What's a fallacy?
Fallacies are errors in reasoning that make arguments invalid, an attempt to manipulate readers by appealing to emotions and incorrect logic. Even though fallacies are extremely common, most readers/speakers don't take the time--or even realize--that the statements they read/hear are unfounded and detract from the issue at hand (many readers/speakers get caught up in the heat of the debate). Many fallacious arguments exist, but here are a few of the most common ones.
(Note: If you examine your local newspaper carefully, especially the editorial section, you'll discover many writers base their arguments on fallacies.)
Here are some of the most common fallacies:
- Ad hominem: Attacking the arguer rather than the argument (in essence, name calling).
Example: Environmentalists are bunch of tree-hugging freaks who don't care about the economy.
- Begging the question: A kind of circular reasoning that offers the statement as proof of evidence, or uses a shared assumption to stand for proof.
Example: Family members of an alcoholic should not be permitted to come to any of the AA meetings to offer support because AA meetings should be for alcoholics only.
- Bandwagon: Implying that something is right because "everyone" does it.
Example: "Because most other companies don't offer gay employees insurance coverage for their partners, our company policy should be the same."
- Appeal to false authority: Citing a person as an authority figure who has no expertise on the subject.
Example: A television doctor advertising real medicine (I'm not a doctor, but I play one on t.v.")
- Appeal to emotion: An argument based on sympathy rather than intelligent agreement.
Example: "Once you buy this sports car, you'll never want to drive anything else."
- Either/or: Reducing of alternatives to only two possible choices.
Example: America: Love it or leave it.
- Provincialism: Assuming what is familiar and comfortable is "right."
Example: "A woman wouldn't make a good mayor for our town because we've never had one before."
- Hasty generalization: Generalizing one situation to fit all situations. (Archie Bunker would be guilty of this one a lot!)
Examples: "All the Irish drink too much." "All Jewish people are cheap."
- Faulty cause-and-effect reasoning (also referred to as post hoc): Thinking that since one event follows another, the first is the cause of the second.
Example: Since President Clinton took office, unemployment of minorities has decreased by 5 percent. President Clinton should be commended for reducing the unemployment rate.
- Slippery slope: Failing to see that a first step does not necessarily lead to other steps.
Example: If we increase taxes this year, Congress will want to increase taxes every year.
- Guilt by association: Judging people by their associates or interests.
Example: "Mary bought a Harley-Davidson. She must be up to no good."
- Ambiguity: Using misleading or vague words or phrases to persuade.
Example: "I was going a little over the speed limit. Why, is there a problem officer?"
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last updated on 3/30/99