Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Logical Fallacies: Appeals to the Mind

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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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