Logic 101: Identifying Fallacies Willy-Nilly : Part I Redux

*I accidentally combined two sections in my previous post on logical fallacies – sections that were to be stand-alone. Here is the corrected Part I.*

For some, a course in logic is a breath of fresh air. With public education trending away from classic areas of study, most students today lack even a basic working knowledge of logic. In such cases, these students are generally left on their own when it comes to supporting their views and analyzing competing truth claims. When such a person comes across a course devoted to the study of logic, some find the course to be an expression of what previously had been instinctual. Indeed, such a response is healthy; however, there are those who, upon completing an introductory course or two, make no effort to pursue an in-depth study on argumentation. Instead, they view the introductory course in logic as sufficient in itself. Armed with the basics of logic, such people seek to conquer and vanquish fallacious arguments with the gusto and air of a skilled and experienced logician. Upon claiming victory over a fallacious argument, the victor advances forward in search for the next victim, leaving in his wake the destruction of annihilated premises and conclusions with nothing to show by way of rebuilding and advancing better arguments.

Indeed, the scenario just given is not indicative of all intro-level logic students. It does highlight, however, a danger one must avoid upon completing this course, particularly this chapter on informal fallacies. Too often when arguments are found to be fallacious, such claims are misdiagnosed or left uncorrected. In this post, I will discussed incorrectly identified fallacies.

Incorrectly identified fallacies.

God created humankind as complex beings. We are more than rational beings – we are moved by emotions and driven by our will. When a conflict arises, the desire “to be logical” and to have a “reasonable conversation” is generally met with frustration and defeat. Instead, emotions generally carry the force of the argument with both sides becoming further entrenched in their respective claims. In the heat of intense arguments, a common error that occurs is to charge the opposing party of committing a fallacy when in fact no such fallacy exists.

The reasons for incorrectly diagnosing fallacies are as numerous and complex as the people that commit such an error. Nevertheless, some general reasons can be given. First, intense emotion can indeed cloud one’s thinking such that they are unable to clearly and thoroughly. In such a situation, the quickest recourse—and the easiest—one has is to label the opposition as fallacious.

In arguments where emotion does not play a significant role, one can incorrectly charge an argument as fallacious because they do not have an answer to the opposing truth claim. There are times when one encounters a formidable foe that is more knowledgeable and experienced in the issue at hand. When faced with such opposition, the well from which one can draw is insufficient to adequately answer the charge. Though the opponent is clearly wrong in their conclusion, the inexperienced person can only mislabel the argument as fallacious.

Lastly, the reason why one can incorrectly diagnose a fallacy is due to intellectual laziness. Making sure that one correctly understands the intent and purpose behind an opposing argument takes time, and addressing the issue takes time and effort. In a day and age of quick-hitting responses and one-upmanship, it’s easier to appeal to a fallacy, only to move on to advance one’s own answer lest the opposition gain a foothold.

Regardless of the reason for an incorrect diagnosis of a fallacy, it should be apparent that little is accomplished in such an approach. The opposing argument may indeed be incorrect, but to cry foul without investigating the true, underlying issue is for one to advance one’s own fallacious argument.

In an upcoming post, I will address the problem of identifying – but not correcting – logical fallacies.

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