Logical Fallacies and How to Spot Them

Everyday people disagree about something. That is just a fact of life. However what a lot of people tend to do when giving arguments, is to commit what is called a “logical fallacy”.

Logical fallacies are arguments that sound good at first, but when thought through, do not really make sense. Also, some logical fallacies actually are not really arguments at all, but instead attack the person giving the information, instead of attacking the information itself (e.g., ad hominem arguments).

Sometimes, however, a logical fallacy can still be factually correct (see: circular reasoning).

Now let’s cover a few logical fallacies that are committed every day.

  1. ad hominem attack

This logical fallacy is when someone directs their argument at the person who gave the information, instead of the person’s position in the argument.

For example, Bob tells Fred that he thinks sports cars do not get good gas mileage, and that people are better off not buying them. Fred responds with calling Bob an idiot and saying that he is incorrect.

You see what happened? Fred not only directed his argument at Bob (instead of Bob’s position in the argument), but he also said Bob was wrong without giving any reason. Fred might as well have not said anything, since he really didn’t anyway!

This has happened to me in real life. I once was on a website commenting on my views of the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity. All I got for my trouble was baseless arguments (things said without proof), insults (ad hominem attacks), and large “walls of text” (useless information that adds nothing to the argument).

Remember: Mark it down…if someone commits the ad hominem attack, he or she probably does not have any real arguments to begin with, and is trying to win an argument using bad arguments.

  1. circular reasoning

Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy in which the person starts off an argument with the assumption that what they are arguing is true.

For example, when a book shows the author’s name, does not repeating that information to someone technically circular reasoning? Think: “Who wrote the book?”…”John Doe did.”…”How do you know?”…”His name is in the book listed as the author.”  See what I mean? You are saying John Doe wrote a book because the book itself says so.

Something to keep in mind, just because someone uses circular reasoning does not mean the information they gave is incorrect. Circular reasoning may not be the best way to discuss a subject with someone else, but that does not affect the truth of someone’s statements.

Also, someone pointing out something as a circular argument, then not bothering to explain their own position on the matter, is doing a cop out. They do not have proof of what they claimed to begin with. It is easy to say “that is a circular argument” then not give any counter-argument of your own.

Remember: Circular arguments do not invalidate facts, even if they do happen to confirm themselves.

  1. straw-man argument

This logical fallacy is when someone incorrectly states their opponent’s position. This is when someone “puts words in your mouth”. Then the person “defeats” the straw-man argument.

The problem? The person never did “defeat” his opponent to begin with, since the opponent’s position was not the same position as advertised.

For example, Sally says that she does not like working when she is tired. Then Betty tells someone else that Sally said she does not like working, but then Betty continues and says that she thinks Sally is being lazy.

Betty misrepresented Sally’s position, and then “defeated” Sally’s position even though that was not her position to begin with.

Remember: Straw-man arguments are nothing more than misrepresenting what someone said to make your argument look valid.  Technically you could consider a straw-man argument a form of lying.

  1. appeal to accomplishment

This logical fallacy is when someone agrees or disagrees with stated information, based upon the credentials of the person who gave the information, not if the information itself is factually correct.

For example, Greg says that getting too much sun on your skin may cause skin cancer. Tyler then responds, dismissing what Greg said because Greg is “not a doctor”.

Now does Greg not being a doctor change the fact that you may get skin cancer being exposed to too much sun? Of course not! However Tyler decided to dismiss this information just because Greg is “not a doctor”. He could have at least asked a doctor to confirm what Greg said, before deciding to dismiss it.

Remember: Appeal to accomplishment is nothing more than dismissing what someone said based upon their “credentials” regardless if what they said was true or not.

5. “light” ad hominem attack

This one is very similar to what I wrote at the beginning of this post. Someone does not like what someone else said and then proceeds to insult the person.

However instead of giving no argument after the insult, the person does give an argument in reply, but the argument is pointless and does not come close to refuting whatever was said.

Remember: Using bad arguments, while insulting people, does no good for you or anyone else.

Posted in Christian, General, Society