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.
Ryan North is the Executive Director of Tapestry, the Adoption & Foster Care Ministry of Irving Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. As Executive Director of Tapestry, Ryan also leads Empowered to Connect. He frequently writes and speaks on connected parenting and ministry leadership.