Recognizing Fallacies/Taming Wild Fallacies

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Taming Wild Fallacies[edit]

Recall that a fallacy is a type of argument that may seem to be correct but which proves, on examination, not to be so. As a result, fallacies occur often in written and spoken communications and they go often go unnoticed or unchallenged. The purpose of this section of the course is to practice identifying fallacies occurring in real language conversations, discussions, statements, or arguments.

Learning to notice certain words often used in arguments can help identify when an argument is being made, and can alert us to beware of fallacies.

Certain words or phrases, called “conclusion-indicators” are often used to introduce the conclusion of an argument. These conclusion-indicators include:[1][2]

therefore
hence
thus
so
accordingly
in consequence
consequently
proves that
as a result
for this reason
justifies the belief that…
for these reasons
     it follows that
we may infer
I conclude that
which shows that
which means that
which entails that
which implies that
which allows us to infer that
which points to the conclusion that
…establishes the fact that…
…demonstrates that…

Similarly other words used to mark the premise of an argument are called “premise-indicators”. These premise-indicators include:[3][4]

since
because
for
as
follows from
as shown by
inasmuch as
Follows from the fact that…
as indicated by
     the reason is that
for the reason that
the reason being…
may be inferred from
may be derived from
may be deduced from
in view of the fact that
Firstly, …secondly, …


Noticing these words and phrases can alert you to an argument that is being made.

Fallacies in the wild are rarely occur in the same form as the examples used so far to illustrate the schematic form of each individual fallacy. Nonetheless, real-world arguments can be analyzed to determine if they are valid or invalid. Consider this statement made in 1988 by Republican Vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle.[5]

Dan Quayle, official DoD photo.JPEG
“Believe me, we will win because America cannot afford to lose!”—Dan Quayle

“Believe me, we will win because America cannot afford to lose!”

Begin the analysis by looking for conclusion indicators and premise indicators in the statement. The word “because” is a premise indicator. Statements of the form “Q because P” are natural language representations of the form: P therefore Q. Substituting for P and Q provides:

“American cannot afford to lose” therefore “we will win”

This is now in the standard form of the fallacy of irrelevant conclusions. Recall that the key in evaluating validity of an argument is determining whether or not the appeal used in the argument is relevant to the conclusion or not.

The only evidence given is the statement “Believe Me” which is clearly an appeal to authority. An appeal to an inappropriate authority is a fallacy when the authority cited is not an expert in the topic at hand. So the question becomes: “is Dan Quayle, while a candidate for the Vice Presidency an appropriate or an inappropriate authority to establish the truth of the claim?” Does Dan Quayle have a greater claim than our own to judge the truth of the statement? His notoriety may provide the illusion of authority, but he is not an independent expert on the topic at hand, and he may not be expert at all. Therefore, this is invalid because it is an appeal to an inappropriate authority.

Because statements often include more than one fallacy, it is important to continue the analysis.

Recall that a false dilemma is a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which only limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. The fallacy takes on the form:

Either claim X is true or claim Y is true (when X and Y could both be false).
Claim Y is false.
Therefore claim X is true.

Casting the argument in this form we get:

Either the claim “we will win” is true or the claim (it is not the case that) “American can afford to lose” is true
Claim “American can afford to lose” is false.
Therefore claim “we will win” is true.

But there are many more possibilities to consider, including that the democrats will win and American wins along with them. Therefore, this is an example of the fallacy of false dichotomy.

Continuing the analysis, recall the fallacy of equivocation has the form:

X is Y (meaning 1).
Y (meaning 2) is Z.
Therefore X is Z.

Casting the argument in this form we get:

Republicans (Dan Quayle) winning is America winning
America must win
Therefore Republicans must win.

This is a fallacy because it equivocates on the meaning of the word win. Meaning 1 is to win the election by getting more votes. Meaning 2 is a vague appeal for America to move in some direction favored by each individual voter. Therefore, this is an example of the fallacy of equivocation.

Continuing the analysis, recall that the fallacy of begging the question is present in any form of argument in which the conclusion occurs as one of the premises.

Casting the argument loosely as “we will win because Americans must win” we see the premise depending on the conclusion. Therefore, this is an example of the fallacy of begging the question.

In summary, the statement: ““Believe me, we will win because America cannot afford to lose!” is based on:

  • The fallacy of irrelevant conclusions,
  • the fallacy of appeal to an inappropriate authority,
  • the fallacy of false dichotomy,
  • the fallacy of equivocation, and
  • the fallacy of begging the question.

None-the-less, Dan Quayle went on to win the election!

Assignment:[edit]

This assignment provides practice in identifying fallacies contained in real-world arguments.

  1. Scan this Gallery of Wild Fallacies.
  2. Chose one quotation from the gallery to analyze for this assignment
  3. Considering the quotation as an argument, analyze the argument, as in the above example, to identify any fallacies it may rely on. Follow these basic steps:
    1. Scan the text for conclusion indicators and premise indicators. Mark each.
    2. Identify the conclusions and any premises appearing in the argument. These should be associated with each indicator marked above. Mark each.
    3. Recast the argument in the form of a formal argument where the premises are used as the basis for the conclusion. Do this both symbolically, such as P therefore Q, and semantically, such as “Wet because Rain” is equivalent to “Rain therefore Wet” using the words and phrases from the actual argument.
    4. Identify the evidence, if any, used to support each premise. Determine if that evidence is relevant or not to the claims being made. Relevant evidence suggests a valid argument, irrelevant evidence suggests a fallacy.
    5. Determine if the form of the actual argument corresponds to some valid argument form. This can be done by comparing to the valid forms studied in the Deductive Logic course. If the logic is valid, and the evidence presented supporting each premise is relevant, then no fallacy is present, and the analysis is completed. Otherwise, continue with the next steps.
    6. Scan the list of fallacies presented in this course to see if they fit the form of the actual argument. Identify the fallacy, and explain the underlying logic error.
    7. Continue to scan the list of fallacies to identify possible additional fallacies.
  4. Become alert to fallacies present in the real-world communications you witness. Challenge these fallacies.

References[edit]

  1. Copi, Irving M.; Cohen, Carl (June 20, 2001). Introduction to Logic. Prentice Hall. p. 647. ISBN 978-0130337351. Section 1.5
  2. Fisher, Alec (October 25, 2004). The Logic of Real Arguments. Cambridge University Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-0521654814. Chapter 2
  3. Copi, Irving M.; Cohen, Carl (June 20, 2001). Introduction to Logic. Prentice Hall. p. 647. ISBN 978-0130337351. Section 1.5
  4. Fisher, Alec (October 25, 2004). The Logic of Real Arguments. Cambridge University Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-0521654814. Chapter 2
  5. Reporting Live, by Lesley Stahl, P 305