On Logical Fallacies, Part 3

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."
-Commonly attributed to Albert Einstein
In this world, logical fallacies surround us. People use them often, and usually without realizing it. This makes it all the more important for you to understand them, so that you can root them out. Today, we'll begin with Tu Quoque.

Tu quoque is Latin for "you too," and is pronounced "too kwo-kwee." It can also be called the appeal to hypocrisy. Instead of answering an accusation, you made an accusation upon your opponent. Person Andrew makes the claim that person Bob lied. Bob responds with, "You lied earlier, and I don't see you getting all worked up about that." This claim may or may not be accurate. Andrew may have actually lied, or maybe Bob is mistaken or lying again. But this is still a fallacy, because Bob hasn't addressed the claim. He hasn't refuted the claim that he lied, but he also hasn't acknowledged the lie and apologized. Instead, he attempted to move the spotlight off of himself by accusing Andrew.

Next, let's look at the fallacy of ambiguity. Essentially, you aren't clear about what you're saying, so that later on, you can claim that it's what you were saying all along, or you aren't clear now so that you can make it match what you said before.
This is very similar to the fallacy of equivocation, which I actually see much more often. You could say that equivocation is a subset of ambiguity, and even though there are subtle differences, I typically treat them both as equivocation. Equivocation is saying that two words mean the same thing, when actually they mean something different. This could be two different words, or it could even be one word with multiple meanings. One example that I've heard is with the word mitigate. In high school debate, the resolution for one year was "Resolved: The United States has a moral obligation to mitigate international conflicts." I have underlined any terms that would need to be defined in the debate round.
Now, while the debate year was rather political and complex, I'll try to break it down. Basically, one person said that we should mitigate, and another person said that we shouldn't. But what does mitigate mean? One person says that it means military intervention, while another person says that it means providing medical aid. Both could be accurate depending on context. But while it is important to choose a good definition, it isn't as important as sticking to the same definition the whole time, instead of switching back and forth. Now, while I used the word mitigate as an example, I underlined any terms that could have this issue. Does "the United States" refer to the government, or the citizens? Is a moral obligation any different than a legal obligation? Can they ever overlap?
Official debates like this can be rather complex. But even in day to day life, it's still important that we not use the fallacy of equivocation.

To make up for the complexity of the last one, let's now look at a simpler fallacy. The false cause fallacy. In this fallacy, you assume that because two things happened one after the other, that one must have caused the other. This one is easily memorized with a simple rhyme: correlation is not causation. I have seen this simple saying used often even in official debate rounds. And as long as you remember what it means, that's not a problem. Just because two things happened together, or one after the other, that doesn't mean that one caused the other. If I decided to take up American football, and suddenly pigs all over the world sprouted wings and started flying, it might look very much like one caused the other. However, scientifically speaking, my taking up a sport cannot cause swine, or any other type of mammal, to grow wings.

The Texas sharpshooter is another type of false cause fallacy. In this fallacy, you decide what you believe, and then look for evidence to support it. This is very dangerous, and also very common- especially, I'm sorry to say, among Christians. True logic requires that you look at all the evidence, whether you like it or not, and come to a logical conclusion. This is a fallacy because you're working in the reverse order. Anything that seems to work against your point of view is then explained away rather than being applied.

This series on logical fallacies will be concluded next week, at which point the plan is to continue with with the regular analysis.
"When once your point of view is changed, the very thing which was so damning becomes a clue to the truth."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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