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Fallacies of ArgumentLESSON SHEETA.P. ENGLISH LITERATURE & COMPOSITIONMoeller High School, Mr. RoseCertain types of argumentative moves are so controversial they’ve been classified as fallacies: errors inreasoning that render an argument invalid. To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which thepremises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support.Fallacies raise questions about the ethics of argument – that is, whether a particular strategy of argumentis fair, accurate, or principled. Fallacies are arguments flawed by their very nature or structure; as such,you should avoid them in your own writing and challenge them in arguments you hear or read.Here are some general guidelines to help you avoid logical fallacies in your arguments: Do not claim too much: No writing will completely solve or even fully address all problemsinvolved in a complex topic. Do not oversimplify complex issues: You selected your topic because it is controversial andmultifaceted. If you reduce the argument to simplistic terms and come up with an easy solution,you will lose your credibility and diminish your ethos. Support your argument with concrete evidence and specific proposals, not with abstractgeneralizations and familiar sentiments. Always assume that your audience is skeptical, expectingyou to demonstrate your case reasonably, without bias or shallow development.To help you understand fallacies, they can be classified into three groups: fallacies of pathos, ethos, andlogic: emotional fallacies, ethical fallacies, and logical fallaciesEmotional Fallacies: Offenses Against PathosEmotional arguments, those making pathos appeals, can be both powerful and suitable in manycircumstances, and most writers use them frequently. However, writes can violate the good faith onwhich legitimate argument depends. Readers won’t trust a writer who can’t make a point withoutfrightening someone or stirring up hatred.Ad Baculum (or “scare tactics”): making an argument by scaring people and exaggerating possible dangerswell beyond their statistical likelihood. Creating fear in people does not constitute legitimate evidence fora claim, and is therefore fallacious. Scare tactics are remarkably common in everything ranging from adsfor life insurance to threats of audits by the IRS. Such ploys often work because it’s usually easier toimagine something terrible happening than to appreciate its statistical rarity. Scare tactics are often usedto stampede legitimate fears into panic or prejudice.Example: If you don’t have a gas masks stocked in your home you’re putting your family at risk ofdying during a chemical attack, which could happen any time.1 Fallacies of ArgumentMr. Rose

False Dilemma (or “Either-Or Reasoning”): the tendency to see an issue as having only two sides orchoices. A way to simplify complex arguments and give them power is to reduce the options for action toonly two choices. The writer’s preferred option might be drawn in the warmest light, whereas thealternative is cast as an ominous shadow. In some cases, either-or arguments can be well-intentionedstrategies to get something accomplished. But such arguments become fallacious when they reduce acomplicated issue to excessively simple terms or when they’re designed to obscure legitimatealternatives. Like most scare tactics, either-or arguments are purposefully designed to seduce those whodon’t know much about the subject under discussion. Very often, we don’t have to choose one side overthe other. Furthermore, the two possibilities or choices presented are not mutually exclusive.Example: “Our troops know they’re fighting in Iraq to protect their fellow Americans from asavage enemy. They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to facethem one day in our own cities and streets.” – George W. BushSlippery Slope (also known as “the camel’s nose”): an argument that casts today’s tiny misstep astomorrow’s slide into disaster. Of course, not all arguments aimed at preventing dire consequences areslippery slope fallacies; a slippery slope argument becomes a fallacy when a writer exaggerates the likelyconsequences of an action, usually to frighten readers. Ideas and actions do have consequences, but theyaren’t always as dire as some writers would have you believe.Example: We’ve got to stop them from banning pornography. Once they start banning one formof literature, they will never stop. Next thing you know, they will be burning all the books –including Shakespeare and the Bible!Ad Populum (or “appeal to popularity”): a misconception that a widespread occurrence of something isassumed to make an idea true or right.Example: There is nothing wrong with requiring multicultural classes in high school, even at theexpense of core subjects like math and science. After all, all of the universities and colleges arepushing multiculturalism.Bandwagon (also known as “peer pressure”): an argument that urges people to follow the same patheveryone else is taking. Some bandwagon appeals are obvious, such as when a child says, “Everyone elseis going camping this weekend. So, why can’t I?” The simple response to that is: “And if everyone isjumping off a cliff, you will too?” But most bandwagon appeals are not so transparent. Many people areeasily seduced by ideas endorsed by the mass media and popular culture. We are encouraged to becomeobsessed by issues that the media select for our attention. In recent decades bandwagon issues includethe war on drugs, health care reform, gun control, drunk driving, welfare reform, teen smoking, and illegalimmigration. In the atmosphere of obsession there’s a feeling that everyone must be concerned by theissue-of-the-day, and something – anything – must be done! Sometimes bandwagons run out of control –as they did in the 1950’s when some careers were destroyed by “witch hunts” for suspected Communistsduring the McCarthy era.Example: The vast majority of countries throughout the world refuse to boycott the summerOlympics in China, so why should the United States call for a boycott?Sentimental Appeals: arguments that use tender emotions to excessively distract readers from the facts.Quite often, such appeals are highly personal, focusing attention on heart-warming or heart-wrenchingsituations that make readers feel guilty if they challenge what is being proposed. There are a number ofdifferent types of sentimental fallacies; one of the most common is: Ad Misericordiam (or “Appeal toPity”) in which a claim intended to create pity is substituted for evidence in an argument.2 Fallacies of ArgumentMr. Rose

Example: If you are spending 200 each month on dining out at luxurious restaurants, you shouldbe ashamed of yourself. Don’t you know that if you sent that 200 to UNICEF, you would befeeding ten starving children in Africa each month?Ethical Fallacies: Offenses Against CharacterReaders tend to give their closest attention to authors who they respect or trust. So, writers typicallywant to present themselves as honest, well-informed or sympathetic in some way. But “trust me” is ascary warrant. Not all the devices writers use to gain the attention and confidence of readers areadmirable.Ad Hominem (“against the man”): an argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about theauthor of or the person presenting the claim or argument. The reason it is a fallacy is that the character,circumstances, or actions of a person do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of theclaim being made (or the quality of the argument being made). Destroy the credibility of your opponents,and you either destroy their ability to present reasonable appeals or you distract from the successfularguments they may be offering. In other words, it is fallacious to attack an idea by attacking theunchangeable traits of its author.Example: Fr. Morris believes that abortion is wrong, but that’s because he’s a priest – just alackey to the Pope -- so I can't believe anything he says.Poisoning the Well (also known as “smear tactics”): a specific kind of ad hominem, this sort of fallacyinvolves trying to discredit what a person might later claim by presenting unfavorable information (be ittrue or false) about the person in order to produce a biased result. A person committing this fallacy“poisons the well” by making his opponent appear in a bad light before he even has a chance to sayanything.Example: Hilary Clinton has been proven to be a liar numerous times, so don't believe anythingshe tells you.Irrelevant Authority: when an appeal is made to a well-known personality or some other person who isnot a legitimate authority on the subject being discussed. If person A is not qualified to make reliableclaims in subject S, then the argument will be fallacious. In such cases the reasoning is flawed because thefact that an unqualified person makes a claim does not provide any justification for the claim. The claimcould be true, but the fact that an unqualified person made the claim does not provide any rationalreason to accept the claim as true.Example: I'm not a doctor, but I play one on the hit series “Hospital.” You can take it from methat when you need a fast acting, effective and safe pain killer there is nothing better thanMorphiDope 2000. That is my considered medical opinion.Dogmatism: asserting or assuming that a particular position is the only one conceivably acceptable.People who speak or write dogmatically imply that there are no arguments to be made: The truth is selfevident to those who “know better.” Often times these fallacies begin with No rational person woulddisagree that or It’s clear to anyone who has thought about it that In general when someone suggeststhat merely raising an issue for debate is somehow “unacceptable” or “inappropriate” or “outrageous” –whether on grounds that it’s racist, sexist, unpatriotic, blasphemous, insensitive, or offensive in someother way – you should be suspicious.3 Fallacies of ArgumentMr. Rose

Example: If you are truly a patriotic American, there is no way you can possibly suggest that thePresident should pull our troops out of Iraq.Moral Equivalence: suggests that serious wrongdoings don’t differ in kind from minor offenses or viceversa: relatively innocuous activities or situations raised to the level of major crimes or catastrophes.Example: Smoking cigarettes is nothing short of suicide: The smoker is willingly killing himself.Common Logical Fallacies: Offenses Against LogicYou will encounter a fallacy in any argument when the claims, warrants, and/or evidence in it are invalid,insufficient, or disconnected. Logical fallacies pose a challenge to civil argument because they often seemquite reasonable and natural, especially when they appeal to people’s self interest.Hasty Generalization: drawing a general and premature conclusion on the basis of insufficient evidence,e.g., only one or two cases. Hasty generalizations form the basis for most stereotypes about people orinstitutions: because a few people in a large group are observed to act in a certain way, one infers that allmembers of that group will behave similarly. The resulting conclusions are usually sweeping claims oflittle merit. English teachers are nit-pickers. Scientists are nerds. Art teachers are flaky. In order to drawvalid inferences, you must always have sufficient evidence and qualify your claims appropriately: some, afew, many, most, occasionally, rarely, possibly, in my experience, etc.Example: Dallas Police Chief Christopher Michaels suggested that all dogs be muzzled becausetwo Golden Retrievers have been disturbing the peace in Fritz Park.Begging the Question: taking for granted something that really needs proving, i.e., assuming as true thevery claim that’s disputedExample: If such actions were not illegal, then they would not be prohibited by the law.Example: The belief in God is universal. After all, everyone believes in God.Example: Congressman Jones can’t be guilty of accepting a bribe; he is an honest man.The problem with a claim that “begs the question” is that it is made on grounds that cannot be acceptedas true because those grounds are in doubt. How, for example, can the accused bribe-taker defendhimself on the grounds of honesty when his honesty is what is in question? Even though someone with arecord of honesty is less likely to accept bribes, a claim of honesty isn’t an adequate defense againstspecific charges.Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (or “Faulty Causality”): meaning “after this, therefore because of this,” it is thefallacious assumption that because one event or action follows another, the first necessarily causes thesecond. Causal claims should always be subject to scrutiny.Example: A writer sued the Coors Brewing company claiming that drinking copious amounts ofthe company’s beer had kept him from writing a novel.Equivocation (or “Doublespeak”): an argument that gives a lie an honest appearance. Consider theplagiarist who copies a paper word-for-word from a source and then declares, “I wrote the entire papermyself,” meaning that she physically copied the piece on her own. But the plagiarist is using “wrote”4 Fallacies of ArgumentMr. Rose

equivocally – that is, in a limited sense, knowing that most people would understand “writing” assomething more than mere copying of words.Example: All banks are beside rivers. Therefore, the financial institution where I deposit mymoney is beside a river.Non Sequitur: meaning “it does not follow,” a inference or conclusion that does not follow establishedpremises or evidence: one point does not follow from the other. Non sequiturs occur when writers omit astep in an otherwise logical chain of reasoning, assuming that readers agree with what may be acontestable claim. For example, it’s a non sequitur to argue that the comparatively poor performance ofAmerican students on international mathematics examinations means the U.S. should spend more moneyon math education. S