Fallacy Notes

When we come to material fallacies we are dealing with a very important element of critical thinking. A fallacy is a false step in thinking. A material fallacy is a false step or mistake in logic which involves the material out of which the argument is made. Material fallacies are analogous to using something other than good bricks and mortal to build a brick wall. 

We will look at different categories of these fallacies, beginning in this unit with fallacies of language and diversion. Under each category, we will look at the most common fallacies. We will give an explanation and then at least one example.[1] 

Fallacies of Language

From the very outset, we have to be very careful about the use of words, using careful essential definitions, and using the words in a consistent way.

  1. Equivocation

Equivocation is shifting the meaning of a word or phrase. It is, to put it another way, the intentional use of ambiguity to confuse or mislead. Remember: the way to remove an ambiguity is to make a distinction.

Example: Only men are rational. Women are not men, therefore women are not rational. (In this misogynist argument, the word “men” used initially in its inclusive sense, to mean “all human beings,” is then used in its narrow sense, to mean males as distinct from females.)

Example: All trees have bark. All dogs bark.

Therefore, all dogs are trees. [2]

Example: “Consider that two wrongs never make a right, but that three lefts do.”[3]

Example: “Good steaks are rare these days, so you shouldn’t order yours well done.”

Example: “Giving money to charity is the right thing to do. So charities have a right to our money.” The equivocation here is on the word “right”: “right” can mean both something that is correct or good (as in “I got the right answers on the test”) and something to which someone has a claim (as in “everyone has a right to life”). Sometimes an arguer will deliberately, sneakily equivocate, often on words like “freedom,” “justice,” “rights,” and so forth; other times, the equivocation is a mistake or misunderstanding. Either way, it’s important that you use the main terms of your argument consistently.

Another form of this is called the Accent Fallacy (which sometimes is even listed as a separate fallacy of language). This can be done in print, but it is even easier to do orally. The fallacy involves changing the meaning of the sentence by changing the word that is emphasized. This is one reason why it is necessary to have the testimony of people who heard a statement made to prevent misunderstandings. Keep in mind that there are usually about as many possible meanings for a sentence as there are words in that sentence. Here is an example, with versions of “We should not steal our neighbor’s car.” Notice how the word receiving the emphasis or inflection changes the meaning:

  1. We should not steal our neighbor’s car.

(Meaning: But it is fine if somebody else does.)

  • We should not steal our neighbor’s car.

            (Meaning: But we will do it anyway.)

  • We should not steal our neighbor’s car.

            (Meaning: But it is okay if we vandalize it, or do other things to it.)

  • We should not steal our neighbor’s car.

            (Meaning: But the people across town are fair game.)

  • We should not steal our neighbor’s car.

              (Meaning: We’re after the lawnmower instead.)

The implied meanings are determined only by the emphasis.   

  • Amphiboly

Amphiboly is also about ambiguity, but here it is not a word or phrase itself which is the source of that ambiguity, but either the syntax (the word order), or grammar of the sentence, or both.  

Amphiboly is often unintentional, and then the source for “bloopers” in ads, but sometimes it is intentional, and an attempt to obfuscate (to muddle or disguise meaning). There are at least the following distinct types of amphiboly:

Ambiguous reference of pronouns

Example:The anthropologists went to a remote area and took photographs of some native women, but they weren’t developed.

In this example, the pronoun “they” is ambiguous between the photographs and the native women, though presumably it was intended to refer to the former.

Much of this is now caused by pronoun antecedent errors, which have their source in political correctness, and either a rejection of inclusive pronouns, or ignorance of how they work.

In his textbook on logic, Socratic Logic (p. 36) Peter Kreeft of Boston College notes:

The use of the traditional inclusive generic pronoun “he” is a decision of language, not of gender justice. There are only six alternatives. (1) We could use the grammatically- misleading and numerically-incorrect “they.” But when we say “one baby was healthier than the others because they didn’t drink that milk,” we do not know whether the antecedent of “they” is “one” or “others,” so we don’t know whether to give or take away the milk. Such language codes could be dangerous to baby’s health. (2) Another alternative is the politically-intrusive “in-your-face” generic “she,” which I would probably use if I were a politically-intrusive, in-your-face woman, but I am not any of those things. (3) Changing “he” to “he or she” refutes itself in such comically clumsy and ugly revisions as the following: “What does it profit a man or woman if he or she gain the whole world but lose his or her soul? Or what shall a man or woman give in exchange for his or her soul?” The answer is: he or she will give up his or her linguistic sanity. (4) We could also be both intrusive and clumsy by saying “she or he.” (5) Or we could use the neuter “it,” which is both dehumanizing and inaccurate. (6) Or we could combine all the linguistic garbage together and use “he or she or it,” which abbreviated, would sound like “sh…it.” I believe in the equal intelligence and value of women, but not in the intelligence or value of “political correctness,” linguistic ugliness, grammatical inaccuracy, conceptual confusion, or dehumanizing persons.      

It is simply easier to use the inclusive singular pronouns, he and him, understanding that these refer to persons of both genders unless the context requires otherwise, and to follow the rules of English grammar. Pronoun antecedent errors remain grammatical errors. They remove readability, prevent accurate communication, and show mental sloppiness and incoherence. 

Misplaced modifiers

Example:One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.

In the set-up of this joke, it’s ambiguous whether the modifying phrase “in my pajamas” modifies “I” or “an elephant”, though common sense suggests the former. Then, the amphiboly is exploited for humor in the punch line.

Punctuation Ambiguity

Here is an advertising example of amphiboly:

“Drive our 4 X 4 fully loaded!” (The truck company intended in the ad to encourage people to purchase all the “available accessories.” It could easily sound like they were encouraging people to drive while drunk, another possible meaning for “loaded.”) 

  • Slanting  

Slanting is bias in the use of terms, and often in what information is presented. It is using terms which put a particular “spin” on the situation because of a word’s connotation or flavor. Extended examples of slanting are called “propaganda.” The terms, while technically referring to the same thing, have different (and negative) ideas associated with them.

Example: “I am open-minded; he is a waffler.”

Example: “I am a public servant, you are a paper-pushing bureaucrat.”

Example: “Our space program will cost a certain amount of money.” Here the statement suggests that the amount of money is not great. In contrast, “Money is being poured into the space program.” Here “poured” connotes careless, unnecessary spending.

Example: Calling attacks by Islamic Terrorists anything but “Islamic terrorism:”

 We also find these kinds of uses under this category:

  • euphemism is a word or phrase used in place of another word or phrase.  Often euphemisms are used in order to mislead, to confuse, or to neutralize the reaction of an audience.  An example of a euphemism is to call a used car a “pre-owned vehicle.” 
  • Loaded words are words used to engage the emotions of the reader or listener.  These are words with strong connotations.  Some loaded words (especially the ones with positive connotations) are also euphemisms.  When Maine legislators who oppose the “estate tax” started calling it the “death tax,” they were using loaded words.
  • Weasel Words involve words usedvery much like euphemisms, except that the word changes are done to claim a new, different concept rather than soften the old concept.  American President may not legally conduct a war without a declaration of Congress. So, various Presidents have conducted “police actions”, “armed incursions”, “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations.” Is this authorized? Yes, no, and maybe. The situation is sometimes complex, but by relabeling we prevent easy analysis.
  • Slogans  

Slogans are phrases used to stand for a cause. They are fallacies WHEN they are used as a substitution for an argument. If a saying is a thoughtless, knee-jerk reaction rather than a thoughtful statement summarizing a position, then it is a fallacy.[6] Most advertising today falls in this category, where a slogan and various images are a substitute for arguments for why the product or service is good and why you should buy it. Slogans can also be examples of many other fallacies, including false dichotomies, ad baculum, etc. Many bumper stickers, and most strap-lines are slogans. [Slogans also often involve other fallacies, such as Repetition and Ad Populum.]

Example: “Coke is the real thing!”

This also means that the same material can be a fallacious slogan, or not, depending on whether there is any further context and reasoned support or not. So, for example, the series of TV ads “The Few, the Proud, the Marines.” This is a slogan if there is nothing but imagery, and no attempt is made to explain the exceptionalism of the US Marines, and why one would want to belong to them. But it is not a fallacy if this material is given. 

  • Hyperbole 

Hyperbole is literally “exaggeration.” It is often exaggeration on a grand scale. What is often called “media hype’ is an instance of hyperbole: the media have to create interest in stories by making them appear more important than they really are. This is often true in ads. Notice that hyperbolic statements are often used simply for amusing effect. When this is clearly the case, and the purpose is humorous rather than literal, it is not a fallacy. But be careful! Sometimes it is not clear whether this is true or not.

Example: “‘Clean up your room.’  ‘You never let me do anything. You think I’m your slave!’”

Example: “We waited for centuries for the latest game to be released.”

Ad Example: “Disneyland – The happiest place on earth.”

Ad Example: “Brilliant Brunette shampoo – Adds amazing luster for infinite, mirror-like shine.”

But what about this example: “Carrie never stops talking.” Sometimes hyperbole is simply a rhetorical device, and is not intended to be taken literally, nor is the statement used to deceive or manipulate. Determining whether a real fallacy is involved takes careful judgment.

  • Straw Man

This fallacy consists of changing your opponent’s argument into something it is not. You make it into a caricature or weak version of itself, just so that you can easily knock it down.

Example: Mother: “Your father and I have decided that we don’t want you dating yet. You are too young.”

           Daughter: “So you’re going to lock me up in my room until you find someone you want me to marry?”Example:

Fallacies of Diversion

Many of the fallacies have Latin names, and appear in shortened versions beginning with “ad.” These are all short for “Argumentum ad _______:” they are all arguments to or with whatever gives each fallacy its particular name.

  1. Ad hominem

Ad hominem means “addressed to the person.” An ad hominem fallacy is an attack on an argument that involves attacking the person rather than the argument. We should note, however, that questioning whether someone is telling the truth is not necessarily the ad hominem fallacy.  It is only a fallacy when it is used to avoid answering another person’s argument.

As Stephen Bond explains: “In reality, ad hominem is unrelated to sarcasm or personal abuse. Argumentum ad hominem is the logical fallacy of attempting to undermine a speaker’s argument by attacking the speaker instead of addressing the argument. The mere presence of a personal attack does not indicate ad hominem: the attack must be used to undermine the argument; otherwise, the logical fallacy isn’t there. It is not a logical fallacy to attack someone; the fallacy comes from assuming that a personal attack is also necessarily an attack on that person’s arguments.

Therefore, if you can’t demonstrate that your opponent is trying to counter your argument by attacking you, you can’t demonstrate that he is resorting to ad hominem. If your opponent’s sarcasm is not an attempt to counter your argument, but merely an attempt to insult you (or amuse the bystanders), then it is not part of an ad hominem argument. …

Ironically, the fallacy is most often committed by those who accuse their opponents of ad hominem, since they try to dismiss the opposition not by engaging with their arguments, but by claiming that they resort to personal attacks. Those who are quick to squeal “ad hominem” are often guilty of several other logical fallacies, including one of the worst of all: the fallacious belief that introducing an impressive-sounding Latin term somehow gives one the decisive edge in an argument.”[7]

Not every insult is an ad hominem. Insults involve the ad hominem fallacy ONLY when they are used as a substitute for an argument, a dismissal and refusal to deal with the actual argument of one’s opponent.

Example: “Liberals – by definition – are more open minded. Conservatives are rigid stormtroopers waiting for the next order from their leaders.”[8]

Example: “Karl Marx was a failure of a father, and therefore Communism is wrong.” Communism is deeply and intrinsically immoral because it eliminates all human rights and always leads (and has led, historically) to totalitarian dictatorships. In the 20th century, it caused the deaths of at least 94 million people, apart from any war deaths.[9] But Communism is NOT wrong for the reason stated. Name-calling is not logic, and is not be treated as such. 

There are also two other versions of this, which are so common that they have names of their own:

  1. Poisoning the well

This is a direct attack on the trustworthiness or integrity of the person making the opposing argument. It often involves an attack on the other person’s motives. To poison the well is to commit a kind of pre-emptive ad hominem strike against an argumentative opponent. A person tries to attack his opponent by attaching some unfavorable label or irrelevant disqualification in order to dismiss that opponent’s whole argument in advance. As with regular ad hominems, the well may be poisoned in either an abusive or circumstantial way. For instance:

  1. “Only an ignoramus would disagree with fluoridating water.” (Abusive)
  2. “My opponent is a dentist, so of course he will oppose the fluoridating of water, since he will lose business.” (Circumstantial)

Anyone bold enough to enter a debate that begins with such well poisoning either steps into an insult, or an attack upon his personal integrity. As with standard ad hominems, the debate is likely to cease to be about its real named topic and become a debate about the arguer- which thus avoids the real questions at issue. However, what sets Poisoning the Well apart from the standard Ad Hominem is the fact that the poisoning is done before the opponent has a chance to make a case in order to avoid having to interact with the opposing side’s evidence, conclusions, etc.

Example: “Don’t listen to my opponent. He is a notorious liar who will claim that he is telling the truth, like any liar does.”

Example: “‘I think abortion is murder.’  ‘You only think that because you were abused as a child and never got over it.’”[10]

Example: “An uneducated homeless man told me that the Earth was the third planet from the sun. Since a smelly homeless man told me this, it is probably not true.”

2. Tu quoque[11]

This version of the ad hominem involves accusing someone else of thing for which you have just been criticized. It is often used as an excuse for behavior.

Example: “What’s wrong, officer? Everybody drives fast on this road!”

Example: “Look who’s talking. You say I shouldn’t become an alcoholic because it will hurt me and my family, yet you yourself are an alcoholic, so your argument can’t be worth listening to.”

Discovering that a speaker is a hypocrite is a reason to be suspicious of the speaker’s reasoning, but it is not a sufficient reason to discount the possible objective content of what is said without examination. We must evaluate the argument following the same rules we always use.

One caution: Criticizing a person is not always a way of diverting attention from the issue. If a person lies, and the tendency to twist or selectively present the truth is part of that person’s argument, then pointing out that this person is a liar is not fallacious, but necessary. If we want to make this case, however, we must have clear evidence to back up that claim.

  • Ad verecundiam

This fallacy is a faulty appeal to authority (literally an appeal “to reverence”).[12] It can be either an illegitimate appeal to authority, or the appeal to an illegitimate authority.[13] When an appeal is made to authority concerning a topic which is controversial among respected experts in a field, then the appeal to a single authority is likely to be fallacious.

Example: Michael J. Fox testifying before congress on stem cell research.

Example: “Experts agree that…”, “scientists say…” (Such vague information is impossible to verify, and brings up the very real possibility that the arguer himself doesn’t know who the experts are, or that the arguer simply made up what is attributed to experts.)

  • Ad baculum

This fallacy consists of using a threat in the place of an argument. It means literally an argument “with a stick.”  It is an appeal to force rather than reason.

Example: “Before you answer, remember who pays your salary.”

Example: “The Nazis used to send the following notice to German readers who let their subscriptions lapse: ‘Our paper certainly deserves the support of every German. We shall continue to forward copies of it to you, and hope that you will not want to expose yourself to unfortunate consequences in the case of cancellation.’”[14]

Are all appeals to force automatically fallacious? No. The fact that just laws are backed up with threats of punishment does not mean that they are then unjust. An unjust law enforced with threats of punishment is wrong, but a just one can be reasonable so enforced, as long as the punishment fits the wrong committed (the “crime”).

  • Ad misericordiam

This fallacy is an appeal “to pity.” It happens when people ask us to do something not because of a good, reasoned argument, but only because we should feel sorry for them.

Example: “Officer, if you give me another ticket, I will lose my license. I won’t be able to get to work. I will lose my job and my children will starve!” (None of which has any bearing on whether or not the man broke the law.)

Example: “Because my client has had a hard life, rejected by his parents and left school early you must recognise that he should not be found guilty of the theft of which he is accused.”

Not all appeals to pity are fallacious. Not all compassion is false compassion. We must distinguish between (A) what a person wants and (B) what is good for him, and (C) what he deserves on account of his behavior.

As before, we have a fallacy when the simple appeal to pity is used as a replacement for an actual argument, with reasons for taking a specific compassionate action. 

  • Ad ignominiam

This is an appeal “shame.” Like the appeal to pity it involves using emotion in place of argument. This is not to say that shame is not legitimate or important for a variety of reasons; but it does mean that shame alone is not a reason for or against a particular action. When shame alone is used, this is a fallacy.

Example: You’re going to be a lawyer? Do you want people to make jokes about you?”  

Example: “Why don’t you try some of this meth? You’re not afraid, are you?”

Example: “If you believe this, you will repost it to all your Facebook friends! If you don’t, you show you don’t care. How could you be so cold and unfeeling?”[15]

We should keep in mind, however, that not all appeals to shame are fallacious. If you have done wrong, those who arouse your conscience and shame you are doing you a favor.

The ad populum fallacy is an appeal “to the people:” the idea that a person should do (or not do) something simply because other people are (or aren’t) doing it. The age- old response of mothers everywhere: “If your friends all jumped off the roof, would you do it too?” is a response to this fallacy. Appealing to what other people do is a fallacy when it is the only factor involved and it is used instead of a reasoned argument, or what other people are doing is simply not relevant to whether it is a good thing to do or not. As G. K. Chesterton said, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

Example: “Everybody is buying these new llama wool coats. They must really be warm.”

There are two particular forms of this fallacy which also show up from time to time:

  1. Snob appeal

This is an appeal which uses the status of a particular group in place of an argument.

Examples: “Camel cigarettes.  They’re not for everybody!”

A commercial for cat food that shows a cat eating a certain brand of food in a posh house with a fancy pet dish makes the consumer feel she is treating her cat the best she possibly can by purchasing that food. 

From an Agriculture brochure: “You don’t own a common herd of Beef or Dairy cattle, so why consider planting a common ryegrass pasture? Your cattle investment is best protected by planting Southern Star.”

  • The Big Lie

This version of the ad populum fallacy is an appeal which presumes a person’s identification with a certain group. It consists of the following train of thought: if “my kind of people” are doing it- even though it seems crazy- then it must really be the right thing to do. After all, my kind of people couldn’t be fooled into doing something that was really that crazy. This fallacy was named, oddly enough, by Adolf Hitler, writing in Mein Kamp (in German it is Große Lüge). He described it this way: “a lie so ‘colossal’ that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” He went on to say:

Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. (Mein Kampf, Chapter 10.)

The Big Lie usually involves a lie that fulfills three important criteria:

  1. The listener’s problems are not his fault. They’re caused by some malicious and irredeemable Other Group, and they’re going to keep on getting worse.
  2. That if this Other Group weren’t up to those shenanigans, the listener would be recognized, and rewarded for being the superior person that he is,
  3. The implicit, but unspoken solution is to do the thing that the Big Liar wants to happen. And just in case, make the solution explicit and speak it loudly.

Remember: not all appeals to popular opinion are illegitimate. They are only illegitimate when the only reason for the appeal is their popularity. The fact that almost all people in all times and places have judged murder to be wrong is actually a strong argument for this standard, which is then based in human nature and human conscience, as expressed in the moral consensus known as the Tao, “Natural Law,” “Traditional Morality,” the Rta (in Chinese), the “First Principles of Practical Reason,” the “Laws of Practical Reason,” or the “First Platitudes.” 

  • Ad ignorantiam

This is an appeal “to ignorance:” the idea that something must be true because we don’t know that it isn’t true.

Example: “There must be intelligent life in outer space, for no-one has been able to prove that there isn’t.”

Example: “He must have stolen the money, since he can’t prove that he didn’t.” (Avoiding this fallacy is one reason for the maxim in US law that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”) 

Example:  

More than two years after he falsely accused Mitt Romney of failing to pay his taxes, retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has no regrets – and appears to relish – leveling serious charges in the midst of a presidential campaign.

“No, I don’t regret that at all. No one would help me. They were afraid the Koch brothers would go after them, so I did it on my own,” Reid said in response to a question from CNN’s Dana Bash.


When asked about critics who said his smear of then-Republican presidential candidate Romney echoed the tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, he brushed them off and said with a smile, “Romney didn’t win, did he?”


Reid, who has announced he will not seek another term in office, has remained unapologetic since he initially claimed without evidence or justification the rumor that Romney had avoided paying taxes for nearly a decade.[17]

This is a VERY important fallacy, and is very common. It is intrinsically connected to “shifting the burden of proof.” The error occurs when one does not “shoulder the burden of proof” when this is necessary. Here are the guidelines for determining who must shoulder the burden of proof:[18]

  1.  All other factors being equal, the greater burden of proof rests with the side which has “the least initial plausibility. It is fallacious to try to force a person to disprove a counterintuitive claim.” For example, if someone wants to claim we do not experience the external world in any real way, but instead the human race has been captured by a race of machines that live off of human body heat and electrochemical energy, and who imprison our minds in an artificial, computer generated reality (as in The Matrix movies), this is very implausible, and the one making the claim must shoulder the burden of proof.
  2. Sometimes special situations may require a shift in the burden of proof because of the seriousness of what is at stake, or the nature of what is being decided. If, for example, a human person’s life is at stake, the burden of proof must fall on the claim which, if accepted, will cause harm. This is why there is a demand that in capital cases, the person must be found guilty only by “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
  3. “Sometimes a lack of evidence indicates a proposition should be taken as false, and sometimes it does not. All other factors being equal, reasonable expectations can determine when an absence of apparent evidence constitutes a proposition as false. Here we have to ask, how much evidence should we expect in relation to what we have? For example, if someone claims there is a gorilla in the room, the fact that we cannot see the gorilla, hear the gorilla, etc., is an absence of evidence that disproves this proposition. However if someone says there is a mosquito in the room, then an absence of evidence (not seeing or hearing it) does not disprove the proposition because our reasonable expectations of evidence have changed. In more borderline cases, we should avoid dogmatic conclusions on both sides, for example:

“No one has ever proved that Bigfoot exists, so it must not exist.”

“No one has ever proved that the Bigfoot does not exist, so it must exist.”

Both sides here seem to commit the fallacy of appealing to ignorance in that they derive unwarranted certitude when a more reserved stance is called for. In such borderline cases, a lack of evidence does not reasonably count for or against a position.”[19]   

  • Exigency

This fallacy is the attempt to cause someone to take a certain action simply on the basis of time limitations.

The majority of “sales” are examples of this fallacy- a tactic to push people to buy, under some kind of artificially created time constraint. Tag lines at the end of ads such as this are common: “Call in the next fifteen minutes, and we will add _________ free.” 

Example: “If you don’t buy our windows today you will miss the special offer! It is now or never!”  (A window salesman tried this with me. But salesmen aren’t going to really turn away business. They want your business now, but they will certainly do all they can to get it later if they don’t get it right away. I ended up getting the windows for 60% less than the “special price.”)

  • Repetition

This is the very simple fallacy which replaces a rational argument with repetition of an appeal or claim. If I say something enough times, then people will believe it.[20]

Example: Adolf Hitler observed “if you can tell a lie long enough and hard enough, sooner or later people will start believing it.”[21][6] The blaming of all social ills on the Jews was a case in point.

  • Transfer

This is a very popular fallacy in advertising. Transfer involves taking the values or feelings about one thing and connecting them to something else which is superficially similar or simply linked by physical proximity. Also, the use of feelings associated with the product or idea simply by means of the presentation (which generates those feelings, especially a physiological response) is transfer.[22] Association keys memory, and increased recall of a product or service makes purchase more likely.

“Sophisticated adverts use humour as a positive reinforcer; making someone laugh is a great way to make them feel sympathetic to your position. Whatever the exact method, the aim is the same: don’t think about our product (or you may decide you don’t want it), just absorb the message that having our product will improve your quality of life.”  Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control, Kathleen Taylor, Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 51.

Example: Bowflex commercials: the people they show you working out are in superb physical condition. E.g., < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsG1EZRLYlI >. The idea is that by buying this (easy to use, convenient) product you will look like those people in no time. The company isn’t selling the physique, it is only selling the machine. But they want you to associate the machine with the physique to get you to buy the machine.  This would not be a fallacy if the physical requirements are stated fairly, and the average results of using just this specific machine were portrayed accurately. This is usually not the case. 

What is the implied message here? How does this ad work?

Here a couple more recent ones, this time advertizing milk:

Try this one:

  • Appeal to Novelty: This is the fallacy of assuming, without compelling evidence, that anything which is newer is automatically better. It is better simply because it is new. This is, not coincidentally, a recent fallacy. The age of a thing (an idea, value judgment, object, etc.) does not, in and of itself, have any bearing on its quality or correctness. While we have been trained to think of newness as always better by using the false analogy of technology (who wants an “old” operating system, after all? And “old” now means “last year” or even “six months ago”) to all areas of life, evaluation must have a firmer basis than this. The question of what the results of various actions have been in the past, and what lessons we can glean from history, are very important ones. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. The most famous expression of this is from George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[23]

As another concrete example, numerous studies suggest that while the public generally assumes that newer drugs are better, more efficient, more powerful than older ones, this is not at all necessarily the case, and “sometimes existing drugs and devices for managing health conditions can be as good or better, safer, and cheaper than new technologies.”[24]

The appeal to novelty fallacy is problematic at numerous levels. It fails to take into account the following:

  1.  Motive: a new product may be released that is functionally identical to previous products. It may be simply cheaper to produce, or it might have modifications that have nothing to do with its main use or function. This often happens with “repackaged” goods.[25] Simply putting “new and improved” on the label helps sell the products. Increasingly, to avoid some of the technical legalities, the switch has been made to the label “Improved performance”, which has most of the same connotations.
  •  Cyclicality: the fact that the reuse of old material, repackaged to meet the felt needs of the moment, is a mainstay of current marketing. This is so in fashion, films, television, and so on. Increasingly, many things which are “new” are simply remakes of old “classics.”
  •  Population dynamics: the possibility that the older product may have been created by an expert, and that newer versions are mere hack imitations, made in such a way as to trade on the value of the original, but inferior in construction, materials, etc.
  •  Fallibility: the possibility that creating a new product, especially when doing so in a hurry, may introduce defects or negative side effects which are undetected, effectively rendering it inferior. For example, software, including Operating Systems, is produced and sold with the idea that the “bugs” in the system can be better discovered and then corrected by making the public discover them, rather than taking the time to correct the flaws before making the product available for sale.
  • Cost: A new product may be better in terms of performance, yet give a low return, or even no return, on investment, if it is used to replace the older one. The emphasis is on costs only from the producer’s end (making the most profit as quickly as possible), not on keeping costs down for consumers. The idea that research and development costs would be paid back to companies over time, and that the bigger picture included company reputation and good will, begins to vanish. Companies can pressure consumers who are now dependent on their goods. E.g., now the software from last year will no longer be supported, will be subject to virus and malware attacks, and will not work with new products. If a small number of companies create a monopoly, this pressure is greatly extended. The domination of the market by Microsoft and Apple is an example. The capture of the market for Common Core products by a few companies, with massive Federal pressure to conform, is another.  

Fallacies of Oversimplification

  1. Dicto Simpliciter

This is the most common fallacy of oversimplification. It means stating something absolutely or without any qualification. In other words, it is applying a general principle to a particular case when that particular case does not fit the general principle. Because a thing is true sometimes, therefore it must be true all the time, even in a different context. While some truths are this absolute, it is a fallacy to suggest that a particular thing is always true in an absolute way without any evidence to support that conclusion.

This is also explained as confusing non-essential (“accidental”) qualities or attributes with essential ones.This is, for example, a fallacy behind some forms of racism: because characteristics such as skin color, national origin, or various other physical characteristics are NOT essential attributes or characteristics. It ignores the fact that there is a common essence for all human persons (and thus the “human race” is one). 

Example: “There is a Greek proverb “water is best.” Therefore I’ll swap you some water for these diamonds and you’ll come out ahead.”[26]

Example: “’Exercise is good. Therefore everybody should exercise.’”

“‘I agree,’ said Polly earnestly, ‘I mean exercise is wonderful. I mean it builds the body and everything.’

“‘Polly,’ I said gently, ‘The argument is a fallacy. Exercise is good is an unqualified generalization. For instance, if you have heart disease, exercise is bad, not good. Many people are ordered by their doctors not to exercise. You must qualify the generalization. You must say exercise is usually good, or exercise is good for most people. Otherwise you have committed a Dicto Simpliciter.[27]

Also, an abuse of a thing must not be confused with the thing itself. So, for example, the abuse of drinking alcohol is harmful to a person’s health. But that does not mean that the drinking of alcohol per se (essentially) is bad for you, and some forms and amounts may have significant health benefits (as, with red wine). This also occurs, very often, in the arguments about capital punishment:

“Capital punishment can be used in racist ways, therefore it ought to be abolished.”

That someone might abuse capital punishment and use it as a tool of racism (though this would have to be carefully established, and not simply on the basis of correlation) does not militate against capital punishment itself any more than the abuse of prescriptions drugs militates against the good and reasonable use of them. Abuse is accidental to the action, and is not the same as use. One might argue against capital punishment on other grounds, but an argument merely based on possible abuse is fallacious.

  • Special Case

This is the opposite of Dicto Simpliciter. The special case fallacy consists of using a particular thing or event to make a conclusion about all things. It is, in other words, indicating that because a thing is a particular way in a special case, therefore it is that same way all the time. Both Special Case and Dicto Simpliciter forget or ignore the fact that a special case is- by definition- special.  

Example: “It is okay to shoot someone who breaks into my house with a deadly weapon in the middle of the night. Therefore I should be able to shoot anyone who threatens me.” 

  • Composition

This fallacy consists of saying that what is true of all of the parts must be true of the whole- without evidence to establish that this is true.  It is a false movement from the part to the whole.

Example: “This mattress shouldn’t be heavy. It is stuffed with feathers, and feathers don’t weigh hardly anything!”

Example: This dish must be really delicious! It is made with only the very best ingredients.”  (What if the ingredients don’t taste very good together? What if it was overcooked and burnt? Etc.)

Example: “Atoms are colorless. Cats are made of atoms, so cats are colorless.”

  • Division

This is the opposite of the fallacy of composition. In the fallacy of division what is true of the whole is assumed to be true of the parts, even though there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that this is so.  It is a false movement from the whole to the parts.  Individual parts may even have different qualities from the same parts taken together. 

Example: I can’t break this cord. It is made of string. Therefore one piece of this string should hold me up.

Example: There are Muslims spread all over the world. My neighbor, Ahmed, is a Muslim. Therefore Ahmed is spread all over the world. 

Example: Human beings are made of atoms, and human beings are conscious, so atoms must be conscious.

  • The Black and White Fallacy

This fallacy is also known as the fallacy of bifurcation, the “excluded middle,” or the “false dichotomy.” It is committed when someone does not allow for any degrees or gradations between things which are not precisely the same. Not everything is a case of “either A or –A.”  When the evidence suggests that there are more than two options, it is a fallacy to act as if there are only two options.

Example: “Do you hate me or love me?” (Is there something between hatred and love? Perhaps I am indifferent about you.)

Example: “You have to be either a Republican or a Democrat.”  (What if I am an “independent,” or belong to some other minority political party?”)

Example: “Doing nothing is not an option.” Used to refer to Anthropogenic Global Warming, this means that the possibility that there is not a problem that needs to be fixed by government action in the first place is not allowed for discussion. There are only two possibilities: fix this problem or face the consequences (which is also an ad baculum). But what if there is no problem to be solved? Or what if the problem cannot be solved? All other possibilities are discounted from the outset. 

  • Stereotyping

A stereotype is an artificial, socially fabricated, and changeable[28] idea about some group. A stereotype is used to categorize people, objects, and events by assuming those beliefs are accurate generalizations of the whole group, when they are not (as indicated by clear, specific evidence).

We should note that not all generalizations are stereotypes.  General statements that are based on clear evidence (accurate generalizations) and, therefore, true of a particular group as a whole, are not stereotypes. Even here, however, we cannot assume that what is generally true of a group is always true of every member of that group, without concrete and specific evidence to support that conclusion.  That would also be a form of prejudice (pre-judging apart from evidence).

Stereotypes tend to be used in a negative way, though this not always the case.


Generalizations are very useful, as long as they are (a) accurate about a group as a whole, and (b) not used for the purpose of hurting specific members of that group.

Are most doctors competent in medicine? Yes, they are. That is a generalization. There are exceptions. Some few doctors are guilty of malpractice, either through incompetence or through malicious abuse of their position. 

Is it prejudiced to generalize that medicines which have been approved by the FDA are safe if used properly? No, it is a reasonable generalization, which is supported by factual data. There may be exceptions, but that is the whole point of a generalization: that it represents something which is ordinarily true. That is what makes the exceptions “exceptional.” 

Prejudice means that I apply something generally true of a given group to a particular member of that group without investigating whether or not what is generally true of that group is true in the case of this particular person.

Here are some examples of stereotyping

  • French people are good kissers.
  • “You’re a man. You must leave a mess in the sink and leave the toilet seat up.”
  • “You’re American. You must be rich.”  

Fallacies of Argumentation

  1. Non sequitur

Literally, this means “it does not follow.”  A non sequitur is a conclusion which does not follow from the evidence (reasons, data) that have been given to support it.  This means that in a broad sense, every fallacy is a non-sequitur. In its proper and narrow sense, however, a non sequitur is the false step of taking material which is not connected and does not lead to the conclusions and acting as if it did.

Example: “I hate dentists. Therefore when you go to the dentist today you will lose your teeth.”

Example: If I am in Tokyo, I am in Japan. I am not in Tokyo. Therefore, I am not in Japan. (I could be somewhere else in Japan besides Tokyo.)

One version of this is sometimes referred to as a “Snow Job.” This involves “proving” a claim by overwhelming an audience with mountains of irrelevant facts, numbers, documents, graphs and statistics that they cannot be expected to understand or evaluate. Another form of this also appears when language is used in an intentionally complex or extended way which will not be followed by the listener, and the speaker knows this beforehand. The old line by W. C Fields comes to mind: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

One can also bury simple statements in excessive verbiage as a way of camouflaging the content of what is being said, or somehow softening it. Here is an example from the Brit-com Yes, Prime Minister, Series 2, Episode 8, in which Sir Humphery tells the Prime Minister he misled the House of Commons:[29]

Sir Humphrey: Unfortunately, although the answer was indeed clear, simple, and straightforward, there is some difficulty in justifiably assigning to it the fourth of the epithets you applied to the statement, inasmuch as the precise correlation between the information you communicated and the facts, insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated, is such as to cause epistemological problems, of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be expected to bear.

Prime Minister Hacker: Epistemological? What are you talking about?

Sir Humphrey: You told a lie.

Ignorantio Elenchi

Literally, “ignorance of the chain,” (the links in the chain of reasoning), this is a fallacy which consists of giving reasons which support a different conclusion from the one the argument says that it wants to prove. It is also sometimes known as the fallacy of the Irrelevant Conclusion. Instead of addressing the matter at issue, one takes aim at something else instead.   

Example: When a particular proposal for housing legislation is under consideration, a legislator may argue that decent housing for all people is desirable. Everyone, presumably, will agree. However, the question at hand concerns a particular measure. The question really isn’t, “Is it good to have decent housing?” The question really is, “Will this particular measure actually provide it or is there a better alternative?” This type of fallacy is a common one when people use a shared assumption–such as the fact that decent housing is a desirable thing to have–and then spend the bulk of their essays focused on that fact rather than the real question at issue.  

The common political presentation is this form of the “fallacy of the undistributed middle.” The argument goes: (a) something must be done; (b) this proposal is something; (c) therefore, this must be done. But the question remains: what is the evidence that THIS plan will deal with the problem in the most productive way? 

Example: Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of England prior to WWII argued that appeasement of Hitler was the necessary course of action since peace was preferable to war. The premise- that peace is preferable to war- is true, but it did not support his conclusion: that appeasement of Hitler would prevent war. The policy of appeasement actually reinforced Hitler’s perception that nations like England were weak, and encouraged him to go to war.

One of the most common forms of Ignorantio Elenchi is the “Red Herring.” A red herring is a deliberate attempt to change the subject or divert the argument from the real question at issue to some side-point.

Example: “I should not pay a fine for reckless driving. There are many other people on the street who are dangerous criminals and rapists, and the police should be chasing them, not harassing a decent tax-paying citizen like me.” Certainly, worse criminals do exist, but that it is another issue! The questions at hand are (1) did the speaker drive recklessly, and (2) should he pay a fine for it?

  •  Begging the Question:

This fallacy consists of assuming the very thing which you set out to prove, and then smuggling your conclusion into the argument in the premises, often by using different words to express the same idea (hoping that no one will notice). It is also known by its Latin title, Petitio Principii. Begging the Question only occurs if the conclusion is implicitly or explicitly a part of one of the premises leading up to the conclusion.

Example:  “The accused will be given a fair trial before he is hanged.”

Example:

Interviewer: “Your resume looks impressive but I need another reference.”
Bill: “Jill can give me a good reference.”
Interviewer: “Good. But how do I know that Jill is trustworthy?”
Bill: “Certainly. I can vouch for her.”

     Example: “Active euthanasia is morally acceptable. It is a decent, ethical thing to help another human being escape suffering through death.”

       Let’s lay this out in premise-conclusion form:

Premise: It is a decent, ethical thing to help another human being escape suffering through death.

Conclusion: Active euthanasia is morally acceptable.

If we “translate” the premise, we’ll see that the arguer has really just said the same thing twice: “decent, ethical” means the same thing as “morally acceptable,” and “help another human being escape suffering through death” means something pretty similar to what proponents of “active euthanasia” are saying that it is. So the premise basically says, “active euthanasia is morally acceptable,” just like the conclusion does. The arguer hasn’t yet given us any real reasons why euthanasia is acceptable. We are left to ask: “Why do you think active euthanasia is acceptable?” The argument “begs” (that is, evades) the real question.

  • Complex Question 

This fallacy consists in asking two questions as one, with the assumption that the first question has already been answered in a particular way. You can’t answer the question without also “begging” or agreeing to the answer to another question.

Example: “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”  (This assumes that you were previously beating your wife- that “Were you beating your wife?” had received the answer “Yes.” If one never beat his wife, then this first question presumes an answer which is false.)

Example: “Should we go ahead with this worthless project, or not?” (The first question, which has been given an assumed answer of “Yes” is “Is this a worthless project?” The second question, “Should we continue this project?” is combined with it.)

Example: “No-one in his right mind would accept the ludicrous and childish views of my opponent, would he?”

Another version of this is known as the “Loaded Question” (Actual Example): Verizon Saleswoman: “We are installing FIOS in your neighborhood this week and we are scheduling appointments for people so we can install it. When can I schedule an appointment for you?”

  • Arguing in a circle

This is very similar to the fallacy of Begging the Question. The difference is that Arguing in a Circle uses a conclusion to justify a premise rather than simply restating a premise. Circular Reasoning, as it is also called, thus bases two conclusions upon each other. The symbolic form of such an argument could be put thus: If A, then B: if B, then C: if C, then A.[30]

Example: “The world must be well ordered.”   

           “Why?”

           “Because it is the work of divine wisdom.”

           “How do you know that?”

                   “How can you doubt divine wisdom? Look how     well the world is ordered!” 

Example: Philosopher David Hume argued against miracles this way:

           The physical laws of nature are uniform.

           This uniformity means that there are no exceptions (miracles).

           Therefore, miracles, which violate this uniformity, cannot happen.    

Notice that in this case, this is BOTH arguing in a circle AND begging the question, at the same time. It bases the conclusion on the premises, and the premises on the conclusion, AND it engages in using a different wording of the conclusion as a premise. It is only by positing the conclusion that no violations of physical laws can happen that Hume can say that miracles cannot happen. He must a priori take the view, before he even begins, that the laws are themselves absolute, and that these must be “suspended” for exceptional cases for miracles to occur. But this takes for granted numerous things which he does not demonstrate, and which many theologians would reject as false ideas about God and the nature of the universe.[31] Material/empirical evidence and combinations of inductive and deductive reasoning do not have the ability to prove that there is no non-material reality. In fact, both quantum mechanical evidence and medical and neurological evidence to the contrary are significant, including “brain dead” patients who later recover and show complete awareness of things said and done around them while they were clinically completely dead (a form of terminal lucidity).      

        Example: “Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan are banging at the doors, and the political establishment, consisting of both politicians and the media, seems determined not to let them in on the grounds that they have no public support. This is a circular argument; one of the reasons they have so little support is that they are generally ignored by the press and will most likely be barred from the presidential debates, which require a base support of 15 percent of the electorate.”[32] This is a way that media manipulate “news,” making so-called mere “reporting” actually a control mechanism for controlling or manipulating public opinion.

Note, however, that starting with a conclusion and then trying to find evidence for it is not circular reasoning. Pointing out that someone has started with conclusion and then has gone looking for evidence to support it, is NOT, by itself, grounds for claiming a process of circular reasoning, or even begging the question. This is, in fact, how the scientific method works: Some evidence presented to a person’s mind suggests a conclusion, a way of making sense of the data. But, unless the whole exercise is mere subterfuge and lies, everybody takes the initial hypothesis from SOME evidence that has already been considered. Nobody is a tabula rasa [“blank slate”].  Good theories and models begin with a hunch and with a person looking to support that hunch.

An initial hypothesis is then investigated, as impartially as possible, to test that hypothesis. The examination will either make the hypothesis more likely, less likely, or virtually impossible, and so useless. Remember the categories we learned earlier about induction and deduction.  The scientific method uses either pure induction, or, more usually, a mixture of induction and deduction, giving some degree of certainty, or not. If you persist in holding an idea in the face of a tremendous onslaught of negative evidence, you are either dishonest or delusional. The very basis of the scientific method includes all of this, being itself a use of logical categories.

BUT, if there is NO evidence to support the initial conclusion or hypothesis in the first place (so that it ISN’T a hypothesis at all, but a conclusion held contrary to fact, for some political or other agenda driven purpose), then this is simply intellectually dishonest, and an exercise in telling lies and engaging in manipulation. People who have some agenda driven idea and then spend their whole “research project” looking for evidence in support of that idea, while “explaining away” all the evidence that doesn’t fit that idea (acting as if it doesn’t exist), are frauds.

Honest examination always requires that people be willing to change their conclusion if the evidence decisively refutes it, or, if the evidence requires a less drastic change, to refine their view, making it more precise, to fit the evidence.

The real circular reasoning fallacy is when you use a conclusion as a premise leading to that conclusion. Fallacies are about the structure of arguments themselves, NOT about what drives one to make an argument (and saying so would be a form of ad hominem fallacy itself)!

  • Contradictory Premises

     This fallacy consists, as the name indicates, of having two premises which contradict each another. This is a very common fallacy today. Here are some common examples:[33]

       Example: “Truth is subjective.” (This means that there is no such thing as truth, which- if it were true- would be a truth. The statement refutes itself.)

       Example: “We can know nothing.” (If this were so, then we couldn’t know that can know nothing. If we think that we know that we know nothing, then we know something- that we can’t know anything. But if the statement were true, then we couldn’t know that.)

       Example: “There are no absolutes.”

       Example: “I will not allow intolerance.”[34]

        Example: “You can’t be dogmatic!” (A dogma is an absolute truth. Saying that one can’t be dogmatic is itself a dogmatic statement.)      

        Example: “I saw a dead possum climbing up a tree.”

Note that self-contradiction is different from paradox. A paradox is something that, on the surface of it, appears to be self-contradictory, yet it is not. After careful examination, what seemed to be self-contradictory is actually true when viewed from a different perspective (“in a different light”), or with additional insight involving necessary distinctions and more complex but precise definitions. Simply because something doers not immediately make sense, does not mean it is necessarily self-contradictory. 

Examples of paradoxes:

  • “Less is more.”
  • “In marriage two become one, yet remain two.”
  • To bring peace, sometimes we must go to war.

Keep in mind that some things we simply do not understand at all. E.g., the Quantum Mechanics categories, such as the double slit experiment, or action of the Delayed choice Quantum Eraser. See, e.g., <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u_UQG1La1o>. Albert Einstein, way back in 1935, called Quantum Mechanics “spukhafte Fernwirkung” or “spooky action at a distance.”[35]

  • Slippery Slope

The arguer claims that a sort of chain reaction, usually ending in some dire consequence, will take place, when there is really not enough evidence to support that the consequence(s) must necessarily follow. The arguer asserts that if we take even one step onto the “slippery slope,” we will end up sliding all the way to the bottom; he or she assumes we can’t stop part way down the hill, when it is clear that this is possible.

Example: “Animal experimentation reduces our respect for life. If we don’t respect life, we are likely to be more and more tolerant of violent acts like war and murder. Soon our society will become a battlefield in which everyone constantly fears for their lives. It will be the end of civilization. To prevent this terrible consequence, we should make animal experimentation illegal right now.” Since animal experimentation has been legal for some time and civilization has not yet ended, it seems particularly clear that this chain of events won’t necessarily take place. Even if we believe that experimenting on animals reduces respect for life, and loss of respect for life makes us more tolerant of violence, that may be the spot on the hillside at which things stop—we may not slide all the way down to the end of civilization. And so we have not yet been given sufficient reason to accept the arguer’s conclusion that we must make animal experimentation illegal right now.

Slippery slope arguments can be tricky to identify, since sometimes a chain of events really can be predicted to follow from a certain action. For example, this doesn’t seem to be a fallacy:

“If I fail English 101, I won’t be able to graduate. If I don’t graduate, I probably won’t be able to get a good job, and I may very well end up doing temp work or flipping burgers for the next year.”  

Or this:

Socialist systems take away incentives for work and creativity by mandating equality of outcomes. Putting Socialist systems into place will greatly damage the economy, and lead to greater and greater government control [since that is what Socialism MEANS- government taking over the means of production], and eventually deteriorate into tyranny under a totalitarian state.  

Both of those are supportable by clear evidence and by the closely knit internal logic. Notice that the first example would be fallacious IF the qualifying phrases “probably” and “may very well” were omitted. The second example is supported by the clear examples in history: this is exactly what has happened in every place where it has been tried.      

Fallacies of Induction

  1. Hasty generalization

This is a very popular fallacy. It is also known as by a number of other titles: the “fallacy of insufficient statistics,” “fallacy of insufficient sample,” “fallacy of the lonely fact,” “leaping to a conclusion,” “hasty induction,” “law of small numbers,” “unrepresentative sample,” Apriorism (from the term a priori, meaning “from what came before”[36]), or its Latin title “secundum quid.” It is the fallacy of making a generalization- a general statement about a whole group- on too little evidence. It commonly involves basing a broad conclusion upon the statistics of a survey of a small group that fails to sufficiently represent the whole population of that group. Statistics in general can have many problems, especially in surveys where the questions can assume too much, be too vague, or be too misleading (facts which are also covered elsewhere).

Example: “That is the third time I’ve tried to call Tom and the line was busy. He is always on the phone.”

Example: “I met three people from New York in a restaurant the other day, and they were all very rude. That is just the way people from New York are.”

Hasty generalizations often include a common misunderstanding of the nature of statistics:

“The majority of people in the United States die in hospitals, so stay out of them.”

“Men are statistically more aggressive than women.  So, I must be more aggressive than you, since I’m male and you’re a female.” Apart from the misuse of terms for grammar, as if they were biological, this misses the obvious problem that neither of the two people in question might be “average.” When she rips this argument to shreds, he had it coming.

  • Post hoc

Literally, this fallacy- the full title of which is post hoc ergo propter hoc – means “after that, therefore caused by that.” When reasoning inductively- looking for a cause- this fallacy involves inferring that one thing (A) is the cause of another thing (B) simply because it (A) happened before that other thing (B).

Example: “When sales of hot chocolate went up, the street crime dropped. So, let’s keep crime down, and sell more hot chocolate!” Does this sequence of events mean that hot chocolate prevents crime? No, it means that fewer people are on the streets when the weather is cold. Correlation does not imply causation.

Example: A student discovered that there was a significant increase in military spending prior to each of the major wars of the twentieth century. He concluded that these wars were caused by the increase in military spending. (The increased military spending could just as easily be understood as a consequence of the fact that countries were preparing for war- so that increased military spending was the consequence of the coming war rather than the cause. A number of other logical explanations could also be proposed which do not require increased military spending to be the cause of war.)     

  • False analogy

The use of analogies can be a fallacy. This happens when- and only when- one of two things happens. (1) An analogy is used which is false (the two things that are being compared are not really similar in the way that is indicated or implied). (2) An analogy is misused to say that because two things are alike in one way they therefore must be alike in some other way(s) when there is no evidence to support this.  It is vitally important to remember that an analogy is NOT an argument, but only an illustration of a particular point.

Example: “Our new TV is really cool! It has the best picture you’ve ever seen!” “Yeah? Our TV is new, too! I’ll bet its picture is as good as yours.” (The fact that both are new- perhaps the only thing they have in common- doesn’t necessarily mean they are alike in all ways. They may not be. Maybe one is very tiny and the other very large, one has the latest technology and the other has old technology, one is black and white and the other is color, etc.)

Example: “I bought my last three pairs of shoes at that store. They all lasted a long time. I think that if I buy another pair there, those shoes will last a long time, too!”  (Is the similarity that the previous shoes were all purchased at the same store sufficient to guarantee quality? What if the brands were different?)

  • Argument from silence

When someone does not say anything about a particular topic, it is a fallacy to conclude anything from that silence, either subjectively (e.g., he doesn’t believe in liberty because he didn’t mention it), or objectively (since he didn’t say that there was a last will and testament there must not be one). An argument from something that has not been said is no argument at all, one way or the other. Something that is not said does not mean anything in particular, and may often be interpreted in a variety of ways.

Another example: She never mentioned a husband in her testimony before the court. That must mean that she isn’t married. (Perhaps there was no reason for mentioning a husband in her testimony.)

  • Selective evidence  

This fallacy consists of only presenting the evidence which happens to support the conclusion you wish to reach, and leaving all other evidence out of the discussion. This is a common aspect of nightly news reports and political speeches.

Example: “The world must be getting better. Look at all the increased technology; look at the advances in modern medicine, etc.” (But we simply don’t mention the increasing illiteracy, the dumbing down of SAT scores, the deterioration of social skills, etc.)

Example: A book on the “Bermuda Triangle:” the yacht Connemara IV was found drifting crewless, southeast of Bermuda, on September 26, 1955. (Not mentioned is the fact that the yacht had been directly in the path of Hurricane Iona, with 180 mph winds and 40-foot waves.)  

  • Slanting the question

This fallacy consists of asking a question in such a way as to lead the person(s) asked to a particular answer. This is a common fallacy in political debates and in surveys and questionnaires. Different perspectives are often built into the way questions are asked. For example, the word “plant” is not slanted, but “weed” is, since its connotation is negative.

Example:  Survey question: “Don’t you think that people are entitled to basic health care?” (Versus a slanting from the other side, “Do you think that everyone should be forced to pay for medical care administered by government bureaucrats?”) 

Example: Survey question: “DO you think the vast amount of military spending is justified by the small amount of progress being made in Iraq?”  

Example: (From Yes, Prime Minister– slanting in surveys: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA>.

Procedural Fallacies

  1. “Refuting” an argument by refuting its conclusion

Refuting a conclusion to an argument simply refutes that conclusion. It may be that the statements used to support the conclusion are all true. Peter Kreeft has a splendid section on this procedural fallacy which is worth quoting in full:[37]

What refutes an argument is an analysis of the argument that finds in it a term used ambiguously or a false premise or a logical fallacy, thus showing how the argument went wrong and why it does not prove its conclusion. What refutes an argument’s conclusion (which is a single proposition) is another argument proving the contradictory of that conclusion.  Arguers often assume that they have completed their job when they only refute a conclusion and do not refute the argument that supposedly proves it.  But they have not.  For they have only put forth an apparently equally-good argument to prove the opposite conclusion; they have only engaged in offensive logical warfare and not defensive; they have left the original argument still standing.  The result of this is not to prove or convince, but to paralyze the mind of a rational and objective listener, for the listener now finds himself suspended between two arguments, and two conclusions, that seem equally convincing.

Since two contradictory conclusions can’t both be true, they cannot both be proven with perfectly logical arguments. One or the other must be deficient.

  • Assuming that refuting an argument disproves its conclusion

This is the opposite error from thinking that refuting the conclusion to an argument refutes the argument. Just because someone gives weak support for a conclusion does not mean that the conclusion is necessarily false. It may simply mean that the person making the argument has been careless, is not very clear on the subject, is not particularly clever, etc. This is all defense and no offense in argument.

  • Ignoring an argument

This is a common fallacious procedure. If I do not listen to what you are saying, but simply take the time you are speaking to run through my next point silently in my head, then I have simply ignored your argument altogether. There is no response, in the technical sense, but simply a speaking past the person.

A related point in this procedural fallacy is that people whose points are weak may try to compensate by repetition (a distinct fallacy of its own) or increasing the volume (yelling).

  • Substituting explanations for proof

To “prove” something is to give such a careful argument that the facts lead to the conclusion in a way which cannot be escaped. The conclusion is inevitable. Something “proven” is not a mere opinion or possibility, but a fact.

Explanations are not the same as proof. An explanation is the submission of information which seems to support the conclusion given. The conclusion is not proven. It is not certain. It is a reasonable explanation for the data available. It is a working hypothesis which can then be tested and subjected to further examination.

This procedural fallacy consists of confusing mere explanations and hypotheses for proven facts. 


[1] See < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmIb2Jb-KC8&feature=related  > and < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiUrSFAIktY&feature=relmfu  >. Try also < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_zlrknofxA&feature=related  > And this introduction: < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeAGAV5eEoo&NR=1&feature=endscreen  >. For a website see < http://www.iep.utm.edu/fallacy/   >. For some very specific kinds of material on economic fallacies, with dr. Thomas Sowell, see < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6ZPg6kOBkc  >.

[2] See also < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmhhYcJirl8  >.

[3] From “Deteriorata” by National Lampoon.

[4] Saturday, October 6th, 2007.

[5] One can also, perhaps, equivocate by using language which one’s audience cannot follow, even though it objectively presents the information. See < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8keZbZL2ero&feature=related >. This also, however, involves the speaker in a fallacy of diversion. 

[6] http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/77-catchy-and-creative-slogans/   See “slogans” file.

[7] Emphasis added. See online at: <http://laurencetennant.com/bonds/adhominem.html?utm_content=buffer3dd2d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer>.

[8] Mark Padgett, October 24, 2009. See < http://newsrealblog.com/2009/10/14/why-didnt-media-matters-catch-limbaughs-slavery-quote-when-he-said-it/  >.

[9] For VERY detailed information, see The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (originally printed in French in 1997, and now available in translation), written by a number of European scholars and edited by Stéphane Courtois, and published by Harvard University Press (1999).

[10] This could actually be considered another category of ad hominem, called the “genetic fallacy.” This consists of condemning an argument (without really dealing with it at all) because of where it began, or who began it. It often involves criticism of arguments based on supposed weaknesses in the opponent’s psychological makeup. “You only think that because you are fill in the supposed psychological disorder here.” Related to this, too, is what C. S. Lewis called Bulverism: “Assume that your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet.” What is NOT done, in this fallacy, is to actually bother refute the opponent’s argument. See God in the Dock, p. 273 in the standard edition. 

[11]  < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IOi4M4jhuw&feature=related  >.

[12] The designation Ipse dixit (“He said it himself”) is also used for this fallacy.  

[13] We will come back to the full characteristics for a trustworthy authority in a later unit.

[14] Reported in Parade magazine, May 9, 1971, cited from The Fallacy Detective, 2nd Ed. Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn, 2003. E.g., < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtP-S9OS0o0  >.

[15] This is also a black and white fallacy.

[16] < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tw6F7-Gscqo&feature=related  >.

[17] < http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/Harry-Reid-Mitt-Romney-2012-election-taxes/2015/04/01/id/635842/#ixzz4O5vtLAhg >.

[18] Scott M. Sullivan. An Introduction to Traditional Logic: Classical Reasoning for Contemporary Minds. 2nd #Ed. Booksurge Publishing, 2006. Pp. 207-8.

[19] Emphasis added.

[20] See < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cMjLXNTs-0   >.

[21] Cited in The Fallacy Detective, p. 179.

[22] E.g. <  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0avReuIACcs&feature=youtu.be  >, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owGykVbfgUE  >, and < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOhamumuqyg  >.

[23] Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense. There are various paraphrases of this. Edmund Burke, in his work Revolution in France, said something similar, “People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”

[24] < http://www.cfhi-fcass.ca/SearchResultsNews/13-03-13/7081e550-fed8-4c8c-84c6-bfd360e48f19.aspx   >. E.g., see Eichler, H., et. al. (2010). “Relative Efficacy of Drugs: An Emerging Issue Between Regulatory Agencies and Third-party Payers. Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery, 9, 277-91; Emanuel, E.J. & Fuchs, V.R. (2008). “The Perfect Storm of Overutilization.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 299(23), 2789-91; and  Tierney, M. (2008). “Optimizing the Use of Prescription Drugs in Canada through the Common Drug Review.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178(4), 432-5.  

[25] The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus was created precisely because of this problem. See <http://www.asrcreviews.org/category/nad/challenges-and-complaints/ >. Between two and three hundred cases per year are treated. According to their guidelines, to call a product “new and improved,” a company must show a substantial and measurable improvement, but then what THAT means is subject to dispute. Claims of novelty can also only be made for six months- after that the change is not “new” anymore. The director of the NAD,  Andrea Levine, gave an example: “One chocolate-chip muffin mix was claiming it had 50 percent more chips than its competitors. Which was true. But they were itty-bitty chips. When we weighed them, we found out that the one with more chips actually had less chocolate.” But it was technically true, even if utterly misleading.

[26] Taken from Socratic Logic,  p. 86.

[27] Max Shulman, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, 1951.

[28] See Socratic Logic, p. 91.

[29] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8keZbZL2ero

[30] See also < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CVbku6nxhU&NR=1&feature=endscreen  >.

[31] For detailed exploration of some of this, see C. S. Lewis’ book Miracles. A study guide to the book is here: <http://www.cslewis.org/resources/studyguides/Study%20Guide%20-%20Miracles.pdf>. For a very, very brief engagement of one tiny element, see also here < http://www.roca.org/OA/147-148/147d.htm  >. For a response by William Lane Craig, see < http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-miracles-a-historical-and-philosophical-perspective  > and, for one that accepts part of Hume’s definition, yet still rejects the argument, see the presentation philosopher Richard Swinburne, here <http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles2/SwinburneMiracles.php?/articles2/SwinburneMiracles.shtml  >.

[32] Lars-Erik Nelson, “Party Going.” The New York Review of Books, Aug. 10, 2000.

[33] Taken from Socratic Logic, p. 97.

[34] I have known books written on Tolerance, the proper title of which would be — intolerant or intolerable books on tolerance. Should not a man who writes a book expressly to inculcate tolerance learn to treat with respect, or at least with indulgence, articles of faith which tens of thousands ten times told of his fellow-subjects or his fellow-creatures believe with all their souls, and upon the truth of which they rest their tranquility in this world, and their hopes of salvation in the next, — those articles being at least maintainable against his arguments, and most certainly innocent in themselves? -Samuel Taylor Coleridge, January 3, 1834 Table Talk.

[35] Quantum Mechanics does demonstrate that materialism is logically problematic.

[36] From the Latin, ā, meaning “from” + priōrī, the ablative of the word for “prior” or “former.” The expression goes back to Euclid’s Elements, written c. 300 BC/BCE, which was a very popular work in the Renaissance period. The expression became even better known when it was attacked by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century in his Critique of Pure Reason. What is known before empirical investigation is a priori, what is known afterwards is a posteriori (“from the latter”). So the proposition, “If George V reigned at least four days, then he reigned more than three days.” This is something known a priori, because it expresses a statement that is derived by reason alone. Kant tried to suggest that all logic and metaphysics were unreliable and not to be trusted, except when they were such obvious truisms that they were uninteresting and irrelevant. The rise of Empiricism was the assertion of this ideology, despite its massive flaws. Philosophers like David Hume played a large part. The eventual reaction pushed the pendulum far to the other side.

[37] From Socratic Logic, p. 104-105.

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