Again, the whole point of discussing fallacies is so that we are familiar with the common ways people go wrong with their reasoning so that we can (1) notice when others do it and (2) prevent ourselves from committing fallacies. There are general ways that we can think about fallacies, and approaching arguments with these things in mind will help you recognize fallacious reasoning even if you can’t perfectly articulate where, why, and how something is going wrong. The three broad categories we’ll use are:
- Fallacies of evidence: these happen where the evidence presented doesn’t relate to the argument or what is being presented as proper reasoning is unrelated to the topic, including misclassifying concepts or making overly broad or overly limited claims
- Fallacies of weak induction: often referred to as “false causes” (latin: non causa pro causa), they occur when the evidence and claims don’t actually provide enough strength to lead to the conclusions
- Fallacies of ambiguity and grammatical analogy: these occur when someone makes use of something uncertain to make a certain claim without illustrating the appropriate connection or by using an inappropriate connection to go from the premises to the conclusion
Fallacies of evidence happen when the evidence provided just doesn’t have much to do with the conclusion that the argument is trying to arrive at. In general, someone says something or gives evidence that is meant to deceive you into accepting the conclusion without actually giving you good philosophical reasons to accept it. You might want to accept it anyway for concerns having nothing to do with the argument. For example, an “Appeal to Force” is a common fallacy of this kind:
If you don’t agree with me that potatoes are the most delicious food, then I’ll smash your face in.
Smashing your face in has nothing to do with the deliciousness of potatoes, but you might be inclined to accept the argument nonetheless in order to spare your face from getting smashed in. However, the line of reasoning that led you there was inappropriate: you accepted the conclusion for a reason that has nothing to do with the reasons it should be accepted.
To avoid and spot these fallacies, you basically just have to ask yourself, “Do the claims I am presenting give someone an appropriate, specific, and direct reason to accept the truth of my conclusion?” If not then, then you might be committing a fallacy of evidence. If someone else does this, then you know that shouldn’t accept their conclusion for the reasons they have presented. We will be covering these fallacies of evidence in more detail (though there are more fallacies than just what we cover here and these fallacies can also be interpreted to fall under other categories of fallacies – but bad reasoning is bad reasoning and it doesn’t matter what category we put these in, as long as you recognize fallacious reasoning):
- Non Sequitur
- Red Herring
- Straw Man
- Ad hominem
- Naturalistic Fallacy
- Appeal to Authority
- Appeal to Force
- Appeal to Fear
- Appeal to Pity
- Appeal to Tradition
- Appeal to Novelty
- Appeal to Ignorance
- Appeal to Popularity
Fallacies of weak induction occur when the argument being presented just doesn’t give strong enough reasons to accept the conclusion. Generally, the connection between the claims and the conclusion has not been shown to be strong enough to be convincing, but there are also more technical ways they can go wrong. There are also arguments that appear to say something, but don’t, in which case, your acceptance of the conclusion has nothing to do with the arguments themselves.
Many of these can be termed “false causes” because the “causes” don’t obviously lead to the “effects.” A Post hoc ergo propter hoc (in English, “after this, therefore because of this”) fallacy incorrectly posits causality on an event that occurred prior to another event, when the two are actually merely correlated. This sounds technical and complicated, but is actually rather simple. Here are two examples:
- Shortly after broad social acceptance of homosexuality in Ancient Rome, the Roman Empire collapsed. Therefore, the acceptance of homosexuality caused the downfall of the Roman Empire.
- Just Bieber’s rise to stardom occurred after you were born, therefore your being born is the cause of Just Bieber’s stardom. Thank you for that.
Neither of these arguments are necessarily incorrect, but the line of reasoning employed and the evidence presented do not provide enough strength for us to accept the conclusion based on the premises. It’s possible that these are good arguments, but just because something happens after something else doesn’t mean it has caused it. A lot more evidence would need to be presented in order to establish (1) and (2) might be true if the person in question were one of Justin Bieber’s parents.
A lot of these fallacies can get quite technical and require a keen eye for detail, but the general way to spot these is the same: Are the connections between the premises and the conclusions illustrated in a clear and strong enough fashion to be convincing? We will be covering these fallacies of weak induction in more detail (though there are more fallacies than just what we cover here and these fallacies can also be interpreted to fall under other categories of fallacies – but bad reasoning is bad reasoning and it doesn’t matter what category we put these in, as long as you recognize fallacious reasoning):
- Post hoc ergo propter hoc
- Fallacy of Composition
- Fallacy of Division
- Hasty Generalization
- Begging the Question
- Circular Argument
- Self-Sealing Arguments
Fallacies of ambiguity and grammatical analogy occur when one attempts to prove a conclusion by using terms, concepts, or logical moves that are unclear and thus unjustifiably prove their conclusion because they’re not obviously wrong. Again, this may sound complicated (and some of these fallacies are quite technical), but the idea is rather simple: a lack of clarity is abused to draw you to the conclusion without noticing that the path there was full of holes that you just didn’t see. Sure, the path might actually be good in the end, but you haven’t been given enough clarity to accept it.
We will be covering these fallacies of ambiguity and grammatical analogy in more detail (though there are more fallacies than just what we cover here and these fallacies can also be interpreted to fall under other categories of fallacies – but bad reasoning is bad reasoning and it doesn’t matter what category we put these in, as long as you recognize fallacious reasoning):
- Loaded Question
- Undistributed Middle
- Weak Analogy
- False Dilemma