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Beware Of The Fallacy: Don't Be Fooled

Beware Of The Fallacy: Don't Be Fooled

Everyone should do a lot of arguing!

Don't be fooled by Equivocation. Some words have two different meanings that can get confused.

Clarification: "Arguing" here means discussing reasonably and fairly, not screaming and fist-fighting.

An Initial Argument: Beware Of The Fallacy: Don't Be Fooled

1. Making and using correct logical arguments is a Good Thing.

2. To do this one needs to know and understand a list of common logical fallacies.

3. So everyone ought to know and understand a list of common logical fallacies.

Is the Initial Argument correct?

"A Good Thing" is vague. But it serves its purpose in the argument. (It expresses the idea of goodness as a justification for value and obligation. For more on the idea of goodness, see the philosophers of the Western World.)

The problem is that (2) is false. It is not necessary to memorize a list of fallacies in order to think correctly. This idea is part of the Fallacy Fallacy.

A more modest argument seems correct:

1. Making and using correct logical arguments is a Good Thing.

2. To do this it helps to know and understand a list of common logical fallacies.

3. So it is valuable to know and understand a list of common logical fallacies.

These lists can be found easily through the Internet or at a bookstore or in a college logic class. Here is a short sample.

Ad Hominem And Tu Quoque, Ad Populum, Appeal To Authority, Appeal To Ignorance, Appeal To Pity, Begging The Question, Equivocation, False Dichotomy, Hasty Generalization, Missing The Point, Post Hoc (Also Called False Cause), Red Herring, Slippery Slope, Straw Man, Weak Analogy

Most of these have Latin names as well as English ones, but it is fallacious to believe that using an impressive-sounding Latin term gives a decisive edge in an argument. The Latin for this would be the Fallacy Ad Baculum - of the Stick or Force" giving your opponent a whack in the form of a sneer.


THIS IS THE FALLACY FALLACY: the way to refute an argument is to review a standard list of fallacies, find one that seems to fit the argument, and label it in red pencil.

This is a version of the Fallacy of Authority. Pointing to the name of the fallacy on a list does invoke the ghost of Aristotle as a Logical Authority to stamp "REJECTED" on a suspected argument.

Instead, a fallacy in a textbook list is a RED FLAG, a reminder to slow down and read or write with care: "CAUTION, there are sharks in these waters."


There are two excellent ways, but they are more difficult than red pencilling.

A long time ago, a great king was annoyed with his private tutor. "Teach me this geometry in an easier way!" he demanded. But the tutor replied, "Your Majesty, there is no royal road to learning."

THE FIRST WAY TO USE FALLACY LISTS" for checking your arguments.

First catch your argument. Build it yourself or use one by someone else.

Ask yourself:

What is the conclusion" the claim to be proved?

What are the supporting claims" the premises?

What is the argument structure" the skeleton?

Here is an example:

[A] because [B] and [C]

[C] because [D]


[A] The American colonies, acting as the United States of America, are justified in proclaiming their independence from Britain, thereby removing their government and setting up another in its place.


[B] King George's government has flagrantly failed in its task to secure for its people their basic rights; it has even taken away their rights.

and :

[C] If a government fails to fulfill its contract to secure its people's rights (and especially if it flagrantly fails, by taking away these basic rights), then its people may "fire" the government" remove it and set up another in its place" that is, make a contract with a new agent.


[D] All people have certain basic rights, and the purpose of government is to secure these rights. The people "hire" that is, contract with government as their agent to secure their rights.

{FLAG} It is possible to detect an Equivocation on the term "the British people." Hint: Remember the American Civil War.


When you understand the argument, try to think of all the ways an opponent could show it to be wrong. Use the fallacy list as a checklist for possible weaknesses.

For example:

1. The Pope claims that abortion is murder and ought to be made illegal.

2. So abortion is murder and ought to be made illegal.

This is clearly an Argument from Authority. Note that it would not be fallacious if the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church about the pope were all true. But most people would not accept the argument.

A stronger argument:

1. Abortion is murder.

2. Murder ought to be made illegal.

3. So abortion ought to be made illegal.

But is this a False Analogy between medically destroying a fetus and shooting a murder victim?

This next argument seeks to justify the analogy. {FLAG}

1. Abortion is destroying a living human being, a fetus.

2. Destroying a living human being is murder.

3. So abortion is murder.

But perhaps step 2 is an over generalization. Is judicial hanging or a wartime bombing murder? However, we can replace the step with a narrower specification.

2. Deliberately destroying a living innocent human being who is not a member of an enemy country in wartime is murder.

But someone might argue that we are Missing the Point or Proving the Wrong Thing.

Observe that this line of thought can prove a stronger claim.

1. Abortion is murder.

2. Murderers ought to be punished with death or life imprisonment.

3. So people doing abortions (including the woman who had the abortion) ought to be punished with death or life imprisonment.


1. Very few people believe that the woman ought to be punished like this.

2. So it's false that women ought to be punished like this.

3. So abortion is not murder.

Step 2 is a fallacious Argument Ad Populum" overwhelming popular opinion must be true. Still, this objection is suggestive.

Important Note: this by no means exhausts the supply of reasonable arguments for and against abortion. One thing is certain: responsible arguing is not easy.

THE SECOND WAY TO USE FALLACY LISTS: For strengthening your power of correct arguing.

Here is an excellent exercise.

Step One: For each member on such a list, give one or more examples of your own. If you can, give an example where the "fallacy" is not a fallacious argument.

{FLAG} For example, the Fallacy of Arguing from Authority is not fallacious when the authority is really authoritative.

Einstein writing on the relativity of space-time is a real authority. He might one day be proved wrong, but for the ordinary debater, challenging his theories would just waste time.

However, Einstein's views on the need for radically changing our ideas about war and peace should be respected, but we don't have to accept them without further discussion.

Another example: an Ad Hominem Argument may not be fallacious when evaluating the argument requires evaluating the author.

The United States military performed extensive research in so-called paranormal phenomena. They reported that (a) they found things science could not now explain but (b) they found nothing that could be used in weaponry. However, they did not publish the details of their research.

In evaluating (b) we need to think ad hominem and remember who wrote the report" a powerful group that would have the strongest of reasons to hide any implications for weaponry.

Step Two: for each fallacy on the list, after giving examples write a brief analysis of the fallacy. Tell thinkers following your footsteps about cautions and insights you have discovered.

Do all these exercises again and again.


Athletic trainers advise that besides some standard exercises for strength and agility, a runner should train by running, a skier by skiing, a swimmer by swimming, and so forth. To learn cogent argument one must practice arguing.

Long ago a man named Socrates gave us just that advice" and he was really an Authority. So dive in!

It would be a fallacy to think that the subject of logical fallacies can be squeezed into 1000 words. Murky are the waters of debate. But let the reader swim bravely to escape the sharks of sophistry and retrieve pearls of wisdom.

The preceding paragraph may be a fallacy of Red Herring" an eloquent-sounding razzle-dazzle to distract the serious student. But it's fun, and the WORST FALLACY is never to laugh!

by: Ryan Round
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Beware Of The Fallacy: Don't Be Fooled