Category : Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Logical Fallacies: On the Offensive

When we disagree with someone, often it’s easier to try and discredit the person or to manipulate their argument in order to make it weaker and easier to attack. Generally, this occurs by attacking the person themselves, rather than attacking the content of the argument.

The below are common approaches that this can take:

Ad Hominem

Ignoring the argument itself and attacking the person making the claim.

Example: “Anyone who wants to leave the EU is just a racist.”

Circumstance Ad Hominem

Saying that a claim has no credibility because of the person’s own interest in the claim.

Example: “This study on the cancer-beating properties of cannabis was funded by the pharmaceutical companies and so can’t be trusted..”

Guilt By Association

Ignoring or discrediting a claim or an idea by associating it with an undesirable group.

Example: “So if you think that The Patriot Act is inhumane, does that mean you support terrorism?”

Genetic Fallacy

Attacking a claim’s cause or origin rather than it’s content.

Example: “Are you surprised that the rich don’t complain that tax havens are unfair?”

Straw Man

Exaggerating, distorting or overly simplifying a claim and then arguing against the manipulated claim.

Example: “You think that Syrians shouldn’t escape to the EU, so you’re saying that Syrians don’t deserve to live in the EU, that they’re lesser than you?”

Burden of Proof

Rather than trying to prove your claim, you expect the other person to prove your claim to be false.

Example: “God exists, if you can’t prove me wrong, then  am right.”

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Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Logical Fallacies: Appeals to Emotion

Appeals to emotion are deliberate manipulations and selective word choice in order to provoke an emotional reaction and to bypass rational thought.

Appeal to Flattery

Using a compliment to disarm and distract in order to slip in an unfounded claim which is accepted alongside the compliment. The compliments/flattery are a form of Trojan horse.

Example: “My intelligent followers will recognise that leaving the European Union is the only reasonable option.”

Appeal to Wishful Thinking

Stating that a claim is true or false simply because you hope that it is.

Example: “There must be life after death, otherwise it’s just emptiness.”

Appeal to Nature

Drawing parallels with nature to imply that your claim is correct.

Example: “Homosexuality is a sin, otherwise why don’t you see homosexual animals?” – this argument is wrong both rhetorically and factually.

Appeal to Fear

A claim which is made stronger by creating a sense of fear and terror.

Example: “If we don’t build a wall, soon Mexicans will steal the jobs of hardworking Americans.”

Appeal to Consequences

Similar to wishful thinking, this is where you argue that a belief is true or false mostly because you don’t want to believe the implications of the opposing belief.

Example: “The reports on weapons of mass destruction must be true, otherwise that would mean that we went to war with Iraq illegally.”

Appeal to Pity

This is quite common on TV talent shows. A person tries to use pity to influence or sway a person’s opinion.

Example: “He lost his wife 6 months ago, rejecting him would be wrong.”

Appeal to Ridicule

Manipulating, exaggerating or presenting an opponent’s argument to make it look ridiculous.

Example: “Beliving in God is just like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.”

Appeal to Spite

Ignoring or dismissing a potentially valid argument due to a personal bias against the claimant.

Example: “Sally’s idea just won’t work, she’s too impractical.”

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Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Logical Fallacies: Appeals to the Mind

This is part 1 of a 6-part blog series exploring the errors in our thinking. Being humans, we all suffer from logical fallacies from time to time. Logical fallacies occur when your argument doesn’t hold true if you follow the principles of logical reasoning.

Since they are often so convincing, we all fall prey to these fallacies. In fact, because they’re so easy to take advantage of, we often do it on purpose, especially seasoned debaters.

Politicians, for example, are skilled at using our logical fallacies to their advantage, relying on the public ignorance and mass acceptance of the flaws in their logic. We’ll explore deliberate manipulations of rhetoric which aim to mislead or influence the opinions of others. The first post focuses on appeals to the mind.

Appeal to Anonymous Authority

Using evidence from experts or studies which are unnamed to claim that something is true or more likely. Usually, the claim is fabricated, but an anonymous authority is quoted to give more credence to the idea. I admit that I am often guilty of this, though it’s usually when I can’t remember the source for some information or fact.

Example: “They say that…” or “Studies have shown that…”

Appeal to Authority

Especially common at universities, this is when we claim that something is true purely because an expert, qualified or not, says that it’s true.

Example: “50 different doctors say that vaccinations cause autism.”

Appeal to Common Practice

Claiming that something is true or the best approach simply because it is commonly practiced. This argument could be used in the 18th century to justify slavery.

Example: “Every restaurant in this city handles tips in this way.”

Appeal to Popular Belief (Argumentum ad populum)

Similar to common practice, this is when we claim that something is true purely because the majority of people believe it to be true – common among religious debaters.

Example: “The jury believe that the defendant is guilty, therefore she must be.”

Appeal to Tradition

Very common in offices and other bureaucratic environments ist the claim that something is true because it’s always been that way.

Example: “We’ve always done it this way and it’s never failed us before.

Argument from Ignorance

Again, found regularly in religion – a claim must be true, simply because it’s not been proven to be false or vice versa. This shifts the burden of proof from the claimant to the opposition and is quite a lazy and defensive approach.

Example: “God must exist because you can’t prove otherwise.” or “God doesn’t exist because you can’t prove that he/she/it does”.

Appeal to Incredulity

If a claim sounds unbelievable, then it’s not possible for it to be true.

Example: “The human body is so complex that it couldn’t possibly exist by chance, we must have been designed by aliens.”

Appeal to Probability

The assumption that just because something is probable, that it is inevitable.

Example: “There are billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars and each with orbiting planets – given those numbers, aliens must exist.”

Appeal to Money

The assumption that a product/service that is more expensive is better or that wealthy people are more “right” than their poorer counterparts.

Example: “If Apple products weren’t the best, they wouldn’t be so expensive.”

The next article will cover appeals to emotion and the ways we try to use emotion or our own thoughts are influenced by emotion.

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