Avoiding Logical Fallacies

The informed argument: a multidisciplinary reader and guide

Robert Keith Miller

An apparently logical argument may reveal serious flaws if we take the trouble to examine it closely. Mistakes in reasoning are called logical fallacies. This term comes from the Latin word deceit, and there is some form of deception behind most of these lapses in logic. It is easy to deceive ourselves into believing that we are making a strong argument when we have actually lost our way somehow, and many fallacies are unintentional. But others are used deliberately by writers or speakers for whom “winning” an argument is more important than looking for truth. Here is a list of common fallacies that you should be careful to avoid in your own arguments and that you should be alert to in the arguments of others. 

  • Ad Hominem Argument is an argument that attacks the personal character or reputation of one’s opponents while ignoring what he or she has to say e.g. good people can make bad arguments, and even a crook can sometimes tell the truth. It is better to give a logical response to an opponent’s arguments than to ignore those arguments and indulge in personal attacks.
  • Ad Misericordiam Argument is an appeal to pity, inspiring emotions that is closely related to whatever they are arguing for and when the entire argument does not rest upon this appeal alone. Consider how weak an argument becomes when the appeal to pity has little to do with the issue in question. 
  • Ad Populum Argument plays upon the general values of an audience e.g. a politician that loves his children, and admires his wife have factors that appeal to the average man and woman but which nevertheless are unlikely to affect his performance in office.
  • Argument by Analogy is a comparison that works on more than one level, ans it is possible to use analogy effectively when reasoning inductively. When arguing from analogy, it is important to remember that you are speculating. As is the case with any type of inductive reasoning, you can reach a conclusion that is likely to be true but not guaranteed to be true.
  • Begging the Question begins with a premise that is acceptable only to anyone who will agree with the conclusion that is subsequently reached- circular argument. Because it is much easier to claim that something is true than to prove it is true. 
  • Equivocation is when someone uses vague or ambiguous language to mislead an audience e.g. abstract language, right, real. Be careful of using one word in several different senses without acknowledging that this has been done.
  • False Dilemma is when a speaker or writer poses a choice between two alternatives while overlooking other possibilities and implying that other possibilities does not exist.
  • Guilt by Association is a maneuver by opponents into the false position of being held accountable for the actions of all the men and women who hold to that particular negative association.
  • Ignoring the Question is when someone does not acknowledge the question and begins to talk about something else.
  • Jumping into Conclusions is when the question is not supported by an adequate amount of evidence, there should be more than one example to support an argument. 
  • Non Sequitur is Latin for “it does not follow” in which the subordinate clause does not clearly relate to the main clause. A cause-and-effect relationship has been claimed but not explained. 
  • Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc is Latin for “after this, therefore because of this” assumes that an event is the result of something that merely occurred before it. There’s impressive amount of evidence, but the evidence is frequently questionable. Logic should always recognize the distinction between causes and what may simply be coincidences. Sequence is not a cause because every event is preceded by an infinite number of other events, all of which cannot be held responsible for whatever happens today. Don’t isolate at random any one event in the past, and then try to argue that it explains everything. 
  • Slippery Slope is a fallacy when one step will inevitably lead to an undesirable second step.
  • Straw Man happens when arguers pretend that they are responding to the views of their opponents when they are only setting up a type of artificial opposition which they can easily refute i.e. exaggerate the views of others or respond only to an extreme view that does not adequately represent the arguments of one’s opponents. 



One thought on “Avoiding Logical Fallacies

  1. Pingback: Project Logicality: What is Argumentation? | The Call of Troythulu

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