Define Ad Hominem And Give An Example Of Narrative Essay

An ad hominem argument is one that is used to counter another argument, but it is based on feelings of prejudice (often irrelevant to the argument), rather than facts, reason or logic. It is often a personal attack on one’s character rather than an attempt to address the issue at hand. This type of fallacy can often be witnessed in individual debates, in court or in politics. Often, the attack is based on one’s social, political, or religious views, or on lifestyle choices of the person being attacked using ad hominem. The result of an ad hom attack can be to undermine someone's case without actually having to engage with it.

Ad Hominem Examples

  • A lawyer attacking a defendant’s character rather than addressing or questioning based on the case – in a case of theft pointing out the defendant’s level of poverty.
  • A politician degrading another politician during a political campaign when asked about a specific policy – “Well, I think we need to look at the other candidate’s failures regarding this topic.”
  • Responding in any debate with an attack on one’s personal beliefs.
  • Using someone’s known background or beliefs to respond in a way such as “Of course you would say that, because you believe _____.”
  • Stating that someone’s argument is incorrect because of her religious beliefs – “Perhaps if you weren’t part of that particular religious group, you would see this quite differently.”
  • Attacking someone’s own sexual orientation in arguing about the right of LGBT individuals to marry –  “The only reason you could possibly be in favor of this is because you are not being honest about your own sexuality.”
  • Demeaning a teacher’s decision on grading by insulting her intelligence –  “Well, it’s not like you graduated from a good school, so I can see why you wouldn’t know how to properly grade a writing assignment.”
  • Using racial slurs to demean a person of another race in an argument about a crime involving people of different racial backgrounds – “People like you don’t understand what it’s like to be of my race so you blatantly have no right to make an argument about this situation.”
  • Generalizing views of a political party as an insulting argument to an individual who is a member of a different party – “Well, it’s pretty obvious that your political party doesn’t know how to be fiscally responsible, so I wouldn’t expect you to, either.”
  • Stating that one’s age precludes him from being able to make an intelligent or meaningful argument – “You are clearly just too young to understand.”
  • Use of marital status to invalidate an opinion of someone of a different status – “How can you make a decision about someone having marital problems if you’ve never been married yourself?”
  • Asserting that someone’s geographical location prevents him from being able to make a clear judgment – “You’ve only ever lived in an urban environment. The issues of those in other areas is clearly beyond you.”
  • Using gender as a means to devalue an argument from an opposing gender – “This is a female issue. As a man, how can you have an opinion about this?”
  • Stating that the ethnicity of the opposing individual keeps him from formulating a valuable opinion –  “You are from the United States, so you could never understand what it’s like to live in a country like that.”
  • Using someone’s educational level as a means to exploit and degrade the opposer’s argument – “You didn’t even finish high school - how could you possibly know about this?”
  • Relying on socioeconomic status as a means to undermine an opposing individual’s opinion – “You wouldn’t understand since you have never had to struggle."

These examples of ad hominem arguments show that various forms of verbal attack can be used in this type of argument to appeal to emotion and prejudice. Being aware of how an ad hominem argument works can help us judge when we should ignore its use and when we should consider it appropriate. When might an ad hominem argument be justified? It may be perfectly reasonable when a person's good character or credibility is relevant to the argument. 

Do you have a good example to share? Add your example here.

comments powered by

Ad Hominem Examples

By YourDictionary

An ad hominem argument is one that is used to counter another argument, but it is based on feelings of prejudice (often irrelevant to the argument), rather than facts, reason or logic. It is often a personal attack on one’s character rather than an attempt to address the issue at hand. This type of fallacy can often be witnessed in individual debates, in court or in politics. Often, the attack is based on one’s social, political, or religious views, or on lifestyle choices of the person being attacked using ad hominem. The result of an ad hom attack can be to undermine someone's case without actually having to engage with it.

Fallacies

A fallacy is a kind of error in reasoning. The list of fallacies below contains 224 names of the most common fallacies, and it provides brief explanations and examples of each of them. Fallacies should not be persuasive, but they often are. Fallacies may be created unintentionally, or they may be created intentionally in order to deceive other people. The vast majority of the commonly identified fallacies involve arguments, although some involve explanations, or definitions, or other products of reasoning. Sometimes the term "fallacy" is used even more broadly to indicate any false belief or cause of a false belief. The list below includes some fallacies of these sorts, but most are fallacies that involve kinds of errors made while arguing informally in natural language.

An informal fallacy is fallacious because of both its form and its content. The formal fallacies are fallacious only because of their logical form. For example, the Slippery Slope Fallacy has the following form: Step 1 often leads to step 2. Step 2 often leads to step 3. Step 3 often leads to ... until we reach an obviously unacceptable step, so step 1 is not acceptable. That form occurs in both good arguments and fallacious arguments. The quality of an argument of this form depends crucially on the probabilities. Notice that the probabilities involve the argument's content, not merely its form.

The discussion below that precedes the long alphabetical list of fallacies begins with an account of the ways in which the term "fallacy" is imprecise. Attention then turns to the number of competing and overlapping ways to classify fallacies of argumentation. For pedagogical purposes, researchers in the field of fallacies disagree about the following topics: which name of a fallacy is more helpful to students' understanding; whether some fallacies should be de-emphasized in favor of others; and which is the best taxonomy of the fallacies. Researchers in the field are also deeply divided about how to define the term "fallacy" itself, how to define certain fallacies, and whether any theory of fallacies at all should be pursued if that theory's goal is to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for distinguishing between fallacious and non-fallacious reasoning generally. Analogously, there is doubt in the field of ethics regarding whether researchers should pursue the goal of providing necessary and sufficient conditions for distinguishing moral actions from immoral ones.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Taxonomy of Fallacies
  3. Pedagogy
  4. What is a fallacy?
  5. Other Controversies
  6. Partial List of Fallacies
  7. References and Further Reading

1. Introduction

The first known systematic study of fallacies was due to Aristotle in his De Sophisticis Elenchis (Sophistical Refutations), an appendix to the Topics. He listed thirteen types. After the Dark Ages, fallacies were again studied systematically in Medieval Europe. This is why so many fallacies have Latin names. The third major period of study of the fallacies began in the later twentieth century due to renewed interest from the disciplines of philosophy, logic, communication studies, rhetoric, psychology, and artificial intelligence.

The more frequent the error within public discussion and debate the more likely it is to have a name. That is one reason why there is no specific name for the fallacy of subtracting five from thirteen and concluding that the answer is seven, though the error is common.

The term "fallacy" is not a precise term. One reason is that it is ambiguous. It can refer either to (a) a kind of error in an argument, (b) a kind of error in reasoning (including arguments, definitions, explanations, and so forth), (c) a false belief, or (d) the cause of any of the previous errors including what are normally referred to as "rhetorical techniques." Philosophers who are researchers in fallacy theory prefer to emphasize (a), but their lead is often not followed in textbooks and public discussion.

Regarding (d), ill health, being a bigot, being hungry, being stupid, and being hypercritical of our enemies are all sources of error in reasoning, so they could qualify as fallacies of kind (d), but they are not included in the list below. On the other hand, wishful thinking, stereotyping, being superstitious, rationalizing, and having a poor sense of proportion are sources of error and are included in the list below, though they wouldn't be included in a list devoted only to faulty arguments. Thus there is a certain arbitrariness to what appears in lists such as this. What have been left off the list below are the following persuasive techniques commonly used to influence others and to cause errors in reasoning: apple polishing, using propaganda techniques, ridiculing, being sarcastic, selecting terms with strong negative or positive associations, using innuendo, and weasling. All of the techniques are worth knowing about if one wants to reason well.

In describing the fallacies below, the custom is followed of not distinguishing between a reasoner using a fallacy and the reasoning itself containing the fallacy.

Real arguments are often embedded within a very long discussion. Richard Whately, one of the greatest of the 19th century researchers into informal logic, wisely said, "A very long discussion is one of the most effective veils of Fallacy; ...a Fallacy, which when stated barely...would not deceive a child, may deceive half the world if diluted in a quarto volume."

2. Taxonomy of Fallacies

There are a number of competing and overlapping ways to classify fallacies of argumentation. For example, they can be classified as either formal or informal. A formal fallacy can be detected by examining the logical form of the reasoning, whereas an informal fallacy depends upon the content of the reasoning and possibly the purpose of the reasoning. That is, informal fallacies are errors of reasoning that cannot easily be expressed in our system of formal logic (such as symbolic, deductive, predicate logic). The list below contains very few formal fallacies. Fallacious arguments also can be classified as deductive or inductive, depending upon whether the fallacious argument is most properly assessed by deductive standards or instead by inductive standards. Deductive standards demand deductive validity, but inductive standards require inductive strength such as making the conclusion more likely. Fallacies can be divided into categories according to the psychological factors that lead people to use them, and they can also be divided into categories according to the epistemological or logical factors that cause the error. In the latter division there are three categories: (1) the reasoning is invalid but is presented as if it were a valid argument, or else it is inductively much weaker than it is presented as being, (2) the argument has an unjustified premise, or (3) some relevant evidence has been ignored or suppressed. Regarding (2), a premise can be justified or warranted at a time even if we later learn that the premise was false, and it can be justified if we are reasoning about what would have happened even when we know it didn't happen.

Similar fallacies are often grouped together under a common name intended to bring out how the fallacies are similar. Here are three examples. Fallacies of relevance include fallacies that occur due to reliance on an irrelevant reason. In addition, Ad Hominem, Appeal to Pity, and Affirming the Consequent are some other fallacies of relevance. Accent, Amphiboly and Equivocation are examples of fallacies of ambiguity. The fallacies of illegitimate presumption include Begging the Question, False Dilemma, No True Scotsman, Complex Question and Suppressed Evidence. Notice how these categories don't fall neatly into just one of the categories (1), (2), and (3) above.

3. Pedagogy

It is commonly claimed that giving a fallacy a name and studying it will help the student identify the fallacy in the future and will steer them away from using the fallacy in their own reasoning. As Steven Pinker says in The Stuff of Thought (p. 129),

If a language provides a label for a complex concept, that could make it easier to think about the concept, because the mind can handle it as a single package when juggling a set of ideas, rather than having to keep each of its components in the air separately. It can also give a concept an additional label in long-term memory, making it more easily retrivable than ineffable concepts or those with more roundabout verbal descriptions.

For pedagogical purposes, researchers in the field of fallacies disagree about the following topics: which name of a fallacy is more helpful to students' understanding; whether some fallacies should be de-emphasized in favor of others; and which is the best taxonomy of the fallacies. Fallacy theory is criticized by some teachers of informal reasoning for its over-emphasis on poor reasoning rather than good reasoning. Do colleges teach the Calculus by emphasizing all the ways one can make mathematical mistakes? The critics want more emphasis on the forms of good arguments and on the implicit rules that govern proper discussion designed to resolve a difference of opinion. But there has been little systematic study of which emphasis is more successful.

4. What is a fallacy?

Researchers disagree about how to define the very term "fallacy." Focusing just on fallacies in sense (a) above, namely fallacies of argumentation, some researchers define a fallacy as an argument that is deductively invalid or that has very little inductive strength. Because examples of false dilemma, inconsistent premises, and begging the question are valid arguments in this sense, this definition misses some standard fallacies. Other researchers say a fallacy is a mistake in an argument that arises from something other than merely false premises. But the false dilemma fallacy is due to false premises. Still other researchers define a fallacy as an argument that is not good. Good arguments are then defined as those that are deductively valid or inductively strong, and that contain only true, well-established premises, but are not question-begging. A complaint with this definition is that its requirement of truth would improperly lead to calling too much scientific reasoning fallacious; every time a new scientific discovery caused scientists to label a previously well-established claim as false, all the scientists who used that claim as a premise would become fallacious reasoners. This consequence of the definition is acceptable to some researchers but not to others. Because informal reasoning regularly deals with hypothetical reasoning and with premises for which there is great disagreement about whether they are true or false, many researchers would relax the requirement that every premise must be true. One widely accepted definition defines a fallacious argument as one that either is deductively invalid or is inductively very weak or contains an unjustified premise or that ignores relevant evidence that is available and that should be known by the arguer. Finally, yet another theory of fallacy says a fallacy is a failure to provide adequate proof for a belief, the failure being disguised to make the proof look adequate.

Other researchers recommend characterizing a fallacy as a violation of the norms of good reasoning, the rules of critical discussion, dispute resolution, and adequate communication. The difficulty with this approach is that there is so much disagreement about how to characterize these norms.

In addition, all the above definitions are often augmented with some remark to the effect that the fallacies are likely to persuade many reasoners. It is notoriously difficult to be very precise about this vague and subjective notion of being likely to persuade, and some researchers in fallacy theory have therefore recommended dropping the notion in favor of "can be used to persuade."

Some researchers complain that all the above definitions of fallacy are too broad and do not distinguish between mere blunders and actual fallacies, the more serious errors.

Researchers in the field are deeply divided, not only about how to define the term "fallacy" and how to define some of the individual fallacies, but also about whether any general theory of fallacies at all should be pursued if that theory's goal is to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for distinguishing between fallacious and non-fallacious reasoning generally. Analogously, there is doubt in the field of ethics whether researchers should pursue the goal of providing necessary and sufficient conditions for distinguishing moral actions from immoral ones.

5. Other Controversies

How do we defend the claim that an item of reasoning should be labeled as a particular fallacy? A major goal in the field of informal logic is provide some criteria for each fallacy. Schwartz presents the challenge this way:

Fallacy labels have their use. But fallacy-label texts tend not to provide useful criteria for applying the labels. Take the so-called ad verecundiam fallacy, the fallacious appeal to authority. Just when is it committed? Some appeals to authority are fallacious; most are not. A fallacious one meets the following condition: The expertise of the putative authority, or the relevance of that expertise to the point at issue, are in question. But the hard work comes in judging and showing that this condition holds, and that is where the fallacy-label texts leave off. Or rather, when a text goes further, stating clear, precise, broadly applicable criteria for applying fallacy labels, it provides a critical instrument more fundamental than a taxonomy of fallacies and hence to that extent goes beyond the fallacy-label approach. The further it goes in this direction, the less it need to emphasize or event to use fallacy labels. (Schwartz, 232)

The controversy here is the extent to which it is better to teach students what Schwartz calls "the critical instrument" than to teach the fallacy-label approach. Is the fallacy-label approach better for some kinds of fallacies than others? If so, which others?

Another controversy involves the relationship between the fields of logic and rhetoric. In the field of rhetoric, the primary goal is to persuade the audience. The audience is not going to be persuaded by an otherwise good argument with true premises unless they believe those premises are true. Philosophers tend to de-emphasize this difference between rhetoric and informal logic, and they concentrate on arguments that should fail to convince the ideally rational reasoner rather than on arguments that are likely not to convince audiences who hold certain background beliefs. Given specific pedagogical goals, how pedagogically effective is this de-emphasis?

Advertising in magazines and on television is designed to achieve visual persuasion. And a hug or the fanning of fumes from freshly baked donuts out onto the sidewalk are occasionally used for visceral persuasion. There is some controversy among researchers in informal logic as to whether the reasoning involved in this nonverbal persuasion can always be assessed properly by the same standards that are used for verbal reasoning.

6. Partial List of Fallacies

Consulting the list below will give a general idea of the kind of error involved in passages to which the fallacy name is applied. However, simply applying the fallacy name to a passage cannot substitute for a detailed examination of the passage and its context or circumstances because there are many instances of reasoning to which a fallacy name might seem to apply, yet, on further examination, it is found that in these circumstances the reasoning is really not fallacious.

Abusive Ad Hominem

See Ad Hominem.

Accent

The Accent Fallacy is a fallacy of ambiguity due to the different ways a word or syllable is emphasized or accented. Also called Accentus, Misleading Accent, and Prosody.

Example:

A member of Congress is asked by a reporter if she is in favor of the President's new missile defense system, and she responds, "I'm in favor of a missile defense system that effectively defends America."

With an emphasis on the word "favor," her response is likely to be for the President's missile defense system. With an emphasis, instead, on the word "effectively," her remark is likely to be against the President's missile defense system. And by using neither emphasis, she can later claim that her response was on either side of the issue. For an example of the Fallacy of Accent involving the accent of a syllable within a single word, consider the word "invalid" in the sentence, "Did you mean the invalid one?" When we accent the first syllable, we are speaking of a sick person, but when we accent the second syllable, we are speaking of an argument failing to meet the deductive standard of being valid. By not supplying the accent, and not supplying additional information to help us disambiguate, then we are committing the Fallacy of Accent.

Accentus

See the Fallacy of Accent.

Accident

We often arrive at a generalization but don't or can't list all the exceptions. When we then reason with the generalization as if it has no exceptions, our reasoning contains the Fallacy of Accident. This fallacy is sometimes called the "Fallacy of Sweeping Generalization."

Example:

People should keep their promises, right? I loaned Dwayne my knife, and he said he'd return it. Now he is refusing to give it back, but I need it right now to slash up my neighbors who disrespected me.

People should keep their promises, but there are exceptions to this generalization as in this case of the psychopath who wants Dwayne to keep his promise to return the knife.

Ad Baculum

See Scare Tactic and Appeal to Emotions (Fear).

Ad Consequentiam

See Appeal to Consequence.

Ad Crumenum

See Appeal to Money.

Ad Hoc Rescue

Psychologically, it is understandable that you would try to rescue a cherished belief from trouble. When faced with conflicting data, you are likely to mention how the conflict will disappear if some new assumption is taken into account. However, if there is no good reason to accept this saving assumption other than that it works to save your cherished belief, your rescue is an Ad Hoc Rescue.

Example:

Yolanda: If you take four of these tablets of vitamin C every day, you will never get a cold.

Juanita: I tried that last year for several months, and still got a cold.

Yolanda: Did you take the tablets every day?

Juanita: Yes.

Yolanda: Well, I'll bet you bought some bad tablets.

The burden of proof is definitely on Yolanda's shoulders to prove that Juanita's vitamin C tablets were probably "bad" -- that is, not really vitamin C. If Yolanda can't do so, her attempt to rescue her hypothesis (that vitamin C prevents colds) is simply a dogmatic refusal to face up to the possibility of being wrong.

Ad Hominem

Your reasoning contains this fallacy if you make an irrelevant attack on the arguer and suggest that this attack undermines the argument itself. "Ad Hominem" means "to the person" as in being "directed at the person."

Example:

What she says about Johannes Kepler's astronomy of the 1600s must be just so much garbage. Do you realize she's only fifteen years old?

This attack may undermine the young woman's credibility as a scientific authority, but it does not undermine her reasoning itself because her age is irrelevant to quality of her reasoning. That reasoning should stand or fall on the scientific evidence, not on the arguer's age or anything else about her personally.

The major difficulty with labeling a piece of reasoning an Ad Hominem Fallacy is deciding whether the personal attack is relevant or irrelevant. For example, attacks on a person for their immoral sexual conduct are irrelevant to the quality of their mathematical reasoning, but they are relevant to arguments promoting the person for a leadership position in a church or mosque.

If the fallacious reasoner points out irrelevant circumstances that the reasoner is in, such as the arguer's having a vested interest in people accepting the position, then the ad hominem fallacy may be called a Circumstantial Ad Hominem. If the fallacious attack points out some despicable trait of the arguer,  it may be called an Abusive Ad Hominem. An Ad hominem that attacks an arguer by attacking the arguer's associates is called the Fallacy of  Guilt by Association. If the fallacy focuses on a complaint about the origin of the arguer's views, then it is a kind of Genetic Fallacy. If the fallacy is due to claiming the person does not practice what is preached, it is the Tu Quoque Fallacy. Two Wrongs do not Make a Right is also a type of Ad Hominem fallacy.

Ad Hominem, Circumstantial

See Guilt by Association.

Ad Ignorantiam

See Appeal to Ignorance.

Ad Misericordiam

See Appeal to Emotions.

Ad Novitatem

See Bandwagon.

Ad Numerum

See Appeal to the People.

Ad Populum

See Appeal to the People.

Ad Verecundiam

See Appeal to Authority.

Affirming the Consequent

If you have enough evidence to affirm the consequent of a conditional and then suppose that as a result you have sufficient reason for affirming the antecedent, your reasoning contains the Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent. This formal fallacy is often mistaken for Modus Ponens, which is a valid form of reasoning also using a conditional. A conditional is an if-then statement; the if-part is the antecedent, and the then-part is the consequent. The following argument affirms the consequent that she does speaks Portuguese.

Example:

If she's Brazilian, then she speaks Portuguese. Hey, she does speak Portuguese. So, she is Brazilian.

If the arguer believes or suggests that the premises definitely establish that she is Brazilian, then the argumentation contains the fallacy. See the Non Sequitur Fallacy for more discussion of this point.

Against the Person

See Ad Hominem.

All-or-Nothing

See Black-or-White Fallacy.

Ambiguity

Any fallacy that turns on ambiguity. See the fallacies of Amphiboly, Accent, and Equivocation. Amphiboly is ambiguity of syntax. Equivocation is ambiguity of semantics. Accent is ambiguity of emphasis.

Amphiboly

This is an error due to taking a grammatically ambiguous phrase in two different ways during the reasoning.

Example:

Tests show that the dog is not part wolf, as the owner suspected.

Did the owner suspect the dog was part wolf, or was not part wolf? Who knows? The sentence is ambiguous, and needs to be rewritten to remove the fallacy. Unlike Equivocation, which is due to multiple meanings of a phrase, Amphiboly is due to syntactic ambiguity, that is, ambiguity caused by multiple ways of understanding the grammar of the phrase.

Anecdotal Evidence

This is fallacious generalizing on the basis of a some story that provides an inadequate sample. If you discount evidence arrived at by systematic search or by testing in favor of a few firsthand stories, then your reasoning contains the fallacy of overemphasizing anecdotal evidence.

Example:

Yeah, I've read the health warnings on those cigarette packs and I know about all that health research, but my brother smokes, and he says he's never been sick a day in his life, so I know smoking can't really hurt you.

Anthropomorphism

This is the error of projecting uniquely human qualities onto something that isn't human. Usually this occurs with projecting the human qualities onto animals, but when it is done to nonliving things, as in calling the storm cruel, the Pathetic Fallacy is created. There is also, but less commonly, called the Disney Fallacy or the Walt Disney Fallacy.

Example:

My dog is wagging his tail and running around me. Therefore, he knows that I love him.

The fallacy would be averted if the speaker had said "My dog is wagging his tail and running around me. Therefore, he is happy to see me." Animals are likely to have some human emotions, but not the ability to ascribe knowledge to other beings. Your dog knows where it buried its bone, but not that you also know where the bone is.

Appeal to Authority

You appeal to authority if you back up your reasoning by saying that it is supported by what some authority says on the subject. Most reasoning of this kind is not fallacious, and much of our knowledge properly comes from listening to authorities. However, appealing to authority as a reason to believe something is fallacious whenever the authority appealed to is not really an authority in this particular subject, when the authority cannot be trusted to tell the truth, when authorities disagree on this subject (except for the occasional lone wolf), when the reasoner misquotes the authority, and so forth. Although spotting a fallacious appeal to authority often requires some background knowledge about the subject or the authority, in brief it can be said that it is fallacious to accept the words of a supposed authority when we should be suspicious of the authority's words.

Example:

The moon is covered with dust because the president of our neighborhood association said so.

This is a Fallacious Appeal to Authority because, although the president is an authority on many neighborhood matters, you are given no reason to believe the president is an authority on the composition of the moon. It would be better to appeal to some astronomer or geologist. A TV commercial that gives you a testimonial from a famous film star who wears a Wilson watch and that suggests you, too, should wear that brand of watch is using a fallacious appeal to authority. The film star is an authority on how to act, not on which watch is best for you.

Appeal to Consequence

Arguing that a belief is false because it implies something you'd rather not believe. Also called Argumentum Ad Consequentiam.

Example:

That can't be Senator Smith there in the videotape going into her apartment. If it were, he'd be a liar about not knowing her. He's not the kind of man who would lie. He's a member of my congregation.

Smith may or may not be the person in that videotape, but this kind of arguing should not convince us that it's someone else in the videotape.

Appeal to Emotions

Your reasoning contains the Fallacy of Appeal to Emotions when someone's appeal to you to accept their claim is accepted merely because the appeal arouses your feelings of anger, fear, grief, love, outrage, pity, pride, sexuality, sympathy, relief, and so forth. Example of appeal to relief from grief:

[The speaker knows he is talking to an aggrieved person whose house is worth much more than $100,000.] You had a great job and didn't deserve to lose it. I wish I could help somehow. I do have one idea. Now your family needs financial security even more. You need cash. I can help you. Here is a check for $100,000. Just sign this standard sales agreement, and we can skip the realtors and all the headaches they would create at this critical time in your life.

There is nothing wrong with using emotions when you argue, but it's a mistake to use emotions as the key premises or as tools to downplay relevant information. Regarding the Fallacy of Appeal to Pity, it is proper to pity people who have had misfortunes, but if as the person's history instructor you accept Max's claim that he earned an A on the history quiz because he broke his wrist while playing in your college's last basketball game, then you've used the fallacy of appeal to pity.

Appeal to Force

See Scare Tactic.

Appeal to Ignorance

The Fallacy of Appeal to Ignorance comes in two forms: (1) Not knowing that a certain statement is true is taken to be a proof that it is false. (2) Not knowing that a statement is false is taken to be a proof that it is true. The fallacy occurs in cases where absence of evidence is not good enough evidence of absence. The fallacy uses an unjustified attempt to shift the burden of proof. The fallacy is also called "Argument from Ignorance."

Example:

Nobody has ever proved to me there's a God, so I know there is no God.

This kind of reasoning is generally fallacious. It would be proper reasoning only if the proof attempts were quite thorough, and it were the case that, if the being or object were to exist, then there would be a discoverable proof of this. Another common example of the fallacy involves ignorance of a future event: You people have been complaining about the danger of Xs ever since they were invented, but there's never been any big problem with Xs, so there's nothing to worry about.

Appeal to Money

The Fallacy of Appeal to Money uses the error of supposing that, if something costs a great deal of money, then it must be better, or supposing that if someone has a great deal of money, then they're a better person in some way unrelated to having a great deal of money. Similarly it's a mistake to suppose that if something is cheap it must be of inferior quality, or to suppose that if someone is poor financially then they're poor at something unrelated to having money.

Example:

He's rich, so he should be the president of our Parents and Teachers Organization.

Appeal to Past Practice

See Appeal to the People.

Appeal to Pity

See Appeal to Emotions.

Appeal to Snobbery

See Appeal to Emotions.

Appeal to the Gallery

See Appeal to the People.

Appeal to the Mob

See Appeal to the People.

Appeal to the Masses

See Appeal to the People.

Appeal to the People

If you suggest too strongly that someone's claim or argument is correct simply because it's what most everyone believes, then your reasoning contains the Fallacy of Appeal to the People. Similarly, if you suggest too strongly that someone's claim or argument is mistaken simply because it's not what most everyone believes, then your reasoning also uses the fallacy. Agreement with popular opinion is not necessarily a reliable sign of truth, and deviation from popular opinion is not necessarily a reliable sign of error, but if you assume it is and do so with enthusiasm, then you are using this fallacy. It is essentially the same as the fallacies of Ad Numerum, Appeal to the Gallery, Appeal to the Masses, Argument from Popularity, Argumentum ad Populum, Common Practice, Mob Appeal, Past Practice, Peer Pressure, and Traditional Wisdom. The "too strongly" mentioned above is important in the description of the fallacy because what most everyone believes is, for that reason, somewhat likely to be true, all things considered. However, the fallacy occurs when this degree of support is overestimated.

Example:

You should turn to channel 6. It's the most watched channel this year.

This is fallacious because of its implicitly accepting the questionable premise that the most watched channel this year is, for that reason alone, the best channel for you. If you stress the idea of appealing to a new idea held by the gallery, masses, mob, peers, people, and so forth, then it is a Bandwagon Fallacy.

Appeal to the Stick

See Appeal to Emotions (fear).

Appeal to Unqualified Authority

See Appeal to Authority.

Appeal to Vanity

See Appeal to Emotions.

Argument from Ignorance

See Appeal to Ignorance.

Argument from Outrage

See Appeal to Emotions.

Argument from Popularity

See Appeal to the People.

Argumentum Ad ....

See Ad .... without the word "Argumentum."

Argumentum Consensus Gentium

See Appeal to Traditional Wisdom.

Availability Heuristic

We have an unfortunate instinct to base an important decision on an easily recalled, dramatic example, even though we know the example is atypical. It is a specific version of the Confirmation Bias.

Example:

I just saw a video of a woman dying by fire in a car crash because she was unable to unbuckle her seat belt as the flames increased in intensity. So, I am deciding today no longer to wear a seat belt when I drive.

This reasoning commits the Fallacy of the Availability Heuristic because the reasoner would realize, if he would stop and think for a moment, that a great many more lives are saved due to wearing seat belts rather than due to not wearing seat belts, and the video of the situation of the woman unable to unbuckle her seat belt in the car crash is an atypical situation. The name of this fallacy is not very memorable, but it is in common use.

Avoiding the Issue

A reasoner who is supposed to address an issue but instead goes off on a tangent is properly accused of using the Fallacy of Avoiding the Issue. Also called missing the point, straying off the subject, digressing, and not sticking to the issue.

Example:

A city official is charged with corruption for awarding contracts to his wife's consulting firm. In speaking to a reporter about why he is innocent, the city official talks only about his wife's conservative wardrobe, the family's lovable dog, and his own accomplishments in supporting Little League baseball.

However, the fallacy isn't used by a reasoner who says that some other issue must first be settled and then continues by talking about this other issue, provided the reasoner is correct in claiming this dependence of one issue upon the other.

Avoiding the Question

The Fallacy of Avoiding the Question is a type of Fallacy of Avoiding the Issue that occurs when the issue is how to answer some question. The fallacy occurs when someone's answer doesn't really respond to the question asked.

Example:

Question: Would the Oakland Athletics be in first place if they were to win tomorrow's game?

Answer: What makes you think they'll ever win tomorrow's game?

Bad Seed

Attempting to undermine someone's reasoning by pointing our their "bad" family history, when it is an irrelevant point. See Genetic Fallacy.

Bald Man

See Line-Drawing.

Bandwagon

If you suggest that someone's claim is correct simply because it's what most everyone is coming to believe, then you're are using the Bandwagon Fallacy. Get up here with us on the wagon where the band is playing, and go where we go, and don't think too much about the reasons. The Latin term for this Fallacy of Appeal to Novelty is Argumentum ad Novitatem.

Example:

[Advertisement] More and more people are buying sports utility vehicles. It is time you bought one, too.

Like its close cousin, the Fallacy of Appeal to the People, the Bandwagon Fallacy needs to be carefully distinguished from properly defending a claim by pointing out that many people have studied the claim and have come to a reasoned conclusion that it is correct. What most everyone believes is likely to be true, all things considered, and if one defends a claim on those grounds, this is not a fallacious inference. What is fallacious is to be swept up by the excitement of a new idea or new fad and to unquestionably give it too high a degree of your belief solely on the grounds of its new popularity, perhaps thinking simply that 'new is better.' The key ingredient that is missing from a bandwagon fallacy is knowledge that an item is popular because of its high quality.

Begging the Question

A form of circular reasoning in which a conclusion is derived from premises that presuppose the conclusion. Normally, the point of good reasoning is to start out at one place and end up somewhere new, namely having reached the goal of increasing the degree of reasonable belief in the conclusion. The point is to make progress, but in cases of begging the question there is no progress.

Example:

"Women have rights," said the Bullfighters Association president. "But women shouldn't fight bulls because a bullfighter is and should be a man."

The president is saying basically that women shouldn't fight bulls because women shouldn't fight bulls. This reasoning isn't making any progress.

Insofar as the conclusion of a deductively valid argument is "contained" in the premises from which it is deduced, this containing might seem to be a case of presupposing, and thus any deductively valid argument might seem to be begging the question. It is still an open question among logicians as to why some deductively valid arguments are considered to be begging the question and others are not. Some logicians suggest that, in informal reasoning with a deductively valid argument, if the conclusion is psychologically new insofar as the premises are concerned, then the argument isn't an example of the fallacy. Other logicians suggest that we need to look instead to surrounding circumstances, not to the psychology of the reasoner, in order to assess the quality of the argument. For example, we need to look to the reasons that the reasoner used to accept the premises. Was the premise justified on the basis of accepting the conclusion? A third group of logicians say that, in deciding whether the fallacy is present, more evidence is needed. We must determine whether any premise that is key to deducing the conclusion is adopted rather blindly or instead is a reasonable assumption made by someone accepting their burden of proof. The premise would here be termed reasonable if the arguer could defend it independently of accepting the conclusion that is at issue.

Beside the Point

Arguing for a conclusion that is not relevant to the current issue. Also called Irrelevant Conclusion. It is a form of the Red Herring Fallacy

Biased Generalizing

Generalizing from a biased sample. Using an unrepresentative sample and overestimating the strength of an argument based on that sample.
See Unrepresentative Sample.

Biased Sample

See Unrepresentative Sample.

Biased Statistics

See Unrepresentative Sample.

Bifurcation

See Black-or-White.

Black-or-White

The Black-or-White fallacy or Black-White fallacy is a False Dilemma Fallacy that limits you unfairly to only two choices, as if you were made to choose between black and white.

Example:

Well, it's time for a decision. Will you contribute $20 to our environmental fund, or are you on the side of environmental destruction?

A proper challenge to this fallacy could be to say, "I do want to prevent the destruction of our environment, but I don't want to give $20 to your fund. You are placing me between a rock and a hard place." The key to diagnosing the Black-or-White Fallacy is to determine whether the limited menu is fair or unfair. Simply saying, "Will you contribute $20 or won't you?" is not unfair. The black-or-white fallacy is often committed intentionally in jokes such as: "My toaster has two settings—burnt and off." In thinking about this kind of fallacy it is helpful to remember that everything is either black or not black, but not everything is either black or white.

Cherry-Picking the Evidence

This is another name for the Fallacy of Suppressed Evidence.

Circular Reasoning

The Fallacy of Circular Reasoning occurs when the reasoner begins with what he or she is trying to end up with.

Here is Steven Pinker's example:

Definition: endless loop, n. See loop, endless.

Definition: loop, endless, n. See endless loop.

The most well known examples of circular reasoning are cases of the Fallacy of Begging the Question. Here the circle is as short as possible. However, if the circle is very much larger, including a wide variety of claims and a large set of related concepts, then the circular reasoning can be informative and so is not considered to be fallacious. For example, a dictionary contains a large circle of definitions that use words which are defined in terms of other words that are also defined in the dictionary. Because the dictionary is so informative, it is not considered as a whole to be fallacious. However, a small circle of definitions is considered to be fallacious.

In properly-constructed recursive definitions, defining a term by using that same term is not fallacious. For example, here is an appropriate  recursive definition of the term "a stack of coins." Basis step: Two coins, with one on top of the other, is a stack of coins. Recursion step: If p is a stack of coins, then adding a coin on top of p produces a stack of coins. For a deeper discussion of circular reasoning see Infinitism in Epistemology.

Circumstantial Ad Hominem

See Ad Hominem, Circumstantial.

Clouding the Issue

See Smokescreen.

Common Belief

See Appeal to the People and Traditional Wisdom.

Common Cause

This fallacy occurs during causal reasoning when a causal connection between two kinds of events is claimed when evidence is available indicating that both are the effect of a common cause.

Example:

Noting that the auto accident rate rises and falls with the rate of use of windshield wipers, one concludes that the use of wipers is somehow causing auto accidents.

However, it's the rain that's the common cause of both.

Common Practice

See Appeal to the People and Traditional Wisdom.

Complex Question

You use this fallacy when you frame a question so that some controversial presupposition is made by the wording of the question.

Example:

[Reporter's question] Mr. President: Are you going to continue your policy of wasting taxpayer's money on missile defense?

The question unfairly presumes the controversial claim that the policy really is a waste of money. The Fallacy of Complex Question is a form of Begging the Question.

Composition

The Composition Fallacy occurs when someone mistakenly assumes that a characteristic of some or all the individuals in a group is also a characteristic of the group itself, the group "composed" of those members. It is the converse of the Division Fallacy.

Example:

Each human cell is very lightweight, so a human being composed of cells is also very lightweight.

Confirmation Bias

The tendency to look for evidence in favor of one's controversial hypothesis and not to look for disconfirming evidence, or to pay insufficient attention to it. This is the most common kind of Fallacy of Selective Attention.

Example:

She loves me, and there are so many ways that she has shown it. When we signed the divorce papers in her lawyer's office, she wore my favorite color. When she slapped me at the bar and called me a "handsome pig," she used the word "handsome" when she didn't have to. When I called her and she said never to call her again, she first asked me how I was doing and whether my life had changed. When I suggested that we should have children in order to keep our marriage together, she laughed. If she can laugh with me, if she wants to know how I am doing and whether my life has changed, and if she calls me "handsome" and wears my favorite color on special occasions, then I know she really loves me.

Using the Fallacy of Confirmation Bias is often a sign that one has adopted some belief dogmatically and isn't willing to disconfirm the belief, or is too willing to interpret ambiguous evidence so that it conforms to what one already believes.

Conjunction

Mistakenly supposing that event E is less likely than the conjunction of events E and F. Here is an example from the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Example:

Suppose you know that Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice. Then you are asked to choose which is more likely: (A) Linda is a bank teller or (B) Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement. If you choose (B) you commit the Conjunction Fallacy

Confusing an Explanation with an Excuse

Treating someone's explanation of a fact as if it were a justification of the fact. Explaining a crime should not be confused with excusing the crime, but it too often is.
Example:

Speaker: The German atrocities committed against the French and Belgians during World War I were in part due to the anger of German soldiers who learned that French and Belgian soldiers were ambushing German soldiers, shooting them in the back, or even poisoning, blinding and castrating them.

Respondent: I don't understand how you can be so insensitive as to condone those German atrocities.

Consensus Gentium

Fallacy of Argumentum Consensus Gentium (argument from the consensus of the nations). See Traditional Wisdom.

Consequence

See Appeal to Consequence.

Converse Accident

If we reason by paying too much attention to exceptions to the rule, and generalize on the exceptions, our reasoning contains this fallacy. This fallacy is the converse of the Accident Fallacy. It is a kind of Hasty Generalization, by generalizing too quickly from a peculiar case.

Example:

I've heard that turtles live longer than tarantulas, but the one turtle I bought lived only two days. I bought it at Dowden's Pet Store. So, I think that turtles bought from pet stores do not live longer than tarantulas.

The original generalization is "Turtles live longer than tarantulas." There are exceptions, such as the turtle bought from the pet store. Rather than seeing this for what it is, namely an exception, the reasoner places too much trust in this exception and generalizes on it to produce the faulty generalization that turtles bought from pet stores do not live longer than tarantulas.

Cover-up

See Suppressed Evidence.

Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Latin for "with this, therefore because of this." This is a False Cause Fallacy that doesn't depend on time order (as does the post hoc fallacy), but on any other chance correlation of the supposed cause being in the presence of the supposed effect.

Example:

Gypsies live near our low-yield cornfields. So, gypsies must be causing the low yield.

Curve Fitting

Curve fitting is the process of constructing a curve that has the best fit to a series of data points. The curve is a graph of some mathematical function. The function or functional relationship might be between variable x and variable y, where x is the time of day and y is the temperature of the ocean. When you collect data about some relationship, you inevitably collect information that is affected by noise or statistical fluctuation. If you create a function between x and y that is too sensitive to your data, you will be overemphasizing the noise and producing a function that has less predictive value than need be. If you create your function by interpolating, that is, by drawing straight line segments between all the adjacent data points, or if you create a polynomial function that exactly fits every data point, it is likely that your function will be worse than if you’d produced a function with a smoother curve. Your original error of too closely fitting the data-points is called the Fallacy of Curve Fitting or the Fallacy of Overfitting.

Example:

You want to know the temperature of the ocean today, so you measure it at 8:00 A.M. with one thermometer and get the temperature of 60.1 degrees. Then you measure the ocean at 8:05 A.M. with a different thermometer and get the temperature of 60.2 degrees; then at 8:10 A.M. and get 59.1 degrees perhaps with the first thermometer, and so. If you fit your curve exactly to your data points, then you imply that the ocean’s temperature is shifting all around every five minutes. However, the temperature is probably constant, and the problem is that your prediction is too sensitive to your data, so your curve fits the data points too closely.

Definist

The Definist Fallacy occurs when someone unfairly defines a term so that a controversial position is made easier to defend. Same as the Persuasive Definition.

Example:

During a controversy about the truth or falsity of atheism, the fallacious reasoner says, "Let's define 'atheist' as someone who doesn't yet realize that God exists."

Denying the Antecedent

You are using this fallacy if you deny the antecedent of a conditional and then suppose that doing so is a sufficient reason for denying the consequent. This formal fallacy is often mistaken for Modus Tollens, a valid form of argument using the conditional. A conditional is an if-then statement; the if-part is the antecedent, and the then-part is the consequent.

Example:

If she were Brazilian, then she would know that Brazil's official language is Portuguese. She isn't Brazilian; she's from London. So, she surely doesn't know this about Brazil's language.

Disregarding Known Science

This fallacy is committed when a person makes a claim that knowingly or unknowingly disregards well known science, science that weighs against the claim. They should know better. This fallacy is a form of the Fallacy of Suppressed Evidence.

Example:

John claims in his grant application that he will be studying the causal effectiveness of bone color on the ability of leg bones to support indigenous New Zealand mammals. He disregards well known scientific knowledge that color is not what causes any bones to work the way they do by saying that this knowledge has never been tested in New Zealand.

Digression

See Avoiding the Issue.

Distraction

See Smokescreen.

Division

Merely because a group as a whole has a characteristic, it often doesn't follow that individuals in the group have that characteristic. If you suppose that it does follow, when it doesn't, your reasoning contains the Fallacy of Division. It is the converse of the Composition Fallacy.

Example:

Joshua's soccer team is the best in the division because it had an undefeated season and won the division title, so their goalie must be the best in the division.

Domino

See Slippery Slope.

Double Standard

There are many situations in which you should judge two things or people by the same standard. If in one of those situations you use different standards for the two, your reasoning contains the Fallacy of Using a Double Standard.

Example:

I know we will hire any man who gets over a 70 percent on the screening test for hiring Post Office employees, but women should have to get an 80 to be hired because they often have to take care of their children.

This example is a fallacy if it can be presumed that men and women should have to meet the same standard for becoming a Post Office employee.

Either/Or

See Black-or-White.

Equivocation

Equivocation is the illegitimate switching of the meaning of a term that occurs twice during the reasoning; it is the use of one word taken in two ways. The fallacy is a kind of Fallacy of Ambiguity.

Example:

Brad is a nobody, but since nobody is perfect, Brad must be perfect, too.

The term "nobody" changes its meaning without warning in the passage. Equivocation can sometimes be very difficult to detect, as in this argument from Walter Burleigh:

If I call you a swine, then I call you an animal.
If I call you an animal, then I’m speaking the truth.
Therefore, if I call you a swine, then I’m speaking the truth.

Etymological

The Etymological Fallacy occurs whenever someone falsely assumes that the meaning of a word can be discovered from its etymology or origins.

Example:

The word "vise" comes from the Latin "that which winds," so it means anything that winds. Since a hurricane winds around its own eye, it is a vise.

Every and All

The Fallacy of Every and All turns on errors due to the order or scope of the quantifiers "every" and "all" and "any." This is a version of the Scope Fallacy.

Example:

Every action of ours has some final end. So, there is some common final end to all our actions.

In proposing this fallacious argument, Aristotle believed the common end is the supreme good, so he had a rather optimistic outlook on the direction of history.

Exaggeration

When we overstate or overemphasize a point that is a crucial step in a piece of reasoning, then we are guilty of the Fallacy of Exaggeration. This is a kind of error called Lack of Proportion.

Example:

She's practically admitted that she intentionally yelled at that student while on the playground in the fourth grade. That's verbal assault. Then she said nothing when the teacher asked, "Who did that?" That's lying, plain and simple. Do you want to elect as secretary of this club someone who is a known liar prone to assault? Doing so would be a disgrace to our Collie Club.

When we exaggerate in order to make a joke, though, we do not use the fallacy because we do not intend to be taken literally.

Excluded Middle

See False Dilemma or Black-or-White.

False Analogy

The problem is that the items in the analogy are too dissimilar. When reasoning by analogy, the fallacy occurs when the analogy is irrelevant or very weak or when there is a more relevant disanalogy. See also Faulty Comparison.

Example:

The book Investing for Dummies really helped me understand my finances better. The book Chess for Dummies was written by the same author, was published by the same press, and costs about the same amount. So, this chess book would probably help me understand my finances, too.

False Balance

A specific form of the False Equivalence Fallacy that occurs in the context of news reporting, in which the reporter misleads the audience by suggesting the evidence on two sides of an issue is equally balanced, when the reporter knows that one of the two sides is an extreme outlier. Reporters regularly commit this fallacy in order to appear "fair and balanced."

Example:

The news report of the yesterday's city council meeting says, "David Samsung challenged the council by saying the Gracie Mansion is haunted, so it should not be torn down. Councilwoman Miranda Gonzales spoke in favor of dismantling the old mansion saying its land is needed for an expansion of the water treatment facility. Both sides seemed quite fervent in promoting their position." Then the news report stops there, covering up the facts that the preponderance of scientific evidence implies there is no such thing as being haunted, and that David Samsung is the well known "village idiot" who last month came before the council demanding a tax increase for Santa Claus' workers at the North Pole.

False Cause

Improperly concluding that one thing is a cause of another. The Fallacy of Non Causa Pro Causa is another name for this fallacy. Its four principal kinds are the Post Hoc Fallacy, the Fallacy of Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc, the Regression Fallacy, and the Fallacy of Reversing Causation.

Example:

My psychic adviser says to expect bad things when Mars is aligned with Jupiter. Tomorrow Mars will be aligned with Jupiter. So, if a dog were to bite me tomorrow, it would be because of the alignment of Mars with Jupiter.

False Dichotomy

See False Dilemma or Black-or-White.

False Dilemma

A reasoner who unfairly presents too few choices and then implies that a choice must be made among this short menu of choices is using the False Dilemma Fallacy, as does the person who accepts this faulty reasoning.

Example:

A pollster asks you this question about your job: "Would you say your employer is drunk on the job about (a) once a week, (b) twice a week, or (c) more times per week?

The pollster is committing the fallacy by limiting you to only those choices. What about the choice of "no times per week"? Think of the unpleasant choices as being the horns of a bull that is charging toward you. By demanding other choices beyond those on the unfairly limited menu, you thereby "go between the horns" of the dilemma, and are not gored. The fallacy is called the "False Dichotomy Fallacy" or the "Black-or-White" Fallacy when the unfair menu contains only two choices, and thus two horns.

False Equivalence

The Fallacy of False Equivalence is committed when someone implies falsely (and usually indirectly) that the two sides on some issue have basically equivalent evidence, while knowingly covering up the fact that one side’s evidence is much weaker. A form of the Fallacy of Suppressed Evidence.

Example:

A popular science article suggests there is no consensus about the Earth's age, by quoting one geologist who says she believes the Earth is billions of years old, and then by quoting Bible expert James Ussher who says he calculated from the Bible that the world began on Friday, October 28, 4,004 B.C.E. The article suppresses the evidence that geologists (who are the relevant experts on this issue) have reached a consensus that the Earth is billions of years old.

Far-Fetched Hypothesis

This is the fallacy of offering a bizarre (far-fetched) hypothesis as the correct explanation without first ruling out more mundane explanations.

Example:

Look at that mutilated cow in the field, and see that flattened grass. Aliens must have landed in a flying saucer and savaged the cow to learn more about the beings on our planet.

Faulty Comparison

If you try to make a point about something by comparison, and if you do so by comparing it with the wrong thing, then your reasoning uses the Fallacy of Faulty Comparison or the Fallacy of Questionable Analogy.

Example:

We gave half the members of the hiking club Durell hiking boots and the other half good-quality tennis shoes. After three months of hiking, you can see for yourself that Durell lasted longer. You, too, should use Durell when you need hiking boots.

Shouldn't Durell hiking boots be compared with other hiking boots, not with tennis shoes?

Faulty Generalization

A fallacy produced by some error in the process of generalizing. See Hasty Generalization or Unrepresentative Generalization for examples.

Faulty Motives

An irrelevant appeal to the motives of the arguer, and supposing that this revelation of their motives will thereby undermine their reasoning. A kind of Ad Hominem Fallacy.

Example:

The councilman's argument for the new convention center can't be any good because he stands to gain if it's built.

Formal

Formal fallacies are all the cases or kinds of reasoning that fail to be deductively valid. Formal fallacies are also called Logical Fallacies or Invalidities.

Example:

Some cats are tigers. Some tigers are animals. So, some cats are animals.

This might at first seem to be a good argument, but actually it is fallacious because it has the same logical form as the following more obviously invalid argument:

Some women are Americans. Some Americans are men. So, some women are men.

Nearly all the infinity of types of invalid inferences have no specific fallacy names.

Four Terms

The Fallacy of Four Terms (quaternio terminorum) occurs when four rather than three categorical terms are used in a standard-form syllogism.

Example:

All rivers have banks. All banks have vaults. So, all rivers have vaults.

The word "banks" occurs as two distinct terms, namely river bank and financial bank, so this example also is an equivocation. Without an equivocation, the four term fallacy is trivially invalid.

Gambler's

This fallacy occurs when the gambler falsely assumes that the history of outcomes will affect future outcomes.

Example:

I know this is a fair coin, but it has come up heads five times in a row now, so tails is due on the next toss.

The fallacious move was to conclude that the probability of the next toss coming up tails must be more than a half. The assumption that it's a fair coin is important because, if the coin comes up heads five times in a row, one would otherwise become suspicious that it's not a fair coin and therefore properly conclude that the probably is high that heads is more likely on the next toss.

Genetic

A critic uses the Genetic Fallacy if the critic attempts to discredit or support a claim or an argument because of its origin (genesis) when such an appeal to origins is irrelevant.

Example:

Whatever your reasons are for buying that gift, they've got to be ridiculous. You said yourself that you got the idea for buying it from last night's fortune cookie. Cookies can't think!

Fortune cookies are not reliable sources of information about what gift to buy, but the reasons the person is willing to give are likely to be quite relevant and should be listened to. The speaker is using the Genetic Fallacy by paying too much attention to the genesis of the idea rather than to the reasons offered for it.

If I learn that your plan for building the shopping center next to the Johnson estate originated with Johnson himself, who is likely to profit from the deal, then my pointing out to the planning commission the origin of the deal would be relevant in their assessing your plan. Because not all appeals to origins are irrelevant, it sometimes can be difficult to decide if the Genetic Fallacy has been used. For example, if Sigmund Freud shows that the genesis of a person's belief in God is their desire for a strong father figure, then does it follow that their belief in God is misplaced, or is Freud's reasoning committing the Genetic Fallacy?

Group Think

A reasoner uses the Group Think Fallacy if he or she substitutes pride of membership in the group for reasons to support the group's policy. If that's what our group thinks, then that's good enough for me. It's what I think, too. "Blind" patriotism is a rather nasty version of the fallacy.

Example:

We K-Mart employees know that K-Mart brand items are better than Wall-Mart brand items because, well, they are from K-Mart, aren't they?

Guilt by Association

Guilt by Association is a version of the Ad Hominem Fallacy in which a person is said to be guilty of error because of the group he or she associates with. The fallacy occurs when we unfairly try to change the issue to be about the speaker's circumstances rather than about the speaker's actual argument. Also called "Ad Hominem, Circumstantial."

Example:

Secretary of State Dean Acheson is too soft on communism, as you can see by his inviting so many fuzzy-headed liberals to his White House cocktail parties.

Has any evidence been presented here that Acheson's actions are inappropriate in regards to communism? This sort of reasoning is an example of McCarthyism, the technique of smearing liberal Democrats that was so effectively used by the late Senator Joe McCarthy in the early 1950s. In fact, Acheson was strongly anti-communist and the architect of President Truman's firm policy of containing Soviet power.

Hasty Conclusion

See Jumping to Conclusions.

Hasty Generalization

A Hasty Generalization is a Fallacy of Jumping to Conclusions in which the conclusion is a generalization. See also Biased Statistics.

Example:

I've met two people in Nicaragua so far, and they were both nice to me. So, all people I will meet in Nicaragua will be nice to me.

In any Hasty Generalization the key error is to overestimate the strength of an argument that is based on too small a sample for the implied confidence level or error margin. In this argument about Nicaragua, using the word "all" in the conclusion implies zero error margin. With zero error margin you'd need to sample every single person in Nicaragua, not just two people.

Heap

See Line-Drawing.

Hedging

You are hedging if you refine your claim simply to avoid counterevidence and then act as if your revised claim is the same as the original.

Example:

Samantha: David is a totally selfish person.

Yvonne: I thought we was a boy scout leader. Don’t you have to give a lot of your time for that?

Samantha: Well, David’s totally selfish about what he gives money to. He won’t spend a dime on anyone else.

Yvonne: I saw him bidding on things at the high school auction fundraiser.

Samantha: Well, except for that he’s totally selfish about money.

You do not use the fallacy if you explicitly accept the counterevidence, admit that your original claim is incorrect, and then revise it so that it avoids that counterevidence.

Hooded Man

This is an error in reasoning due to confusing the knowing of a thing with the knowing of it under all its various names or descriptions.

Example:

You claim to know Socrates, but you must be lying. You admitted you didn't know the hooded man over there in the corner, but the hooded man is Socrates.

Hyperbolic Discounting

The Fallacy of Hyperbolic Discounting occurs when someone too heavily weighs the importance of a present reward over a significantly greater reward in the near future, but only slightly differs in their valuations of those two rewards if they are to be received in the far future. The person’s preferences are biased toward the present.

Example:

When asked to decide between receiving an award of $50 now or $60 tomorrow, the person chooses the $50; however, when asked to decide between receiving $50 in two years or $60 in two years and one day, the person chooses the $60.

If the person is in a situation in which $50 now will solve their problem but $60 tomorrow will not, then there is no fallacy in having a bias toward the present.

Hypostatization

The error of inappropriately treating an abstract term as if it were a concrete one. Also known as the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness and the Fallacy of Reification.

Example:

Nature decides which organisms live and which die.

Nature isn't capable of making decisions. The point can be made without reasoning fallaciously by saying: "Which organisms live and which die is determined by natural causes." Whether a phrase commits the fallacy depends crucially upon whether the use of the inaccurate phrase is inappropriate in the situation. In a poem, it is appropriate and very common to reify nature, hope, fear, forgetfulness, and so forth, that is, to treat them as if they were objects or beings with intentions. In any scientific claim, it is inappropriate.

Ignoratio Elenchi

See Irrelevant Conclusion. Also called missing the point.

Ignoring a Common Cause

See Common Cause.

Incomplete Evidence

See Suppressed Evidence.

Inconsistency

The fallacy occurs when we accept an inconsistent set of claims, that is, when we accept a claim that logically conflicts with other claims we hold.

Example:

I'm not racist. Some of my best friends are white. But I just don't think that white women love their babies as much as our women do.

That last remark implies the speaker is a racist, although the speaker doesn't notice the inconsistency.

Inductive Conversion

Improperly reasoning from a claim of the form "All As are Bs" to "All Bs are As" or from one of the form "Many As are Bs" to "Many Bs are As" and so forth.

Example:

Most professional basketball players are tall, so most tall people are professional basketball players.

The term "conversion" is a technical term in formal logic.

Insufficient Statistics

Drawing a statistical conclusion from a set of data that is clearly too small.

Example:

A pollster interviews ten London voters in one building about which candidate for mayor they support, and upon finding that Churchill receives support from six of the ten, declares that Churchill has the majority support of London voters.

This fallacy is a form of the Fallacy of Jumping to Conclusions.

Intensional

The mistake of treating different descriptions or names of the same object as equivalent even in those contexts in which the differences between them matter. Reporting someone's beliefs or assertions or making claims about necessity or possibility can be such contexts. In these contexts, replacing a description with another that refers to the same object is not valid and may turn a true sentence into a false one.

Example:

Michelle said she wants to meet her new neighbor Stalnaker tonight. But I happen to know Stalnaker is a spy for North Korea, so Michelle said she wants to meet a spy for North Korea tonight.

Michelle said no such thing. The faulty reasoner illegitimately assumed that what is true of a person under one description will remain true when said of that person under a second description even in this context of indirect quotation. What was true of the person when described as “her new neighbor Stalnaker” is that Michelle said she wants to meet him, but it wasn’t legitimate for me to assume this is true of the same person when he is described as “a spy for North Korea.”

Extensional contexts are those in which it is legitimate to substitute equals for equals with no worry. But any context in which this substitution of co-referring terms is illegitimate is called an intensional context. Intensional contexts are produced by quotation, modality, and intentionality (propositional attitudes). Intensionality is failure of extensionality, thus the name “Intensional Fallacy”.

Invalid Reasoning

An invalid inference. An argument can be assessed by deductive standards to see if the conclusion would have to be true if the premises were to be true. If the argument cannot meet this standard, it is invalid. An argument is invalid only if it is not an instance of any valid argument form. The Fallacy of Invalid Reasoning is a formal fallacy.

Example:

If it's raining, then there are clouds in the sky. It's not raining. Therefore, there are no clouds in the sky.

This invalid argument is an instance of Denying the Antecedent. Any invalid inference that is also inductively very weak is a Non Sequitur.

Irrelevant Conclusion

The conclusion that is drawn is irrelevant to the premises; it misses the point.

Example:

In court, Thompson testifies that the defendant is a honorable person, who wouldn't harm a flea. The defense attorney uses the fallacy by rising to say that Thompson's testimony shows once again that his client was not near the murder scene.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *