On Logical Fallacies, Part 1

"When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity."
-Dale Carnegie
In the effort to analyze accurately, we must be certain that we're not using any logical fallacies. This is a rather difficult task, considering how many there are, and how many different names each fallacy can have. But if you're claiming that someone is wrong, then one of three things must be true. A, they're a liar. B, they don't have all the evidence. C, they're using one or more logical fallacies. In my experience, B and C are the most common, and often combinations of the two. But C is often overlooked and not addressed. So today, we'll be looking at a few basic logical fallacies and why they're important. Keep in mind that logical fallacies can be, and usually are, very subtle. After all, if they were obvious, people wouldn't make them. That said, let's look at the first fallacy, strawman.

The strawman fallacy involves misrepresenting an opponent's case or argument in some way. This could mean oversimplifying it, or exaggerating it. Either way, it's a fallacy because you're saying that they made a claim when actually they didn't make that claim. You're not attacking their true statement, you're attacking a false statement that you made up. It's important to check with your opponent, therefore, and make sure that you understand what they're really saying.

The next fallacy we'll look at is appeal to emotion. While true logic must take the existence and use of emotion into account, emotion should not be used within a logical debate or discussion. It may be an emotional issue, but removing the emotion from the topic should yield the same result. This is one of the most common fallacies I see. Emotion clouds judgement, and while emotion is a good thing, it's not for making decisions. When you're angry, it makes it very easy to see where the other person is wrong. People often use this anger to rebut their opponent's claims. However, it also clouds your judgement so that you can't see where you yourself are wrong.
Whenever I'm angry, I keep track of where my opponent is wrong, but store that information away until it's time to use it later. When I've calmed down, I look over the information again, including my own side. This way I can weed out the logical fallacies more accurately. Again, you may have an emotional attachment to your side, and that's fine, but that emotion must not be used in defense of your claim.

Ad hominem involves attacking the person rather than their case or arguments. I see this one occasionally, but not as often as the next one, the genetic fallacy.

The genetic fallacy decides that information is good or bad based on where it came from. While some sources have shown themselves to be trustworthy, and other sources have shown themselves to be untrustworthy, that does not mean that everything they say is true or false. You may be more or less likely to trust one source or another (based off of history), but should not use that as evidence. It is similar to the ad hominem fallacy in this way, and is one of the more common fallacies I see used.

The fallacy fallacy is one that you need to be careful of when you start learning about logic. This fallacy involves claiming that an argument is wrong because it's poorly argued. For example, let's take Andrew and Bob. Andrew believes that the Earth is round, while Bob believes that the Earth is flat. Andrew says, "My parents taught me that the Earth is round, therefore the Earth must be round." Bob recognizes that Andrew has just used the genetic fallacy, most likely with appeal to emotion thrown in as well. So he responds, "You used a logical fallacy in your argumentation, therefore the Earth must be flat." Bob has now used the fallacy fallacy. It is possible for a person to be wrong, but for their idea to be right. The person claims "A is true because B." A may be true, but if it's actually true because C, the person is still wrong. However, the fallacy fallacy assumes that if the person is wrong, the end idea is wrong as well.

Logical fallacies are important to understand. If you're right, you need to understand why the other person is wrong. If you're wrong, you need to be able to understand why. And, ideally, you would keep from being wrong in the first place, by avoiding logical fallacies. If all goes according to plan, the discussion on logical fallacies will continue next week.
"Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory---let the theory go."
-Agatha Christie

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