The wonderful thing about logic is that when practiced properly it finds falsehood against which there is no response. People who are found guilty of these fallacies have false arguments. Professors, scientists, economists, politicians, pastors, even philosophers, who make such fallacies can have their arguments that take this form immediately dismissed without further discussion.
Here are a few of the fallacies that you can use to spot bad ideas or fallacious opinions and arguments:
1. Relevance Fallacy
The presentation of an argument or answer that is not relevant to a conclusion.
The deception usually is in the answer being loosely related to the question or argument which leads to ambiguity rather than clarity.
Here is an example of Justin Trudeau offering a semi-relevant answer to a question 18 times:
2. Hasty Generalization
X is true for A
X is true for B
Therefore, X is true for C and D as well.
For example, libertarians claim that free markets are better than governments at producing vehicles, and therefore free markets would be better than the government at producing roads as well. The argument doesn’t follow logically. It could be the case that the free market is better at building roads, but this argument doesn’t solidify that claim.
3. Post Hoc
“Post Hoc” means to attribute a false cause; the assumption that because B followed A, B must have been caused by A.
For example, the American state took a greater role in the lives of Americans in the 20th century than it did in the 19th century, and in addition the lives of the average American is far healthier and prosperous in the 20th century than it was in the 19th century, the conclusion can be drawn that some measure of state-mandated socialization is good for people. But, the argument precludes the possibility that the free market produced the technological innovation that actually improved our lives. Without evidence to support it, the correlation may just be circumstantial. There is a phrase that is very helpful when dealing with this fallacy, “correlation does not equal causation.”
4. Slippery Slope
The argument that if A is permitted it will lead to B, without any additional causal explanation.
When gay marriage was being debated it was asserted that if marriage is open to interpretation it will lead to bestial and incestuous marriages as well. If this is true this cannot be merely asserted it must also be justified. A slippery slope is when the assertion is used as a justification. When presented with these kinds of slippery slope arguments, one must ask for the supporting evidence behind this projected “slippery slope.”
5. Composition Fallacy
Saying what’s true of the part is true of the whole, or what’s true of the whole is true of the part. That one card can be easily torn does not imply an entire deck of cards is easily torn, nor does the difficulty of tearing an entire deck of cards imply that one cannot be easily torn.
The whole of Marxist analyses involves this fallacy: the claim that the extortion of one impoverished person by a wealthy person implies that all wealthy people extort all impoverished people. The claim that an empowered class of people (categorized by race, wealth, or gender) is victimizing a marginalized class is an example of composition fallacy.
Classic racism typically takes this form. Saying one race member’s actions imply the moral inferiority of the entire race is a false conclusion.
6. False Dilemma
Either P or Q
This is a logical argument, but the premise either P or Q is thrown around loosely. It could be false to claim that there are only two possibilities.
The claim that one must either support some sweeping immigration ban or terrorism, or some war or terrorism or increases to the minimum wage or poverty, are examples of a false dilemma. An individual might have another, less costly, solution in mind or they may be concerned that some of those actions might increase misery. Rarely is the choice actually relegated to such limited options, often this is an attempt to frame the conversation or debate in order to set the parameters in which you must think and respond, effectively causing you to play within rules set by the other party.
7. Argumentum ad Populum
An argument asserting the truth of an idea based on what’s popular or a criticism based on the notion that an idea is not popular.
“Don’t believe x, you’ll be a laughing stock.”
Canada’s leftist Jack Layton once dismissed a private option for Canada’s Pension Plan on the grounds that George W. Bush had promoted something similar in the U.S. – his argument relied on the unpopularity of Bush in Canada rather than giving substantial reasons for denying the privatization.
8. Fallacy Fallacy
The argument that has concluded the truth of a proposition because arguments to the contrary have been refuted.
The need for feminism if often brought up in relation to the gender pay gap. Some opponents critical of feminism believe the ideology has been soundly refuted if they find fault with arguments surrounding the gender pay gap, when in fact there could be other considerations for feminism that are themselves either true or false.
There’s a psychological issue at play, David Hume’s constant conjunction. If someone gives an argument against Trump, which is false and the falsehood is pointed out, the arguer will often draw the conclusion that their opponent supports Trump because Trump supporters will also refute such arguments.
If an argument against Trump turns out to be false, it could be the case that there are other arguments or considerations in mind against the president.
9. Straw Man Fallacy
A misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. Donald Trump did this deliberately during his debates often accusing his opponents of wanting open borders. It often sidetracked his interlocutors and planted horrifying images in his supporters’ minds.
This can often be done indeliberately as well. The interview of Jordan Peterson with Cathy Newman is a great example of this, where she continually restated his positions to be misogynistic in nature. She appeared to have a characterization of him in her mind and had difficulty seeing anything other than that.
10. Ad Hominem
This is one of the most misquoted fallacies. It’s often said that any attack on a person during a debate is Ad Hominem, which is false. The Ad Hominem fallacy is only when an argument is dismissed based on the personal characteristics of the arguer.
“You would say that, you’re rich!”
Any proposition that is dismissed based on a person’s gender, race, religion, economic class, sexual orientation, or level of education are examples of Ad Hominem fallacies. It’s become common in feminist circles to dismiss propositions from heterosexual, white, men – these dismissals are to be immediately dismissed themselves as illogical and ignored in the pursuit of truth.
The thrust of all of this is to say that when a proposition is refuted on grounds other than logic or evidence then a fallacy has been committed. In logic, the sole consideration is truth and deviations from this pursuit are considered wrong turns.
When going to university it’s important to note these fallacies. Professors will make them as consistently as the general population. They can be poisonous to an intellect. They can confuse the mind.
Logic offers clarity and removes distractions.
(Editor’s note: This is part four of Being Libertarian’s new series, curated to help anyone who is beginning their journey through university.
As Jordan Peterson alludes to in many of his lectures, the university can help a person read great books, absorb great thought, and develop their unique human ability to speak, argue, and articulate. However, often students face a situation where rather than being taught how to critically think, they are instead being shown one-sided arguments, or being told what to think.
This series intends to prepare future and current students so that they can move forward confidently into their university experience; one that will open their minds and challenge their presuppositions and arm them with critical thought, logic and reason.)
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