Sometimes people can be so dedicated to proving they’re right, that they completely ignore common sense and logic in presenting arguments for their ideas. Let’s have a look at ten logical fallacies you might have used, or that might have been used by others in an argument with you, so you know what to avoid doing next time you’re trying to make a point.
1. Circular reasoning
Circular reasoning is a type of fallacy in the form of “X is true because of Y; Y is true because of X”. The most common (and often used) example is “The Bible is the Word of God, because God tells us so, in the Bible.” This kind of argument is called “circular” because all it does is circle around the initial information without bringing anything new and useful to the conversation.
2. Appeal to authority
Also known as “appeal to false authority”, it is the mistake people make when appealing to the authority of someone to support their argument, when that someone is not a true authority in the matter. For example, one may say “My grandma told me chicken soup can cure all illness. Therefore, if you want to get rid of your arthritis, eat chicken soup.” That would be a false argument, since the person’s grandmother is not a medical authority. This fallacy is often used as a tool in advertisement.
3. Ad Hominem (abuse)
Counteracting the person instead of the argument is a logical fallacy that, unfortunately, arises quite often. It usually manifests as a dismissal of an argument based on personal shortcomings of the one issuing it.
4. No true Scotsman
The “No true Scotsman” fallacy is used to defend a general claim that has been proven wrong by going from universal to specific. The most common use of this fallacy is “X is a group of morally sound individuals” – when a member of X behaves in an immoral manner, instead of accepting that “some members of X are immoral”, the “no true Scotsman” fallacy states that “the member of X that behaved immorally was never a true X.”
5. The Straw-Man Argument
This logical fallacy consists of building a fake argument (a “straw man”) that is both misleading, and easier to debunk than the initial point being discussed. For example, A says he thinks stray dogs are a problem that needs to be dealt with. Instead of presenting counter-arguments as to why stray dogs are not, in fact, a problem, B replies by accusing A of animal cruelty and wanting to put down all stray dogs.
6. Appeal to tradition
People appeal to tradition when defending a practice or belief and providing no reason other than “it has been done this way for generations.” The problem with this is that just because something has been considered “right” in the past it doesn’t mean it is necessarily right today.
7. Appeal to popularity (fallacy of the majority)
This is a mistake that is quite easy to make in today’s society, when we are prone to believe that if a great number of people are doing or believe in something, that behavior or belief must automatically be right. This, like other fallacies, is a very useful marketing and advertising tool.
8. Red herring
This term comes from the world of hunting, where a red smoked herring would be used to throw hunting dogs off the scent during their training. In argumentation, the red herring fallacy basically means the same thing: derailing the subject of debate towards a subject the fallacious person is more familiar with or capable to refute. For example, X says that behaving in Y manner is wrong. Z replies by saying “yes, but what is really right?” therefore successfully changing the topic of the conversation.
9. Argument from ignorance
This is one of the most commonly used fallacies by people arguing the existence of God (or the supernatural, generally). It comes in the form of “A is true because you cannot prove that A is false” but also works in reverse, “A is false because you cannot prove that A is true”. This type of argument is fallacious because “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” – Carl Sagan.
10. Magical thinking
Basically, this fallacy manifests itself in the form of superstition: making correlations or causal links between phenomenon, based not on facts, but on beliefs. The result of magical thinking will usually be an irrational fear of performing certain acts, based solely on the false assumption of correlation between actions and disastrous consequences.