ We must develop solar power.
The above premise ignores the possibility of tapping domestic oil resources, so it is a false dilemma.
Try this false dilemma:
P1 We should either completely ban smoking or eliminate all restrictions on smoking.
P2 We can’t completely ban smoking.
∴ We should eliminate all restrictions on smoking.
False Dilemma: an argument that contains either a disjunction as one of its premises that is false or that gives two options, where there’s a third possibility, e.g. “We either should ban smoking everywhere or ban it nowhere. Since we can’t ban it everywhere, we should ban it nowhere.”
A false dilemma is a disjunctive syllogism where the either/or statement is untrue.
P1 Either X or Y. <– the false dilemma
P2 Not A
Slippery slope (causal chain)
A slippery slope argument concludes we shouldn’t do something because of its ultimate consequences. A results in B, B allows C, C permits D, and so since D is unacceptable, we should not allow A. Causal chains aren’t inherently fallacious, but they become fallacies when the chain of logic is weak.
Consider the example:
If we allow same sex marriage, then we’ll have to allow people to hav multiple spouses. If we do that, we’ll have let parents marry children. We’ll also have to allow marriages between humans and animals. We can’t legitimize beastiality, so we can’t allow same sex marriage.
Many people would consider the causal chain in the above example to be strong, suggesting that the fallacy is in the eye of the beholder. Generally, however, a slippery slope is a fallacy if it’s unclear that the will necessarily result from the starting point.
What is a fallacy?
A fallacy is any invalid argument that might appear to be valid to an audience and have a persuasive effect. In other words, a fallacy is a persuasive argument that should not be persuasive.
What is a fallacy? Share your opinion by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.