Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that occur when arguments are constructed or evaluated. They are deceptive and misleading, often leading to false or weak conclusions. Recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies is essential for critical thinking and effective communication.
These flaws in rhetorical logic can be observed aplenty in modern political and civil discourse. They are among the easiest types of argument to dispel, because their basic type has been discredited and compiled together with other discarded forms of rational persuasion, to make sure that ensuing generations don’t fall for the same tired old unethical ideas.
By understanding and identifying these common logical fallacies, individuals can sharpen their critical thinking skills and engage in more productive, rational discussions. Recognizing fallacies also helps avoid being swayed by deceptive or unsound arguments — which abound in increasing volume thanks to the prevalence of misinformation, disinformation, and disingenuous forms of motivated reasoning.
Types of logical fallacies
There are several types of logical fallacies, each with its own pitfalls. Here are a few examples:
- Ad Hominem: This fallacy attacks the person making the argument rather than the argument itself. For instance, dismissing someone’s opinion on climate change because they’re not a scientist is an ad hominem fallacy.
- Straw Man: This involves misrepresenting an opponent’s argument to make it easier to attack. If someone argues for better healthcare and is accused of wanting “socialized medicine,” that’s a straw man.
- Appeal to Authority: This fallacy relies on the opinion of an “expert” who may not actually be qualified in the relevant field. Just because a celebrity endorses a product doesn’t mean it’s effective.
- False Dichotomy: This fallacy presents only two options when, in fact, more exist. For example, stating that “you’re either with us or against us” oversimplifies complex issues.
- Slippery Slope: This fallacy argues that a single action will inevitably lead to a series of negative events, without providing evidence for such a chain reaction.
- Circular Reasoning: In this fallacy, the conclusion is used as a premise, creating a loop that lacks substantive proof. Saying “I’m trustworthy because I say I am” is an example.
- Hasty Generalization: This involves making a broad claim based on insufficient evidence. For instance, meeting two rude people from a city and concluding that everyone from that city is rude is a hasty generalization.
Understanding logical fallacies equips you to dissect arguments critically, making you a more informed participant in discussions. It’s a skill that’s invaluable in both professional and personal settings. Arm yourself with knowledge about this list of logical fallacies:
|Example / Notes
|ad hominem attack
|attacking something about the character of the opposing side, instead of engaging with the argument or offering a critique
|using double meanings and language ambiguity to mislead
|appeal to a personal, individual observation as relates to the topic in question
|often used to dismiss statistical analysis
|appeal to authority
|using opinion of authority figure or institution in place of an actual argument
|appeal to emotion
|manipulating emotional response in lieu of valid argument
|a huge part of Donald Trump's playbook
|appeal to nature
|arguing that b/c something is “natural” it is valid / justified / inevitable / good / ideal
|appealing to popularity as evidence of validation
|Retort: "When everyone once believed the earth was flat — did that make it true?"
|begging the question
|when conclusion is included in the premise
|one form of circular argument (tautology is another)
|black or white
|presenting two alternative states as the only options, when more possibilities exist
|very commonly used by political and media resources as a way to polarize issues
|burden of proof
|claiming the responsibility lies with someone else to disprove one's claim (& not with the claimant to prove it)
|assuming what is true of one part of something must be applied to all parts
|presuming that a poorly argued claim, or one in which a fallacy has been made, is wrong
|presuming that a real or perceived relationship between things implies causation
|putting a tremendous amount of weight on previous events, believing they will influence future outcomes (even when outcome is random)
|also a psychological bias
|value judging based on where something comes from
|asking a question with an assumption built in, so it can't be answered without appearing guilty
|claiming a compromise between two extremes must be the truth
|the media establishment is often guilty of this for a number of reasons: lack of time for thorough inquiry; need for ratings; available field of pundits and wonks; established programming formats, and so on
|no true scotsman
|making an appeal to purity as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws
|saying that because a concept or argument is difficult to understand, it can't be true
|arguing that a small change or decision will inevitably lead to larger-than-intended (perhaps even disastrous) consequences rapidly
|moving goalpost to create exceptions when a claim is shown to be false
|misrepresenting someone's argument to make it easier to attack
|cherry-picking data to suit an argument, or finding a pattern to fit a presumption
|the impending era of big data will increase the prevalence of this type of sheister
|avoiding having to engage with criticism by criticizing the accuser
These systematic errors in our thinking and logic affect our everyday choices, behaviors, and evaluations of others.
Cognitive distortions are bad mental habits. They’re patterns of thinking that tend to be negatively slanted, inaccurate, and often repetitive.
Mental models are a kind of strategic building blocks we can use to make sense of the world around us.