Have you ever lost an argument even though you knew you were right? Perhaps the other person made a claim that seemed perfectly logical. You may have been a victim of logical fallacies. Understanding these fallacies can make sure your arguments are never sabotaged again.
Here are 10 logical fallacies you should be aware of so that no one can use them against you in an argument.
The strawman fallacy is when one person misrepresents or exaggerates someone else’s argument to make it easier to attack. In this case, rather than connect with the actual debate, you misrepresent the other person’s arguments completely.
For example, if you are arguing with an environmentalist, you may say that ‘tree huggers have no economic sense’. Therefore you do not actually engage in the debate but dismiss it on grounds that you have essentially fabricated.
2. Slippery slope
We have all heard people with extreme views use this argument. It is when you say that one behaviour will lead to another behaviour with no evidence that this is the case.
For example, letting children eat sweets is a slippery slope to drug addiction. Politicians with extreme views often use this argument as a reason against everything from legalising cannabis to allowing immigration or gay marriage.
3. False cause
In this fallacy, it is assumed that because one thing is followed by another, the first thing must have caused the second. So for example, if every time I go to sleep the sun goes down, a false cause argument would suggest that my sleeping was what caused the sun to set.
False cause fallacy is the reason behind the superstitious thinking. For example, if an athlete was wearing certain underwear when she won a tournament, she might think the underwear is lucky and always wear it at events in the future. Of course, in reality, the underwear had nothing to do with the successful performance.
4. Black or white
In this fallacy, an argument is made between two things without considering that there could be an alternative in between.
For example, I have to spend thousands of pound on a new car or buy an old wreck for a hundred dollars. This does not allow for the possibility of buying a sound but a moderately priced car that is a few years old.
Often people use this to get others on side by saying ‘you are either with me or against me‘. When, in fact, a person could agree with some parts of your argument and not with others. They could also disagree with everything you say but still like and respect you.
This is one of the weirdest logical fallacies, but it happens all the time. It is the argument that the opinion of the majority is always right.
This is sometimes true, but not always. After all, there was a time when the majority of people thought that the world was flat. It is true that if a lot of people believe something is true, it is more likely to be the case. However, we can all be deluded by this fallacy at times.
6. Ad hominem
This horrible fallacy is when a person attacks someone personally rather than attacking their argument.
For example, every time you call a politician something rude or criticise their clothes or appearance, you are resorting to ad hominem. The phrase is Latin for ‘to the man’. It is lazy arguing and usually means the person attacking can’t think of a good counterargument to the other person’s actual ideas.
This fallacy is where because something happened to you, it will also happen to everyone else. For example, ‘a low carb diet doesn’t work – I tried it and didn’t lose a pound‘. Another example would be ‘that brand of car is a waste of money – I had one for two years and it broke down six times‘.
A common one is where people point out that their grandparents drank and smoked and lived until they were ninety. I wouldn’t recommend this as foolproof evidence that smoking and drinking are good for you!
8. Appeal to ignorance
An appeal to ignorance is where you use the lack of information to support whatever argument you choose.
For example, ‘you can’t prove that ghosts don’t exist, so that means they must be real’. Or, ‘she didn’t say that I couldn’t borrow her car, so I figured it was fine if I borrowed it for the weekend’.
9. Guilt by association
In this fallacy, someone is presumed guilty of one offence simply because they are guilty of another or of associating with someone perceived as bad.
An example from Wikipedia explains this one well. ‘Simon, Karl, Jared, and Brett are all friends of Josh, and they are all petty criminals. Jill is a friend of Josh; therefore, Jill is a petty criminal‘.
This argument is often very unfair as it assumes that just because someone once did something bad, they are always to blame for every other crime or misdemeanour.
10. Loaded question
In this fallacy, a question is asked in such a way that it leads the conversation in a certain direction.
For example, ‘Why do you think the iPhone is the best phone ever?’ More seriously, it’s the kind of question that judges often object to in court.
Politicians and journalist sometimes use this fallacy. For example, if a new law may make changes to some people’s lives, an opposing politician might say “So, are you always in favor of the government controlling our lives?”
So, remember this list so that, next time someone tries to argue with you by using logical fallacies, you can put them straight.
I’m not guaranteeing that you will win every argument, but at least you won’t lose due to unfair tactics. It will also help you to make stronger arguments yourself if you never resort to using logical fallacies.