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Logical Fallacies

A logical fallacy occurs when an argument is not adequately supported. This can be the result of errors in reasoning, a lack of evidence, the author’s use of irrelevant points, or other reasoning moves that do not logically support the argument. Advertisers, salespeople, politicians, and others might use logical fallacies to manipulate you.

  1. Argument to the People (Appealing to Stirring Symbols) involves using a visual symbol (the American flag, pictures of babies, “Support the Troops” bumper sticker, etc.) of something that much of the public finds hard to reject but that has little relevance to the argument. Political candidates often use the American flag and other patriotic symbols in TV ads to appeal to and persuade citizens to vote for them.
  2. Appeal to Pity (Ad misericordiam) is a verbal version of the above. A political candidate may tell stories about their life that are not connected to their platforms. Like Arguments to the People, Appeals to Pity are fallacious if they are irrelevant to the argument in question; pity for the candidate should not be a reason why citizens vote for them. In some cases—for example, when soliciting money for people whose incomes are below the federal poverty threshold or for the Humane Society—appeals to pity may be legitimately used.
  3. Years ago, a commercial for Bufferin Aspirin used Erroneous Appeal to Authority by featuring people on the street lining up to ask Angela Lansbury, a popular actress at the time with no medical authority whatsoever, questions about the pain reliever.
  4. Ad Hominem (“to the person”) involves a personal attack on the character of the opponent rather than on the argument itself. Criticizing a restaurant because the chef is “too skinny,” rather than focusing on the merits of the restaurant’s food, service, atmosphere, or other relevant aspect is an ad hominem attack. However, an ad hominem argument that is relevant to the issue (“Rinalda Gooch will not make a good President because she faints every time she tries to make a speech”) is not a logical fallacy.
  5. Shifting the Issue (aka Red Herring) refers to the arguer’s changing the subject to avoid dealing with an unpleasant aspect of the argument:
    1. When a reporter questioned candidate Stone about her past marijuana use, she responded, “Why haven’t you asked my opponent about his drinking?”
  6. Hasty Generalization means to argue on the assumption that an entire group shares the same traits as one or two examples of that group:
    1. “Women should not be considered for high political office because they’re too emotional to make thoughtful decisions.”
  7. Appeal to Popularity—Bandwagon is an argument based on the premise that an idea or product has merit just because it is popular:
    1. “All the cool kids are wearing Stinko sneakers this season,” the saleswoman told the boy. “You don’t want to be left out, do you?”
  8. Begging the Question involves “supporting” an argument by stating the argument in different words. “We need to bomb evildoers because they are guilty of horrendous acts,” for example, basically restates the claim (evildoers are people who do evil) instead of stating a reason why bombing the “evildoers” is a good thing to do.
  9. An argument that uses Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”) illogically suggests that because one event followed another, the first event caused the second to occur: “The fact that students cut their hair over the weekend and their test scores were higher on Monday shows that shorter hair leads to good grades.”
  10. False Dilemma or Dichotomy—Either/Or argument attempts to sway opinion by making it seem as if the only alternative to a proposed argument is one that is obviously unacceptable. For example, “We must fight the enemy in their land so they don’t follow us to ours” suggests -- but does not attempt to show -- that one country’s aggression is the only way to decrease another country’s aggression.
  11. The Slippery Slope argument attempts to dissuade people from taking or allowing a specific action because it might cause a particular condition to spiral out of control – no matter how far-fetched: “Legalizing same-sex marriage could lead to legalizing marriage between people and their pets!”
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