When studying logic and arguments it is very important to remember that applying valid logic to an argument will result in a valid conclusion. There are, however, mistakes called fallacies that disrupt this process. Fallacies are incorrect argumentation or reasoning errors that result in misconceptions, presumptions, and invalid conclusions. There are so many fallacies that we cannot explain or illustrate all of them. The ones that we do cover in this section can also be found by different names depending on which resource you consult. Therefore, in addition to examining specific fallacies in detail, this section also focuses on recognizing and responding to a logical fallacy.
In some cases, fallacies cause someone to believe something is true without enough evidence or to follow an incorrect argument. For example, imagine that your friend concludes that the new teacher in the Hawaiian shirt is an easy grader.
In this case, the fallacy leads one to believe that the teacher’s clothes indicate how he or she will grade. Clothing has nothing to do with grading. This type of fallacy is called non sequitur, which is Latin for “it does not follow,” meaning the conclusion does not follow the evidence.
By accident or design, fallacies may exploit emotional triggers in the listener, take advantage of social relationships between people, or simply mislead the argument. Fallacies can use strong feelings such as anger, sadness, or excitement. Fallacies may rely on the authority of a teacher or politician to make their argument. They may come in a well or confidently spoken manner, which is used to cover up the fact that the argument lacks logical reasoning. In other words, fallacies are virtually everywhere in many different forms, and it is important to know how to recognize them and respond to them.
During a case in which a rich celebrity is accused of murder, the defense brings up the fact that the sports star donated lots of money to charity. They argue that the celebrity is morally a good person. While this may be true, it has nothing to do with whether or not the celebrity committed murder. The lines of argument suddenly cross, and you are thrown off the original argument.
In this case, focusing on the idea that the celebrity has for many years donated money diverts attention from the more important and relevant claims. Bringing the red herring into the argument could provide an opportunity to persuade the jury. This is just one example of how the diversions can occur.
This example shows how distracting and irrelevant information can be used to divert attention, even momentarily, away from the real issue and expand an incorrect line of argument. When your attention has been diverted, there may be a different conclusion. So be alert when someone says something random or irrelevant.
You will encounter fallacies in political debates, conversations with others, advertisements, news articles, textbooks, and many other places. When making an argument or supporting a position, you should avoid sources that contain fallacies, because fallacies weaken your argument as well as your reputation as an arguer. Recognize fallacies by asking such questions as Is this information relevant to the issue at hand? Is it acceptable? Does it support the claim?