My 14-year-old son is studying formal logic and I am loving watching him learn and discussing it with him. The following are descriptions and examples of 10 common logical fallacies. Understanding them can be very helpful.
- Ad Hominem: This occurs when an author attacks his opponent instead of his opponent’s argument.
Example: Trina thinks guns should be outlawed but Trina doesn’t go to church, so we shouldn’t listen to her
- Ad Populum: Ad Populum attempts to prove an argument as correct simply because many people believe it to be so.
Example: 80% of people are for the death penalty, therefore, the death penalty is moral.
- Appeal to Authority: In this fallacious argument, the author claims his argument is right because someone famous or powerful supports it.
Example: We should change the drinking age because Einstein believed that 18 was the proper drinking age
- Begging the Question: This happens when the author’s premise and conclusion say the same thing.
Example: Fashion magazines don’t hurt women’s self-esteem because women’s confidence is intact after reading the magazine.
- False Dichotomy: This fallacy rests on the assumption that there are only two possible solutions, so disproving one solution means that other solution should be utilized. It ignores other alternative solutions.Example: The teacher gives too many A’s and therefore must be fired because grade inflation is unfair to other students
- Hasty Generalization: Hasty Generalization occurs when the proponent uses too small of a sample size to support a sweeping generalization.Example: Sally couldn’t find any cute clothes at the boutique and neither could Maura, so the boutique doesn’t have any cute clothes.
- Post Hoc/ False Cause: This fallacy assumes that correlation equals causation or, in other words, if one event predicts another event it must have also caused the event.Example: The football team gets better grades than the baseball team, therefore playing football makes you smarter than playing baseball.
- Missing the Point: In Missing the Point, the premise of the argument supports a specific conclusion but not the one the author draws. Example: Antidepressants are overly prescribed which is dangerous, so they should clearly be made illegal.
- Spotlight Fallacy: This occurs when the author assumes that the cases that receive the most publicity are the most common cases.Example: 90% of news reports talk about negative events. Therefore, it follows that 90% of events that occur in the real world are negative.
- Straw Man: In this fallacy, the author puts forth one of his opponent’s weaker, less central arguments forward and destroys it, while acting like this argument is the crux of the issue.Example: My opponent wants to increase teachers’ pay but studies have shown that professors with tenure don’t work as hard at their job to improve themselves.