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Fallacies Within Argumentative Discourse

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I've recently run into some blogs and talk page threads that boggle my mind in terms of the fallacies that people use to attempt to prove their points. This blog's main point is that they are illogical and unfavourably attempt to shift the ways an argument is meant to be debated. Before I talk about the 20 main fallacies commonplace in most arguments (and related examples), I ask you "What is a fallacy?". A Fallacy is a pattern of reasoning or an argument that is fundamentally erroneous; in other words it is a fault in the logical way of thinking. You might then ask me "Is it even possible to have a fallacy-free argument?"; to answer this, I show an example of a classic valid deductive argument that commits no fallacies:

Premise #1: All humans are mortal. P2: Socrates is a human. Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

If I changed the wording slightly, it becomes fallacious and a weak inductive argument:

P1: All humans are mortal. P2: Socrates is mortal. C: Therefore, Socrates is a human.

The one immediately above is not as strong an argument as the first, because even though Socrates is mortal, not all mortal beings are human, and most Greek and Roman gods (for example) are human though immortal. Although I mentioned in another blog that I wouldn't go into deep detail, I may have to give a full analysis to those who don't know the topic (I'll do it on the first one of each class).

Three things before I go further... There are three structures and three classes of arguments that you, the reader, must know before analyzing fallacies in argument. A Structure 1 argument is an argument that has its conclusion after the premises; Structure 2 is flipped, with the conclusion before the premises; and Structure 3 is one where the conclusion is in between two (or more) premises. Regardless of the structure, the arguments are mapped in the same way. The first class is Relevance (R), which tries to prove a point without providing related evidence to support the conclusion (5 fallacies belong to this class). The second and most widespread class is Presumption (P), where something is being presumed that is wrong in the context of the argument. All 14 fallacies in this class have a hidden premise that must be discovered before analyzing an argument featuring any of these. The third and last class is that of Ambiguity (A), where it is unclear what direction the argument goes. Only 1 fallacy belongs to this class. The last thing to know is that there is often more than one fallacy that can be identified in most detailed arguments, for I've analyzed some that featured 4-5 possibilities. So without further ado, we start. This is going to be a long read for those who are interested.

Fallacy #1: Appeal to Force or Threat (R)

P1: After all, my firm does thousands of dollars of advertising business with your paper. C: I don't think it would be wise to run a story on my son's driving escapades.

This argument commits the fallacy of appeal to force or threat, a fallacy of relevance.

P1: This argument tries to prove its conclusion, not by offering relevant evidence for it, but by issuing implied coercion against the paper concerned. P2: Unfortunately, there is a logical problem here. P3: Instead of offering relevant evidence to support its conclusion, such as "My son is a victim of mistaken identity in terms of his driving escapades", this argument instead issues a threat against the paper concerned and so fails to prove its conclusion. C: Therefore this argument commits the fallacy of appeal to force or threat, a fallacy of relevance.

Before I go on, what I just did here is known as a "123" analysis, which is how to analyze fallacies in argument. I'll be doing one for each class of fallacy, so the other examples I'll just list the mapping of the argument and the identification (#1 deals with mapping the argument; #2 deals with identifying the fallacy in question: STANDARD in all analyses of fallacies; #3 is the explanation, split by premises and conclusions to make the explanation more clear). Notice how I italicized "Instead of offering relevant evidence to support its conclusion, such as"; each class of fallacy has its own evidence statement that must be used when identifying a fallacy of that particular class, before listing any evidence supporting your analysis. A similar but more complex way to analyze arguments is to use an "ABC" analysis which is used to analyze conceptual problems as well as fallacious ones, but it is not what I'm trying to do in this blog. Now I'll continue.

Fallacy #2: Appeal to Emotion (Pity or Fear) (R)

Definition for Pity: Feeling of emotion for an organic being or a sentient one, or for oneself. Def'n for Fear: Feeling either for oneself or another sentient being when they find themselves in a situation where their welfare is jeopardized and there's nothing to be done.

P1: She [Mae] has a disability. P2: She hasn't been able to get a job. P3: I know that she is quite depressed. P4: Giving her a job would really boost her self esteem. C: You should hire Mae.

This argument commits the fallacy of appeal to emotion (pity), a fallacy of relevance.

To intercede, lawyers absolutely are guilty of using this fallacy in their arguments because their job is to plead a case and influence the jury to side with their client over the other attorney's client.

Fallacy #3: Ad Hominem [Latin for "to the man"] (Abusive or Circumstantial) (R)

Abusive ad hominem is when one personally attacks the person's characteristics or faith, rather than the arguments being presented by the latter (ex: By founding his environmental charity, the environmentalist David Suzuki is wishing to raise money for his own desires rather than using the funds to save the environment [This is very abusive ad hominem]). The example presented below is another type of ad hominem, circumstantial (assuming a person supports something for instance, based on his/her profession).

P1: You own two apartment buildings. C: You don't support rent controls. (The notion of the government controlling the rent price instead of the landlords.)

This argument commits the fallacy of circumstantial ad hominem, a fallacy of relevance.

Fallacy #4: Poisoning the Well (R)

P1: [Y]ou are a liar. C: I can't trust you.

This argument commits the fallacy of poisoning the well, a fallacy of relevance.

Fallacy #5: Shifting the Burden of Proof (P)

P1: I can't prove that I should be admitted to the Bar. [Hidden Premise (P2): An argument can prove its conclusion by requiring that one's opponent prove the claim instead of oneself.] C: [Y]ou prove it for me.

This argument commits the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof, a fallacy of presumption.

P1: This argument tries to make the audience responsible for proving the speaker's or writer's conclusion. P2: Unfortunately, there is a logical problem here. P3: Using the false, hidden presumption that [P2] in the original argument, which is false because it violates the burden of proof principle in argumentation, in which case the argument fails to prove its conclusion. C: Therefore this argument commits the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof, a fallacy of presumption.

Like with all presumptuous fallacies, they have a hidden premise that must be identified before analysis can begin (highlighted by using [Square Brackets]). The italicized part of the #3 portion of the 123 analysis is the code phrase that must be used when identifying and analyzing a fallacy of this class.

Fallacy #6: Self-Evident Truth (P)

P1: She obviously doesn't want to drive a car. P2: She clearly doesn't want to take public transit either. [P3: An argument can prove its conclusion by stating its claims in such a way that they must be true simply by virtue of the way they are stated.] C: Evidently, she doesn't believe in private or public transit.

This argument commits the fallacy of self-evident truth, a fallacy of presumption.

I italicized the words "obviously" and "clearly" because those are two key words that a reader can use to identify this particular fallacy (also "no one doubts that"). Unless the evidence provided is both necessary and sufficient to prove an argument's conclusion, these words only extenuate and amplify this particular fallacy.

Fallacy #7: Appeal to Ignorance (P)

P1: I can't prove there is life in outer space. [P2: An argument can prove its conclusion by using the lack of evidence for one position as evidence for the contrary (not "opposite") position.] C: There is no life in outer space.

This argument commits the fallacy of appeal to ignorance, a fallacy of presumption.

An "opposite" is a term that has a reverse meaning to another word (e.g. Alive=Dead), while a "contrary" is a term that has the word "not" before it, to let us know that it is "not" such, etc.. (Alive=Not alive). There is another fallacy later on that confuses opposites with contraries.

Fallacy #8: Loaded Presupposition (P)

This is one of two fallacies my class did not elaborate on, since it is a hard fallacy to analyze properly. It involves asking a loaded question, one that forces the respondent to reply in a specific way, and not in others. An example is: "Why is it that children of divorce are less emotionally stable than children raised in unbroken homes?".

Fallacy #9: Begging the Question (P)

P1: Opium is a soporific. [P2: An argument can prove its conclusion by using a premise(s) which mean(s) the same thing as the conclusion but use(s) different words.] C: It must have dormative powers.

This argument commits the fallacy of begging the question, a fallacy of presumption.

Fallacy #10: Common Practice/Popularity (P)

P1: Everyone's doing it. [P2: An argument can prove its conclusion by appealing to what everybody is allegedly doing/thinking/saying, etc. about something.] C: I ought to do it to.

This argument commits the fallacy of common practice/popularity, a fallacy of presumption.

Fallacy #11: Faulty Appeal to Authority (A.K.A. Appeal to Authority) (P)

P1: All credible biologists believe in evolution. [P2: An argument can prove its conclusion by appealing to alleged authorities, not by offering relevant evidence for it.] C: Evolution is a fact.

This argument commits the fallacy of appeal to authority, a fallacy of presumption.

To be called an authority on a subject, one must have explicit and concrete knowledge on the subject concerned. Example: Wayne Gretzky is considered an authority in hockey, but not in medications like Advil. Most commercials featuring athletes or personalities advertising products like Gatorade for instance, commit this particular fallacy.

Fallacy #12: Hasty Generalization (P)

P1: This swan is white. [P2: An argument can prove its conclusion by assuming that what is true of one, or several, events of a class is true of every event of that class.] C: Therefore, all swans are white.

This argument commits the fallacy of hasty generalization, a fallacy of presumption.

Fallacy #13: False Cause (P)

P1: Event 2 happened after event 1. P2: Events 1 and 2 are spatially contiguous. [P3: An argument can prove its conclusion by treating terms which are temporarily successive, spatially contiguous, or constantly conjoined as causally connected.] C: Therefore, event 1 caused event 2.

This argument commits the fallacy of false cause, a fallacy of presumption.

Fallacy #14: Slippery Slope (P)

P1: First the city privatizes garbage collection. P2: Next the city privatizes transit services. P3: Then the city privatizes all city services. [P4: An argument can prove its conclusion by stating that these events, going from bad to worse to worst, are causally connected.] C: Privatization should be resisted on all fronts.

This argument commits the fallacy of slippery slope, a fallacy of presumption.

Fallacy #15: False Dichotomy (P)

P1: You want a car. P2: Cars are either good or cheap. P3: You can't afford a good car. P4: You don't want a cheap car. [P5: An argument can prove its conclusion by treating opposites as contraries.] C: You'll have to do without a car.

This argument commits the fallacy of false dichotomy, a fallacy of presumption.

One way the reader can identify false dichotomy is by observing that only two alternatives are given, when there are clearly more choices available. It is NOT this fallacy if the two alternatives are truly the only two choices that could be made, such as if a person's been shot in the head, is in a coma at the hospital and the doctor asks the next of kin whether he/she wants to terminate life support or maintain it in the hopes of that person recovering and waking up.

Fallacy #16: Equivocation (A)

P1: Men and women aren't equal. P2: They differ in various attributes. P3: Men are stronger. P4: Women are verbal. C: One cannot say that we ought to treat them equally.

This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation, a fallacy of ambiguity.

P1: This argument tries to prove its conclusion by using cognates (similarly-spelled words) with different meanings. P2: Unfortunately, there is a logical problem here. P3: Instead of using these terms univocally, this argument uses them equivocally, i.e. In [P1] of the original argument, "equal" pertains to to descriptive equality whereas in the conclusion of the original argument, "equally" refers to the normative/prescriptive equality, in which case the argument fails to prove its conclusion. C: Therefore, this argument commits the fallacy of equivocation, a fallacy of ambiguity.

I italicized the words "equal" and "equally" to show how this fallacy works, and once again the key phrase for this particular class of fallacy (of which only this type exists) must be used when analyzing this particular fallacy.

Fallacy #17: Faulty Analogy (P)

Definition of an analogy: A comparison between or among two or more terms with respect to the attribute(s) they allegedly have in common. (F.A. same as this def'n, but they don't have anything in common.)

P1: Apples are like oranges in the sense that both are vegetables. [P2: An argument can prove its conclusion by assuming that terms are analogous in the indicated respect(s) when they aren't... (treating terms which aren't comparable, as comparable).] P3: Vegetables are good for you. P4: You ought to eat what is good for you. C: Therefore you ought to eat apples and oranges.

This argument commits the fallacy of faulty analogy, a fallacy of presumption.

The word "like" signifies an analogy. The example above is intentionally wrong because apples and oranges are obviously not vegetables, rather are fruits (this is a valid way of using terms that would regularly signify self-evident truth fallacies, because they are universally accepted). This is because fruits grow from vines or trees while vegetables grow in the ground. An ambiguous case is a pineapple, since it is a fruit yet grows underground.

Fallacy #18: Straw Person (P)

This is the second fallacy we did not elaborate too much on in class. It involves using an argument as a decoy for another argument.

Example: Mary was upset at her mother's funeral (Real claim). Straw person version of this claim: Mary is emotional.

Fallacy #19: Red Herring (P)

P1: The environmentalists are trying to create an Eden on Earth. P2: They want to reduce pollution. [P3: An argument can prove its conclusion which is irrelevant to its premises.] C: Therefore we should not support them.

This argument commits the fallacy of red herring/irrelevant conclusion, a fallacy of presumption.

Anytime the reader views a conclusion which is unrelated to the supporting points, it is a red herring, since it is a different point than what the reader is led to believe from the premises.

The very last fallacy is below, for those who've read along to this point. After this I'm done, but it's the only way to explain all the fallacies.

Fallacy #20: Genetic Fallacy (A.K.A. Fallacy of Genesis) (R)

P1: It's just a pig. C: It's morally permissible to eat it.

This argument commits the genetic fallacy, a fallacy of relevance.

This is fallacious because the claim attacks the origin of the subject concerned.

These are all the fallacies, and this large blog was how I could explain them all. Hope you enjoyed the reading, and I look forward to reading comments afterwards.

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