Feb 252010


In this series of articles I will try to define and give examples of logical fallacies.  These fallacy articles will be linked in all subsequent articles I write where I point out or mention any particular fallacy.Many times when I consume editorial or intellectual media, I come across an argument that seems valid, at first glance.  Often, even though I may agree with the position, the arguments used are not good ones.  This damages a case for something I may agree with.  It can also make it needlessly harder to debate a position I disagree with.  More on that later.  Though attractive, quick, easy to use, and often used by a mistake of second nature, logical fallacies do nothing to add to the evidence for or against a position.  As well as being useless for establishing truth, they often detract from the search for truth, by adding needless, position damaging, rhetoric.  Not only does it damage the position one is arguing for, it also damages the credibility of the person making the argument.

I guess we should first ask:  What is a logical fallacy?  In short it is, bad logic sometimes stemming from bad reasoning.  As a term of art, it describes one of a group of standard types of arguments that use bad reasoning to evidence a proposition.  Logic and reason have been formalized for thousands of years.  Some bad tactics have been used for so long and so often that they fit a pattern.  Logicians (those who practice logic) have identified these patterns and named a fallacy to fit the pattern.If I am arguing my position and I commit a formal or informal fallacy, I have robbed my audience of their ability to see the truth that I wanted them to see, thus working against my own position.  This will only happen if my error is uncovered and often today, no one even notices.  If my opponent is allowed (without objection) to perpetrate a fallacy then he has done the same.  If I object, as I would be obligated to do for our audience, we then begin to waste the audience’s time, arguing a formality instead of our positions.  Neither myself or my opponent should want the audience to believe something that hasn’t been evidenced by sound logic.Think of it like a courtroom.  When the prosecutor asks a question of a witness and the defense objects:  the lawyers would argue the objection according to the rules of jurisprudence, case law,  etc… then the judge would determine if the question or answer is allowable.  Logic in philosophy should work the same way.  Unlike a court case though, in logic and philosophy both parties should be seeking the truth, not trying to win their case, and precedent is of no real value in logic.  Speaking well just to win a debate is rhetoric not logic, and politics not philosophy.  While rhetoric is useful, it’s central function is not to establish truth, but to win.  In philosophy the central function is to find the truth; philo (love), sophy (wisdom.)  Those who love the wisdom of truth know that there are ways to win an argument and rules to follow while doing it.  Knowing these rules and forms of fallacies can help us determine the difference between merely political rhetoric and truth.  Failing to know these things makes us more susceptible to being led astray by a silver tongued  politician, or even our own mind.  This is why I think this topic is important to everyone.

As I mentioned before there are both formal and informal fallacies.  A formal fallacy occurs when an argument has (or appears to have) the form of a syllogism but does not conform to an acceptable formula of a syllogism.  Hence all the uses of the term “form,” in the last sentence. These formalities can get rather complicated.  They have been used since Aristotle (384-322BC) and have changed little or not at all over time.  In formal logic syllogisms are often expressed like mathematical functions or equations, complete with function symbols and letters for place holders in equations.  It is said that there are 256 possible syllogisms within four types, and of these, at most, 19 are considered logically valid.  I’ll let you check it out at the wiki link(Note that you should always go beyond Wikipedia for verification.) At present, this aspect of logical expression is still a bit over my head, but I’m learning.  It’s mostly a matter of becoming familiar with the symbolic expressions and what they represent.  I must mention that a syllogism’s validity or invalidity has no bearing on a proposition being true or not.  Validity only determines if all the things necessary to test a proposition are present and in proper form.  This is considered a time saver of sorts.  A logician might say, “You haven’t given enough information in a way that is clear enough to affirm or deny your conclusion.”  Or, in short, “The argument is invalid, thus you have proven nothing.”  What you have argued for may indeed be right but the invalid form of argument makes it neither proven, provable, or falsifiable.  It is rendered only as a statement of opinion or the like.  The same is true for informal fallacies, they neither prove or disprove truth but are another type of poor argumentation.An informal fallacy is a fallacy of reasoning and language and not form.  You can have a valid statement to test but defend it with informal arguments that do not support your claim.  These are the kind of things we encounter in everyday conversations, speeches, lectures, sermons, debates, articles, etc…  These informal fallacies are what I am concerned with here.  Here is a good link for a definition of the term Informal Fallacy and a good place to lean more on logic overall.  With all that being said I’ll get to a list as time permits so the information will all be eventually on this site.  In the mean time here is a link to a hierarchical chart (taxonomy) depicting each type of informal fallacy and how they are related, and linked to articles about each type.  It is worthy to note that different people or schools of thought label and classify some fallacies differently.  I have found no generally accepted authority on this but rather personal and academic license.

Incomplete list of material referenced or reviewed for this article:Fallacy Files .org the source used for the linked taxonomy and general study.Wikipedia list of fallaciesLogical Fallacies .infoReign of Christ Ministries A great place for some deep thought on deep subjects made plain while learning about the works of some great Christian thinkers and much much more!  Preterism, logic, doctrine, videos , etc…etc..  And, you can talk back, someone will probably respond if your reasonable.Hunting Humbug   The Skeptics Field Guide While the language sometimes may be offensive to some, the podcast you can find there is informative and very entertaining.  These are skeptics, and proud of it.  You’ll find frequent audio clips in the podcast from Monty Python, South Park, Ren and Stempy, The Simpsons, as well as real life examples of bad logic being exposed.

This last link reminds me:  one will eventually need to give some attention to epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge,) axioms, empiricism, and inductive vs. deductive reasoning.  My brief assertions based on the last statement are as follows:1. My epistemology:  revelatory and deductive, based on an axiomatic foundation that the bible is the word of God and true in all it deals with.2. Empiricism is useful but gives probability not truth.3. Induction can not give truth in all matters.  This is a tentative position based on a limited understanding of the distinctions involved in the whole subject.


Article 2:  The Red Herring

Article 3:  Appeal to Ignorance

Article 4:  Weasel Words

Article 5:  Ambiguity and Equivocation

  • how big is your brain? i didnt even know the meaning of half of those words! hehehe

  • Curtis

    Thanks for letting me know you read it. Your comment tells me I should use simpler language. It’s hard in some subjects but I reread the article and I think your right with this one. Some big words are necessary and some are not.

  • alma marie

    you need to include the definition of the other fallacies under that specific fallacies.

    • Curtis


      Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad to see anyone comment, but I’m not sure of your issue.

      This is an introductory article. At the bottom there is a list of 4 other articles I wrote, where I go into some of the details you mentioned. To go beyond what I have written so far I left many links in the article to great sources.

      Sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for here. Perhaps the colors made the links hard to notice.

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