By: Kathryn Blanco
One of the worst ways to derail an otherwise strong argument is throwing in a logical fallacy. To the trained eye, it discredits your case. Even if it goes unnoticed in a conversation, it brings down the level of discourse by confusing and frustrating both parties involved. Any AP Composition Junior is probably more than familiar with these by now, but it’s always good to keep on the lookout! Politicians’ speeches are full of such fallacies, and if you don’t want to be misled by your leaders or participate in polarizing conversation that drives people apart without ever really addressing the issue at hand, it’s important to know your fallacies. Here’s a list of a couple, and how to avoid them:
What it is: This fallacy draws a conclusion before obtaining sufficient evidence.
Example: “I arrived in Florida today and it’s raining. It must always be raining in Florida.”
How to avoid it: Do your research and make sure you rely on more than one source, particularly if that source is a personal experience, before forming an opinion.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc
What it is: This fallacy equates a correlation between two events with a causal relationship.
Example: “I watched TV for an hour and then got the flu. I must have got the flu from watching TV too long.”
How to Avoid It: Think very carefully about the context of and relationships between the events you are discussing. If your topic is a scientific one, do your research and make sure any studies you base your opinion on are reliable.
What it is: This fallacy simply restates the position without supporting it.
Example: “Cookies are delicious because they taste good.”
How to Avoid It: Be well-informed about your topic so that you can effectively support it. But if whoever you’re talking with stumps you, don’t be afraid to be honest and say ‘I don’t know.’
Begging the Claim/Question
What it is: This fallacy builds a conclusion on an unproven premise.
Example: “Cats, inferior to dogs, should be banned as house pets.” – it was never proven or even argued that cats are inferior to dogs.
How to Avoid It: Remember to consider every issue from different angles and don’t assume that you and your discussion partner are approaching an issue from the same point of view.
What it is: This fallacy creates a false situation where only one possibility can be true.
Example: “Either you want to eat this meatloaf or you are not hungry.” – it’s possible to be hungry but not want meatloaf, whether out of personal distaste or dietary restrictions.
How to Avoid It: Don’t try to simplify your argument to the point where you present an issue as black and white. A productive discussion requires both participants to recognize that gray areas exist.
What it is: This fallacy is a personal attack on an opponent rather than a logical criticism of an issue.
Example: “You are ignorant and ugly, therefore your argument is wrong.”
How to Avoid It: Don’t make the issue personal – remember that respect is essential to any productive conversation. Introducing ad hominem attacks is both insulting to your discussion partner and harmful to your own case.
What it is: This fallacy distracts from the issue at hand.
Example: “Soda vending machines should not be removed from schools because of health risks, students would disappointed to have to drink only water.” – The students’ drink preferences do not negate the health risks
How to Avoid It: Remember the main point you are trying to make and stick to it rather than trying to confuse your audience.
What it is: This fallacy is an attack on an argument similar to, but not as complex as, the one an opponent is actually making.
Example: If one person said, “Students should not use cell phones during class” and another responded with “Your suggestion to eliminate the use of technology in schools would prevent students from developing the skills they need in a modern, technology driven world.”
How to Avoid It: Remember that whoever you are talking with has opinions that are likely as well developed and complex as yours. Don’t oversimplify a position you disagree with, develop the skills to argue it as it actually is.
Source: “Logical Fallacies.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University, 3 Nov. 2013. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.
Image: Conflict Silhouette. 7 Nov. 2015. N.p., Open Clipart Library. Web. 20 May 2016.
NOTE: for some engaging information regarding logical arguments, I’ve found the Crash Course Philosophy Course on YouTube especially helpful!