20 Logical Fallacies, or How Not to Debate!
“El sueño de la razón produce monstruos.” [The sleep of reason produces monsters.]
- Francisco Goya, 1799
Whether the words used are simple or fancy, on one side in nearly every dispute there is a person who is right, and on the other side is a person who is just arguing for no good reason at all.
In my years of practicing the law, I have too often been struck by the ugly brashness with which opposing parties and their lawyers talk, write, act, negotiate, and litigate in the wrong, adding insult to injury. Imagine a situation, for example, where a woman comes up to you as you’re standing on the street talking on your smartphone. She steals your phone out of your hand and walks away with it. You yell, “thief!” She then turns around and scolds you for defaming her good name, yelling at all onlookers for help to defend herself from you! And there you find yourself arguing with her about her stealing your phone while she blatantly denies it and asserts that you must apologize for slandering her with the word “thief”. Next thing you know, even her lawyer shows up to defend her! This is a classic “what the hell” moment, right?
Yet in legal disputes large and small, whether they involve multinational corporations or bickering neighbors, criminal accusations or divorces, regardless of the nature of the debate, there is rarely a situation in which the paint of sin colors the faces of both sides of the argument, at least not at the start of it. While poor legal counsel or ignoble motivations may tempt even the innocent party in a dispute to sway from rectitude as the dispute unfurls and becomes more complicated over time, often in its first dramatic Act the stage of a Debate displays the spotlight on the hero while leaving the villain rightly in the shadows.
From those shadows, the devil speaks in tempting fallacies. It is crucial to demystify those forked magic words for they have the power to topple those who have allowed their sense of reason to sleep. With that, let us briefly study the most common methods of fallacious distraction and deceit to ensure that we not only evade the trap they set for our minds but also to persevere to avoid such dark modes ourselves.
20 Varieties of Logical Fallacies:
Status Quo (Latin: “As it is”): Something is so because it’s always been that way.
Ad Hominem (Latin: Against the Person”): You’re wrong because you’re ugly.
Can’t prove false: My assertion is true because you cannot prove that it’s not!
A bad argument disproves a point: Your particular argument is illogical, so your entire point is mistaken. You say that gravity exists, and it is the force that makes a car’s brakes work. That’s actually friction. Thus, there is no such thing as gravity.
Appeal to emotions: If you have a heart, you’ll agree with me.
Repetition makes it true: 2 + 2 = 5. Yes it does! 2 + 2 = 5. See? It does! 2 + 2 = 5.
Popularity: Everyone loves bacon, therefore it’s good for you!
Appeal to Authority: Cheetoh is the President, therefore he’s right about everything.
Circular Argument without Substance: Broccoli is gross. I don’t like it. Things I don’t like are gross. Therefore, broccoli is gross.
A statement or question that assumes unproven facts: Why are you reading this article through a telescope? You must love telescopes!
Confusing correlation with causation: School shootings happen at school. Thus, school causes school shootings. We should do away with school.
Confusing causation with sequence: You were the first person I saw after I awoke from my blackout, therefore you must have caused my blackout!
Generalizations: All trees are green.
Appeal to Nature: Bacon is from nature, and nature is good for you. Thus, bacon is good for you.
False Conclusions: School increases your knowledge. Therefore everyone should be in school.
Non Sequitur (Latin: “It doesn’t follow”): Bacon is from nature. Let’s have a BLT!
“Red herring” or the Irrelevant Distraction: Pointing to a symptom of a problem rather than the root cause of it is one example of a “red herring” logical fallacy. For example, I would argue that it promotes an irrelevant distraction or a “red herring” argument to point to illegal migration over the US-Mexico border as the central problem of our national immigration concerns. The real cause of the issue, and what should be our main focus, is arguably the centuries-long economic abuse by wealthy nations (such as the USA) of an intentionally deregulated legal infrastructure in Central American nations and the logically resultant economic disparity, oligarchy, corruption, civic unrest, and societal violence therein, which in turn causes frightened people from such countries to seek refuge in rich countries like the USA, Canada, and wealthy European nations. If we want illegal migration to stop, we must end our economic, political, and military policies and actions which destabilize Central American and other struggling nations, rather than focusing almost entirely on prosecuting the desperate refugees from such countries.
Slippery Slope: If I give you a lollipop, then I have to give all the kids in the neighborhood a lollipop. Then the next thing you know, kids from all over the city will be coming to my house for a lollipop! So, no lollipop for you!
Straw Man, or a Bogeyman Argument: That rotten Presidential candidate wants universal healthcare, wants free public college education for all, and wants to implement a hefty tax on the wealthy! He even calls himself a Socialist! Just like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, he’s a lousy Communist who is going to destroy our Democracy, destroy Capitalism, and destroy the American Dream! We don’t want any stickin’ Commies in our country, boy!
Turn the Tables, or “What About You?”: A woman steals your smartphone out of your hand, and you call her a “thief”. She turns around and says, “What? Don’t pretend like you’ve never stolen anything!”, and then she walks proudly away with your smartphone.