What is a fallacy?

What is a fallacy? 

A fallacy is an argument based on unsound reasoning. Logical fallacies, those logical gaps that invalidate arguments aren’t always easy to spot. While some come in the form of loud, glaring inconsistencies, others can easily fly under the radar, sneaking into everyday meetings and conversations undetected.

Having an understanding of these basic logical fallacies can help you more confidently dissect  the arguments and claims you participate in and witness on a daily basis, separating fact from sharply dressed fiction.

My introduction to logical fallacies happened at a very young age, while I was still at school in a conversation with my father, when he pointed out that I was actually “begging the question”, when I was trying to make my point. This was a completely new and unfamiliar phrase to me, but it triggered my interest in logical fallacies. The next most commonly occurring fallacy that I encountered was ‘ergo hoc, propter hoc’. 

In this piece, I will share just 5 examples of common logical fallacies ( not a comprehensive list), and draw attention to ‘ the toolbox fallacy’ which is a common excuse that many of us adopt to avoid doing what we profess that we want to do and close with a link to video that analyses the logical fallacies in Donald Trump’s speeches in his past election (2016) campaign. 

1: Begging the Question

Begging the question is a fallacy in which a claim is made and accepted to be true, but one must accept the premise to be true for the claim to be true. This is also known as circular reasoning. Essentially, one makes a claim based on evidence that requires one to already accept that the claim is true. Circular arguments are also called Petitio principii, meaning “Assuming the initial [thing]”. This fallacy is a kind of presumptuous argument where it only appears to be an argument. It’s really just restating one’s assumptions in a way that looks like an argument. You can recognize a circular argument when the conclusion also appears as one of the premises in the argument

A few examples of “ begging the question”:

  • Everyone wants the new iPhone because it is the hottest new gadget on the market!
  • Fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. After all, a healthy eating plan includes fruits and vegetables.
  • Student: Why didn’t I receive full credit on my essay? Teacher: Because your paper did not meet the requirements for full credit.

2: Ergo hoc, propter hoc: after this, therefore because of this :

If two things appear to be correlated, this doesn’t necessarily indicate that one of those things irrefutably caused the other thing. This might seem like an obvious fallacy to spot, but it can be challenging to catch in practice, particularly when you really want to find a correlation between two points of data to prove your point.

3: Ad hominem :

Ad hominem means “against the man,” and this type of fallacy is sometimes called name calling or the personal attack fallacy. This type of fallacy occurs when someone attacks the person instead of attacking the argument.

Person 1: I am for raising the minimum wage in our state.

Person 2: She is for raising the minimum wage, but she is not smart enough to even run a business.

In this example, the 2nd person  doesn’t address the issue of minimum wage and, instead, attacks the person.

4: False dilemma:

This common fallacy misleads by presenting complex issues in terms of two inherently opposed sides. Instead of acknowledging that most (if not all) issues can be thought of on a spectrum of possibilities and stances, the false dilemma fallacy asserts that there are only two mutually exclusive outcomes.

This fallacy is particularly problematic because it can lend false credence to extreme stances, ignoring opportunities for compromise or chances to re-frame the issue in a new way.

5: The Bandwagon fallacy : 

The bandwagon fallacy assumes something is true (or right, or good) because other people agree with it. A couple different fallacies can be included under this label, since they are often indistinguishable in practice. The ad populum fallacy (Lat., “to the populous/popularity”) is when something is accepted because it’s popular. The concensus gentium (Lat., “consensus of the people”) is when something is accepted because the relevant authorities or people all agree on it. The status appeal fallacy is when something is considered true, right, or good because it has the reputation of lending status, making you look “popular,” “important,” or “successful.” Politicians parade through the streets of their district trying to draw a crowd and gain attention so people would vote for them. Whoever supported that candidate was invited to literally jump on board the bandwagon. Hence the nickname “bandwagon fallacy.”

People can be quite gullible, and this fact doesn’t suddenly change when applied to large groups.

Just because a significant population of people believe a proposition is true, doesn’t automatically make it true. Popularity alone is not enough to validate an argument, though it’s often used as a standalone justification of validity. Arguments in this style don’t take into account whether or not the population validating the argument is actually qualified to do so, or if contrary evidence exists.

The toolbox fallacy is of a special  logical fallacy, that tends to justify not doing something ……..: https://henningjust.wordpress.com/2019/10/11/the-toolbox-fallacy/

There are many great examples, one is part of the story in the excellent movie Collateral, covered in this (~7 minute) video essay: https://youtu.be/sz4YqwH_6D0 

I am sharing the link to a very interesting video that analyses clips from Donald Trump’s speeches from his last (2016) campaign to illustrate a total of 15 times he uses logical fallacies. The fallacies are : Ad hominem, Bandwagon ,False cause, Black or white / false dilemma (3 times),Loaded question ,Anecdotal fallacy,Straw man,Appeal to emotion ,Slippery slope,Circular reasoning/ begging the question, Composition ,Common Sense and Personal incredulity.

Fifteen logical fallacies (~ 22 minutes)  in Donald Trump’s speech : https://youtu.be/w2CxDu7jiyE

About mmpant

Prof. M.M.Pant has a Ph.D in Computational Physics, along with a Professional Law Degree, and has been a practitioner in the fields of Law, IT enabled education and IT implementation. Drawing upon his experience in world class international institutions and having taught in various modes of Face-to-Face, Distance Learning and Technology Enhanced Training, Prof. Pant is now exploring the nature of institutions which will be successors to the IITs, which represented the 1960s, IIMs, which represented the 1970 and Open Universities which were the rage of 1980s & 90s. He believes that the convergence between various media and technologies would fundamentally alter the way learning would be created, packaged, and delivered to learners. His current activities are all directed toward actual implementation of these new age educational initiatives that transform education in the post Internet post WTO era.. Prof. Pant, has been a Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and has been on the faculty of IIT – Kanpur (the premier Engineering institution in India), MLNR Engineering College and Faculty & Visiting Professor - University of Western Ontario-Canada. He has been visiting scientist to research centers in Italy, England, Germany & Sweden and has delivered international lectures with about 80 papers published. During his association of almost 15 years with the IGNOU, Prof. Pant has served as the Director Computing and has been the Member of All Bodies (i.e. School boards, Academic council, Planning board, Finance committee and the Board of management). With his interest in Law, backed with practice of Law in a High Court, and his basic training in Science and IT, Prof. Pant has been particularly interested in the Cyber Law, Patent & trade mark issues, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues etc. and has been involved with many activities, conferences on “Law & IT” Prof. Pant is presently; • Advisor to Media Lab Asia - Chairman of working group on ICT for Education, chairman of PRSG handling projects on ICT for education. • Lead Consultant for an ADB funded project for ICT in Basic Education in Uzbekistan • Member of the drafting Group for India’s National Policy on ICT in education • Chairman of the group creating books for class 11 and 12 students on ‘Computers and Communication Technology’ appointed by the NCERT • Preparing a ‘Theme Paper” for the NCTE in the area of ICT and Teacher Training • Advisor and mentor to several leading Indian and Multi-national Companies in the area of education. Prof. Pant has in the recent past been ; • Member – Board of Management – I I T, Delhi for 6 years (two consecutive terms) • One-man committee to create the Project Report & Legislation for Delhi IT-enabled Open University • Advisor to the Delhi Government on Asian Network of Major Cities Project (ANMC-21) distance learning project in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Government. • Chairman Board of Studies, All India Management Association With his mission to create and implement new business opportunities in the area of e-learning & learning facilitation, Prof. Pant has promoted Planet EDU Pvt. Ltd., as its Founder & Chairman, along with a team of highly experienced and skilled professionals from Education & Training, Operations, IT and Finance.
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