List of Logical Fallacies

In common with Matt Dillahunty from the Atheist Experience, I wish to believe as many true things as possibly and as few false things as possible. The trouble with conditions such as depression and anxiety is that they tend to skew our perceptions of the world by making us believe things which are simply not true. On a more general note, people including those in authority often bolster their irrational arguments with arguments which simply do not stand up to scrutiny when closely examined. With this in mind, I offer this list of common logical fallacies to help you spot a flaw the next time someone tries it on with you – or you find yourself struggling to see the proverbial wood from the trees. I hope you find it interesting as well as useful.

Ad Hominem

  • Attacking the moral or intellectual character of your opponent rather than engaging with his arguments. E.G. ‘Fred is always telling lies, so therefore you can’t believe a word he says.’ (regardless of whether or not Fred has a valid point).

Ambiguity

  • Using double-meanings and slippery word-choices to mislead your opponent. E.G. ‘You could win £1,000’ – then when the person wins your prize draw you simply give them 1p. After all, you only said they could win £1,000 – not that they actually would.

Anecdotes

  • Using stories from your, or someone else’s personal history in a bid to support an argument E.G. You claim there’s no God, but there’s this bloke I know, who knew someone who knew someone else who had a cousin who once narrowly escaped death in a car-accident, so therefore God must exist.

Appeal to Authority / Status

  • Justifying a belief by claiming someone who is important or has a high status believes it, therefore it must be true. E.G. ‘The Queen of England thinks the moon is made from green cheese, and that’s good enough for me.’

Appeal to Emotion

  • Manipulating someone’s feelings to get them to agree to something rather than presenting rational reasons why they should do it. E.G. You should believe in God because your granny believes in God and your granny is lovely and if you don’t believe in God your granny will be very upset and cry.

Appeal to Nature

  • Suggesting that because something is ‘natural’ it is therefore ‘good’, ‘right’ or ‘true.’ (by this argument, wearing clothes, sitting in chairs, driving cars and using TVs and computers would all be condemned as bad!).

Bandwagon Jumping or Herd-Appeal

  • Suggesting something is ‘true’ or ‘correct’ simply because a majority (real or imagined) do it. E.G. Everyone in town loves to watch bear-baiting on a Sunday afternoon so therefore there’s nothing wrong with bear-baiting as a practice.

Begging the Question

  • A circular argument in which the conclusion is contained in the premise. E.G. ‘We know the Bible is the Word of God and is true. How do we know this? Because the Bible says so.’

Black or White Thinking

  • Presenting two alternative states are the only possible outcomes – ignoring the fact there may well be others. E.G. ‘If you don’t support this anti-drugs bill, our society will collapse in a few months due to all the drug dealers.’ There may well be issues with the anti-drug bill and a lack of support for it does not equate to a desire to see more drug dealers in society.

Composition and Division

  • Assuming that what is true for one part of something must hold good for the whole. E.G. I am made from atoms which are invisible. Therefore, I too, am invisible.

The Fallacy Fallacy

  • Assuming something is false simply because a fallacy has been committed. The person could have got the ‘right’ answer but for the wrong reasons!

False Cause

  • Suggesting that a real (or imagined) relationship between two things means one is the cause of the other. Correlation does not necessarily imply causality. E.G. 100 per cent of everyone who has ever died has breathed oxygen. Therefore oxygen causes death and should be avoided

Gambler’s Fallacy

  • Believing that ‘runs’ of results occur in statistically separate events. EG. flipping a fair coin or spinning a fair roulette wheel. E.G. ‘Heads’ came up 10 times in a row, so the eleventh flip must produce a ‘Tails’ result. False – the coin has no memory!

Generic statements

  • Believing or disbelieving something purely on the basis of the source from which it comes. This is similar to the ad hominem line of argument.

Loaded Question

  • Asking a question which has an assumption built into it thereby forcing your opponent into a defensive position or putting them ‘on the back foot.’ E.G. ‘So, have you stopped beating your wife yet?’ (assumes the person beat his wife to start with!)

Middle Ground

  • Suggesting a ‘middle ground’ must be found between two opposite positions even if one position is irrational. E.G. The serial killer wanted to murder everyone in the town. The police did not want him to murder anybody. The judge said they should compromise by allowing him to murder just half the people in the town.

The ‘No True Scotsman’ Fallacy

  • Appealing to ‘purity’ in support of something E.G. No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. If you meet someone who is both Scottish and puts sugar on his porridge, the response is ‘Well, no TRUE Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge!’ This is a kind of special pleading.

Personal Incredulity

  • Suggesting something cannot be true simply because you find it impossible to believe. E.G. I can’t believe God didn’t make the world – therefore he must have made the world.

Shifting the Burden of Proof

  • Suggesting that something is true since the person with whom you are arguing cannot disprove it (instead of accepting that the burden of proof lies with the one making the claim). E.G. ‘I have an invisible pink unicorn living in my garage. You can’t prove I don’t, so therefore I do.’

Slippery Slope Fallacy

  • Suggesting that if A is granted then Z will be the result – therefore A should not be allowed. E.G. If kids watch films, some of them might be violent and lead to them committing violent behaviour which will undermine our society and cause it to collapse. Therefore kids should not watch any films or it will mean the end of our society.

Special Pleading

  • Moving the goalposts or making up exceptions when a claim is shown to be false. E.G. If you go to the sports-field at night you’ll see UFOs. Except you went on a Thursday when there was an ‘R’ in the month so that’s why you didn’t see any.

Straw Man Fallacy

  • Misrepresenting your opponent’s argument in a bid to make it easy to defeat E.G. I don’t support the death penalty for criminals. What, so you’re in favour of encouraging crime, are you?

The Texas Marksman

  • Cherry-picking data clusters to support an appeal. E.G. Eight out of 10 countries which import Yuckyyuck fizzy drink are among the healthiest in the world. Therefore the drink must be really good for you.

Tu Quoque

  • Turning the criticism back on your accuser rather than address it. E.G. You call someone on a logical fallacy they have committed and they respond by reminding you of a logical fallacy you committed six months ago in a completely different argument which has nothing to do with the present discussion

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