“Bad reasoning led us astray — good reasoning help right the wrong”
Fallacies come dressed up in sexy Latin names. but don’t let the names scare you. The word fallacy comes from the Latin word “fallacia” which means “deception” or “to deceive”.
Fallacies are thus mistakes (and tricks) in reasoning that are deceptive — thus taking the appearance of being good arguments. The deceptive nature of fallacies can mislead us to commit errors in our reasoning and accept bad arguments as true arguments.
Cognitive errors can be intentional or unintentional — but a mistake is a mistake and we should aim to avoid them. Faulty reasoning can cause harm in our personal and social life because everything depends on good decisions.
The capacity to identify fallacies by name and knowing how to recognize them when you encounter them can go a long way in avoiding them.
Fallacies are a double-edged sword. This means that the arguer who arrives at a false conclusion and the listener who accepts a bad argument are both guilty of poor reasoning — and thus cannot be claimed to be critical thinkers.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the most common fallacies you might be committing every day — unaware. Becoming aware of them is a huge stride to training your mind on how to avoid them altogether.
As you read, pay attention to the examples and ask yourself how many of them you’re guilty of. I have provided tips on how you can avoid them. 😊
Ad hominem argument is an argument directed “towards the person”. You commit the ad hominem fallacy when you attack your opponent in a personal and abusive way as a means to ignore or discredit their argument.
Instead of addressing the issue, the arguer attacks the critic of one’s argument. Often the attack is abusive and aims to paint a bad picture of the opponent — for instance, they can start invoking the person’s body size, skin color, marriage life, motive, and personal situation.
When a person fails to construct a good argument, they may result to attacking the opponent and use personal attributes he finds distasteful as a means of discrediting the critic. Some of the most common abuse include calling the opponent fat, loser, jerk atheist, feminist, liberal, conservative, uneducated, chauvinist, or yellow.
Ad hominin fallacy is as old as man himself. This fallacy is so common that the majority assume it is a logical way of arriving at a conclusion. I bet you have seen guys arguing on TV where one party attacks the other person’s character instead of tackling the main issue, right?
Mary: The caretaker was requesting we avoid throwing garbage on the compound because it is blocking the sewage
John: The caretaker wears the same jeans for months, what does he know about cleanliness? Phew!
Child Psychologist: I think you should avoid beating your kid because it might hinder their proper cognitive development.
Fatma: You don’t have any kids of your own. So how can you possibly advise me on how to raise my child. Even if you have spent your entire life studying children as a child psychologist, you can’t understand kids without having one of your own.
One way to avoid this fallacy is to separate the issue from the personal traits of a person. If you are taking part in a discussion; ensure you debate the main argument and avoid attacks on personal traits and behaviors.
You should realize that a good argument can come from a bad person and good people can make bad arguments. This way, you separate the argument from personal character, questionable motives, and behavior.
In short, you should address the merit of the opponent’s argument instead of abusing the opponent or using personal traits you find repugnant as your rebuttal.
Ad Misericordia means to appeal for mercy. You commit this fallacy when you make excuses and justify your actions with mercy pleading excuses instead of providing reasons.
The fallacy of appeal to pity falls under the broad category of manipulation of emotions. This fallacy is also referred to as the playing of the gallery because it attempts to appeal to the uncritical public that is easily swayed by passionate feelings and prejudice.
Most people accept an idea based on their emotions rather than evidence. This means you can manipulate them and compel them to accept an idea by capturing their emotions instead of reason.
Appeal to pity aim to persuade others by appealing to their sympathy instead of relevant evidence. The arguer persuades others to accept his position by claiming he might incur pain, anguish, or mental distress if others don’t accept his position.
While the appeal to pity is often used as a call for compassion, the irrelevant appeal to pity is often abused for emotional manipulations. Other fallacies of irrelevant appeal closely related to appeal to pity are: appeal to shame, appeal to group loyalty, and use of flattery.
Miss Betty: Hello Sammie, I think you should take Betty for a date because she has never been taken out by any boy. Besides she is lonely and bored. From my observation, you take many girls for dates and I feel Betty shouldn’t feel left out from dating.
PS: Notice that Sammie’s reason for dating might not be for consolation. The reason for dating is to have fun with your partner. Therefore, miss Betty is appealing to pity which is irrelevant to dating.
The appeal to pity aims to exploit our vague feelings and generosity — it drives us out of focus thus making us neglect the relevant issue and instead focus on narrow and irrelevant positions.
You can avoid this by being courageous enough — not feeling shame for focusing on the real issue instead of succumbing to someone trying to force you to support their position by making you feel shameful.
The reason for the adoption of a view should be out of reason and not because of feeling sorry — because that would be an irrelevant reason.
Enough with Latin, right? let’s look at some other fallacies.
The fallacy of authority is committed when we attempt to defend our views by appealing to an authority that is not legitimate. This fallacy is also committed when we accept a proposition because the view is held by a large number of people.
But first, who qualifies as an authority? An authority is:
· Someone who has the knowledge they claim to have
· Someone qualified to draw accurate inferences from his knowledge
· Someone unbiased, free of prejudice, and has no conflict of interest
It is okay to appeal to an authority who is competent and qualified in their field to support your claim. However, you should not appeal to authority from one field to support a claim in a different (unrelated) field. For instance, taking a claim from a theologian to support a medical claim.
Most appeal to authority takes the form of appealing to the traditional way of doing things — and appealing to force or threats. It is fallacious and intellectually dishonest to compel others to accept your view by manipulating their prejudices and strong feelings.
Citing your favorite celebrity basketball player or musician as an authority on biology is an appeal to irrelevant authority. For instance, citing the Kardashian on the cause of cause and cure or prevention of cancer in support of your argument in parliament bill is an appeal to irrelevant authority.
Medieval thinkers committed the fallacy of appealing to the Bible on matters astronomy. Instead of looking through the telescope and observing, they preferred to cite the Bible — which led to errors. Here’s is what Galilei Galileo advised his contemporaries:
“I think that in the discussion of natural problems we ought to begin not with the Scriptures, but with experiments, and demonstrations.”
“The Bible can teach us how one goes to heaven, not how the heavens go.”.
You can avoid the fallacy of appeal to authority by being cautious of the kind of authority you cite as evidence. As a general rule, you should avoid the temptation to support a claim by appealing to the judgment of one who is not an authority in the field. lastly, avoid using unidentified authority who is likely to be biased.
You commit this fallacy when you attempt to persuade others to a point of view by appealing to their feelings of relevance or respect for a tradition instead of to evidence, especially when a more important principle or issue is at stake
Emotional attachments to the past are a common and pleasant experience for almost all of us. It is also true most traditions perform social functions of great importance.
However, there is a dark side to tradition and a negative side to many traditions. Even though some traditions might originally have had a good reason behind them, those reasons may no longer be relevant. Some traditions perpetuate injustice and propagate social inequality.
Tradition can block the path to finding better ways of doing things. The fact that something is tradition is a side issue and should not prevent critical evaluation of its positive and negative effect
Village Elder: The tradition dictates that we should circumcise all females because it makes them submissive and better wives. Therefore, female genital circumcision is good and should be continued.
Mom: You should not marry Tom because he is white and comes from America. The community will be disappointed if you marry from another tribe.
If tradition stands in the way of justice, better ways of doing things, or comes into conflict with some other important principle, then we should be ready to consider changing it or abandoning it altogether.
Relevance to the past is not a logical way of determining what should be done in the present.
Being a critical student of history can help you see how traditions change, how the ancients held absurd traditions — and how, some of — those traditions seem preposterous to modern eyes.
The fallacy of argument to ignorance is committed when one argues something is true (or false) because there is no evidence or proof to the contrary. It can also happen when the opponent fails or refuse to present convincing evidence to the contrary.
Arguing from ignorance violates the principle that the burden of proof for any claim rests on the person who set forth the claim. For example, if an arguer claimed that “ghosts exist, unless you can prove that they don’t” he is attempting to shift the burden of proof to another person.
Most people use the argument of ignorance to defend some of their most cherished beliefs. In the case of a positive belief, they simply point out that since a claim has not been disproved, it must be true. Or in the case of a negative claim, they argue that since the claim has not been proved, it is false. Those who argue in this way base their argument not on knowledge but on ignorance, a lack of knowledge.
Always remember, the absence of evidence against a claim does not constitute sufficient evidence for it and the lack of evidence for a claim does not constitute a sufficient claim against it.
Consider a politician who accuses the opponent of being in support of the gun-control bill just because he hasn’t commented on it. Such a politician might say: Since my opponent has not indicated his opposition to the new federal law gun-control bill, he is in favor of it. the only “evidence” offered is that the opponent has not addressed the issue.
You should be cautious of people who make bold claims and offer support by pointing out the lack of evidence against it. an easy way to counterattack this faulty reasoning is by demonstrating that the opposite claim can also be arrived at by the same method. For instance, if someone claim acupuncture has not been proven false, it must be true. You could argue that because acupuncture has not been proved true, it must be false. This will expose the contradiction that the claim is both true and false.
Nature is complex, at least for now because we haven’t fully understood it.
The most common types of faulty fallacies are the confusion of cause and effect, neglect of common cause, domino fallacy, post hoc, and gambler fallacy.
Corporal punishment is no longer allowed in public schools. This is why children have no self-discipline and are losing respect for authority.
Every generation complains about the lack of manner of the new generation. Therefore, it is unlikely that the abandonment of corporal punishment is the reason for the lack of discipline. The causal connection is between the two is wanting.
Correlation does not imply causation — and just because one thing comes after another does not mean there is a causal connection between them.
Sometimes, people are hungry for a scapegoat to assign their individual and societal failure to someone or something: Witch-hunting in medieval Europe was one, and the proposal to reintroduce corporal punishment by the CS of education in Kenya is another.
Begging the question fallacy is also referred to as arguing-in-a-circle because one uses the conclusion as supporting evidence/premises.
Now, an argument is composed of premises and a conclusion. A good argument is one that draws the conclusion from the premises.
The fallacy of begging the question violates the principle of good argument by using the very conclusion the arguer is trying to establish as one of its premises. In short, you assume the truth of your conclusion on an issue.
The arguing in-a-circle fallacy uses its own conclusion as one of its premises. Instead of offering supporting evidence for the conclusion, it asserts the conclusion as its evidence. The basic structure of a circular argument goes something like “A is true because A is true”
The “begging the question” is a highly deceptive fallacy that assumes the truth of the conclusion in its premises. The evidence is bogus because it is a form of the conclusion.
“Because it is true” — ever heard those when arguing about a controversial topic and someone declares that their position is true simply “because it is true”
Divorce is bad because it is bad
Reading is fun because it brings me lots of enjoyment -
Circular arguments are hard to detect because they pretend to provide evidence when they are, in fact, asserting the conclusion. One foolproof way to detect a circular argument is to evaluate the structure of the argument.
As we have seen, an argument consists of premises and a conclusion. The premises are the supporting evidence from where you draw the conclusion. Therefore, check to see whether the conclusion is a mere variation of the conclusion. The premises and the conclusion should not be the same.
One’s personal beliefs or convictions concerning the truth of a claim cannot be used as evidence for the truth of that claim.
The fallacy of wishful thinking is committed when we assume that because we want something to be true, then it is true or will be true. Conversely, we also commit this fallacy when we assume that because we don’t want something to be true, then it is not or will not be true.
We all wish things to be or turn out a certain way — that normal and there’s nothing inherently wrong or fallacious with that. However, it becomes fallacious when you treat your “wish” as a premise in support of a particular conclusion that you wish to be true. The premise of your argument should not be based on unwarranted assumptions, wishes, or beliefs you wish were true — but they’re not.
The recent upsurge of the pseudoscientific doctrine of law of attraction and manifestation makes a perfect example of wishful thinking. Most people desire to become billionaires, but, even if they wished or “manifested” it will not make it so.
You can avoid this argument by offering strong evidence for a claim that is contrary to the opponents and asking them to evaluate and consider that evidence.
While we acknowledge that wishful thinking can move an individual to action and affect the outcome of an event, it should be avoided in rational arguments as it is fraudulent.
There are benefits to good reasoning. At a personal level, it can improve your capacity to resolve conflict with your loved ones, and at the societal level, it can help foster progress and widen our moral vision.
History is replete with examples where bad reasoning, faulty reasoning, and false beliefs blurred our moral vision and led us to cause harm to others. Good reasoning can help expose flaws in some of our beliefs so we can update, revise, or abandon them.
By learning how to construct a good argument and avoid fallacies, you will have an army swiss knife that will help you settle conflicts and resolve personal disputes.
I hope that this article will help you become a better thinker and recognize errors in your thinking. Besides, you will be able to recognize and challenge faulty reasoning in others — and hopefully, make the world a better place one step at a time.
If you found this article helpful, kindly share it with your friends and family. This way we can make the world a better place one day at a time.
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