Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Checklist of Common Fallacies

 Appeal to Emotions: 

Appeal to Anger:
This is so common: attempting to persuade by using or provoking anger, usually with inflammatory language, even profanity, followed by a claim with no proof. “I’m so angry that he lied!” (Even though the speaker does not give any reason to show that the person he is talking about was not telling the truth.)  
Assuming the correctness of a claim without any evidence, and using anger to hide the lack of proof. Similar to the Appeal to Ignorance (see below.) “I’m angry, and you should be, too, and you should agree with me about X just because I’m angry!” A loud voice is often part of this.

Appeal to Ignorance: 
Claiming that an absence of proof, or sometimes, a lack of even any evidence at all, is sufficient to prove a claim is true. “You can’t prove me wrong!” “Wearing garlic has protected me from the flu.”  

Apple Polishing (A better name might be 'bragging on the other person.'):
Flattery is very nice but it can be disguised as a reason to agree with a claim. “I know anyone as intelligent as you are will agree with me that....”  

Scare Tactics (Appeal to Fear): 
Attempting to scare by describing a frightening situation without offering proof. “It’s socialism!” This is often used in conjunction with Scapegoating. 

Placing blame on an individual, or a group, who are not actually responsible. “They did it! They are just the kind of people who do things like that! I don’t have any evidence, but I’m telling you it’s true!” 

Wishful Thinking: 
Believing a claim is true, or not true, just because you want it to be. “If pigs had wings, they could fly.” (Ostriches have wings but cannot fly. Also, it is highly unlikely that any pig is about to grow wings.) “Unicorns must exist because they are so beautiful.”


Other Fallacies:

Appeal to popularity: 
Claiming something is true because many people believe it. Also, claiming a celebrity (a popular person) believes it, so it must be true. “Everyone knows that X is true.”

Red Herring/Smoke Screen: 
An irrelevant statement brought into a discussion in order to distract. Changing the subject. “Look, there’s a bird!” “You think you have problems, let me tell you about mine.”

Ad hominem (Latin: Against the Person):
Attacking a claim because of characteristics of the person or source rather than the claim itself. “I wouldn’t believe anything said by someone that ugly.” On the other hand, even if the person really is repugnant, he or she might still be right: “Two plus two is four,” is a true statement no matter how vulgar the person who says it.  

Inconsistency Ad Hominem: 
The claim that an individual has changed his or her mind, and therefore, cannot be trusted. “You once said X, but now you say the opposite. You must be wrong now! Or else you’re a liar.” In reality, we want people to change their minds to hold a better position. We want facts and reason to improve our opinions. Saying, “I once believed in the tooth fairy,” does not mean the speaker still does, and does not mean that person should be told to continue to do so.  

Strawman /Strawperson: 
Attacking a claim by ignoring, distorting, exaggerating, or misrepresenting it. Often used with scare tactics or scapegoating. “It’s socialism!” The more extreme a statement is depicted, the easier it is to claim it is wrong.  

False Dilemma: 
Claiming this must be an either-or decision, when, in fact, both sides might be possible at the same time, or there is middle ground. “Live free or die!” How about just a broken leg? How about mostly free? Why do I have to choose at all? “Cake or ice cream, but not both.” “Statement X must be completely true, or else it is completely false.” No, part of it could be true.  

Slippery Slope: 
Arguing that some particular event must inevitably flow into another event when no evidence is shown for that inevitability. “This will lead to socialism!” Often used with scare tactics. “Milk is the gateway drug!”  
Sometimes very similar to the strawman argument when it is making a distortion that will lead without exception to an extreme. “Your socialist effort will lead to the fall of civilization.”  

Misplaced Burden of Proof:  
The Affirmative side, or the side putting forth a claim, has the duty to give reasons first. They have the burden of proof. The fact that the defence has not yet countered is not proof that the initial claim is correct. “He hasn’t denied it, therefore, it must be true.” In a trial of law, we are assumed to be not guilty before any evidence is given.  
This fallacy can be similar to the Appeal to Ignorance. Either one might ask, “Why not?” as though the question itself is a sufficient reason to believe the claim. This is also similar to the Leading Question.  

Leading Question:  
The question implies a truth, without actually saying it, and does so before the respondant has a chance to speak. “When did you stop using chewing tobacco?” “How long are you going to lie?”  

Using a false pretext in order to satisfy desires or interests. Similar to wishful thinking. “I didn’t want it anyway.” “The planets were against me.” Also, sometimes used with scapegoating. “Somebody else was responsible for my mistake.”

[This is a recent exerpt from http://101phil.blogspot.com/ 

my introductory pamphlet on Philosophy for Lazy Readers.]