Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nine Newly-Discovered Logical Fallacies

As I grew up, I learned what was logical and what wasn't, but I didn't really know any of the particular names of the fallacies themselves. This trend changed a couple years ago, when my Mom got a book called "The Fallacy Detective" to teach my siblings the different types of formal logical fallacies, and I got a change to read it just for fun. It's a very good book, by the way, complete with little comic strip illustrations. I was very happy to know the fallacies because, up to that point, when someone would try to prove something that didn't make sense, I was limited to saying "that's not logical." Now I can say a bit more illuminating, like "that's a red herring!" It's helpful to the conversation because if you simply reply to someone that they are not being logical, they will disagree. On the other hand, if you point out exactly what logical fallacy you claim they are using, you both can figure out objectively whether the accusation stands or falls, and the conversation actually gets somewhere.

First, I wanted to outline about 29 of the most well-known logical fallacies, but I realized that that would be a bit long for a note, and so instead I am including a link to this site:
Logical Fallacies
That site lists most of the usual fallacies people use, and if you click of the name of the fallacy, it gives you an explanation of what exactly it is. If you are unfamiliar with logical fallacies, I would recommend perusing that site. However, I was disappointed that the site did not include a description of the "special pleading" fallacy, and so here is another link which will explain that one in particular: Fallacy Files

This all brings me to the point of this particular blog. Now, over the years, I've also come across types of logical fallacies that people use now and then to prove a point that are not officially recognized. There are, of course, thousands of ways to be illogical, and it would be foolish to try to come up with a name for every single type of logical fallacy, but the more prevalent a fallacy is, the more helpful it is to have a name and explanation for it. While talking with my brothers, debating with them, and discussing other debated with them, I came up with a list of nine more tactics which are commonly used and that we think should really be named, have definitions, and be well-known as fallacious arguments. If nothing else, they are pretty interesting, and fun to spot in real life.

What's wrong with this picture?

The "If Only" Fallacy:
1 - Y happened, and X happened
2 - Y wouldn't have happened if X had not happened
3 - Therefore, Y caused X

This fallacy is often used in real life to assign responsibility or blame, but it's clearly not logical. Y did not necessarily cause X, even though it was the trigger or determinant of the situation. For example:
1 - You said that I was wrong, and I hit you
2 - If you hadn't said I was wrong, I wouldn't have hit you
3 - Therefore, you made me hit you

I actually wrote a whole blog about this fallacy: here's a link if you wish to read it:
If Only

Chip/Milk Equivocation:
You may have heard of the normal equivocation fallacy, which is to switch the meaning of the word in the middle of an argument. "That's cool!" "No, it's warm, it just came out of the oven." The person has proven that it's not cold "cool" but has not proven that it's not awesome "cool." That type of equivocation relies on having a word that can mean more than one thing. On the other hand, "chip/milk" equivocation is equivocating two different words that still do not mean the same thing.
1 - (Underlying assumption that Chips are the same as Milk)
2 - You have chips.
3 - Therefore, you have milk.

How is this used in real life? It happens all the time, in a multitude of situations where a person thinks that two things are the same, when really they are not.
1 - (Goth is the same as Emo)
2 - You are Goth
3 - Therefore, you are Emo

Or, something I come across more often:
1 - (True total sovereignty is the same as decreeing every last detail)
2 - You believe that God does not decree sin
3 - Therefore, you are trying to deny that God is sovereign!

Perspective Fallacy:
1 - Subjectively, X is true.
2 - Therefore, objectively, X is true.

This topic came up when Mom said that my brother was being too loud, and he said that she was wrong. Generally, "too loud," "too soft," "too hot," "too cold," and the like are all pretty subjective. Mom was correct that my brother was being too loud, because although the level of noise he was making was moderate, she was on the phone and had already asked him to be quiet for a few minutes. In refusing to be quiet and maintaining a level of noise that made it hard for her to hear the other person, he was being, in her subjective opinion, "too loud."

Here's the fallacy my brother followed:
1 - In his subjective experience, the level of noise he was creating was pretty normal, and not usually considered by most to be overly loud. To him, it was not too loud.
2 - Therefore, objectively, it was not too loud, and Mom was wrong in labeling it "too loud."

How can this be used in serious discussions? For one thing, I see it often used when people try to understand God based on their subjective view of what perfection is.
Given - God is good
1 - From my point of view, God would not be good if He sent people to hell
2 - Therefore, God, being good, does not send people to hell

You can see that it would make sense that if good objectively could not include sending people to hell, and if God is good, then we could conclude that God does not send people to hell. The mistake is made when the person mistakes what they subjectively perceive as good for objective good.

Strongman Fallacy:
1 - If A and B are true, then C is true
2 - A is true, and B is true
3 - Therefore, C is true

As you can probably tell, that is actually logical. What is the problem with this train of thought? There isn't a problem with it. You commit the "Strongman fallacy" by being too logical. That is, by being more logical than your opponent would like you to be. But since, until now, there has been a name for this fallacy, no one will say to you "You just used the Strongman Fallacy!" Rather, they will say something like "you're being overly logical," or "you are relying too much on human logic."

It's not actually a fallacy, but people treat it like it is. So I gave it a name.
Example of Strongman Fallacy:
Person A: God cannot be self-contradictory. He cannot be sinless and sinful at the same time.
Person B: Yes He could. His ways are mysterious to us. We cannot ever hope to understand them with our puny human logic.

The Fluff Fallacy:
1 - I am arguing that 2 X + 4 - ab = 2Y + 4 - ab
2 - I am not arguing that X = Y

As you can see, those two statements contradict each other. The reason for using such a fallacy is to avoid being proven wrong.

Example: (Given that X=4, and Y=9)
Tom: X plus 4 is the same as Y plus 4.
Tim: So you're telling me that 4 is 9
Tom: No of course not! That would be stupid!
Tim: But you said that X is Y!
Tom: No I didn't. I said that X plus 4 is the same as Y plus 4!
Tim: Dude. That's the same thing as saying that X is equal to Y!
Tom: You are strawmanning my position! I never claimed that X equals Y.

The Fluff Fallacy is when a person dresses up a simple argument in so much verbal "fluff" that the argument cannot be proven or disproven, and refuses to simplify his argument to the point where it would be possible to test it's accuracy. This is very possible and easy to do if you know a lot of long words that others don't know - using the fluff argument, a person can sound super-intelligent and make claims that no one else can disprove, even without putting forward any truth.

The Little-Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf Fallacy
1 - I disagree with you
2 - Therefore, you've committed a logical fallacy

Basically, this fallacy is just when a person keeps claiming that other people are using fallacies that the other people are not really using.
Tom: X plus 4 is Y plus 4
Tim: So you're saying that X is Y.
Tom: No! That is a strawman fallacy! You are misrepresenting my position!

Tom: I think that all girls only like guys with blond hair
Suzy: That can't be true, because I like guys with brown hair.
Tom: That's a red herring! Completely irrelevant!

Tom: You beat up Paul earlier. I know because he told me so.
Tim: But you know that Paul is notorious for lying!
Tom: That's an Ad Hominem attack! Just because he isn't perfect does not mean that his theory is incorrect!

After reading that, you can probably start to tell why I named this fallacy after the little boy who cried wolf...

Argument by Lack of Argument:
1 - (I do not bring up a point, or else my point is successfully debunked)
2 - I claim that I've already proven that point

This fallacy is surprisingly common in internet debates. Every so often, when you question a point, they will claim that they're "already proven" something which they never actually addresses previously. And without a lot of searching, it's hard to prove them wrong. The best you can usually do is to call their bluff and say something like "Oh really? Where did you prove that? Link please?"

UserName1220 - Choices are hard, but I am glad that we have free choice
Some1Else - You're just going in circles. I've already proven that free choice doesn't exist

A Double Standard of Evidence:
1 - For your point to stand, you must prove it true, and also prove my point of view false.
2 - For my point to stand, I do not need to offer any proof for it, or even prove your point of view false. I only need to show that any evidence against my argument might possibly be inconclusive

Guy: The government watches our every move. Even now. They are tape recording this conversation.
Girl: There's no reason to believe that
Guy: No, there is reason. I've read about them online!
Girl: The web doesn't give only true information, you know
Guy: You haven't proven that it's false information
Girl: I know this house like the back of my hand, and I've never found any hidden cameras or bugging devices
Guy: Well of course if they bug your house, they won't want to you find out about it!
Girl: You have no proof that they are watching us like that!
Guy: See, you're just proving me right because you've come up with every argument against it, and none disproves it! You're just ignoring the obvious conclusion because that's not what you want to believe.

The Bluff Argument:
Premise - If A and B are true, then C is true
Version A:
1 - A is true
2 - B is true
3 - Therefore, Y is true!

Version B:
1 - A is shown false
2 - B is shown false
3 - Therefore, C is true!

As you can see, in both cases, 3 does not logically follow 1 and 2.

Simple examples:
1 - Brownies taste good
2 - You have to bake brownies
3 - Therefore, cake is not as good as brownies

Person: Eating a lot of chocolate every day will make it less likely for you to get sick
Person2: That's not what medical studies have shown...
Person: Also also, baking things gets rid of anything in them that could effect you negatively, similar to sterilizing needles
Person3: Actually, a lot of things that may not be good for you, like sugar, survive heat just fine
Person: And therefore, as you can all clearly see, we should all be eating more brownies!

You may think these arguments so ridiculous that they could never be taken seriously in real life, but you might be surprised! I've seen version B uses in debates between presidential candidates, or even used to win points and votes in the board game of "argue." One real life example that comes to mind is this one time when a particular fellow was trying to persuade people to reject the idea of free will/free choice.

He put forward that:
1 - According to Scripture, you and I do not have free will, and do not determine or make our own choices and decisions
2 - Those who teach that we do really make choices are teaching lies (that they know people want to believe)
3 - Therefore, "it is up to you, and it is up to me to choose to follow the truth" instead of following the lie of free will!

As you can see, the Bluff argument can go so far as to contradict itself. (IE We cannot make choices, and we must choose to believe that) The intriguing thing about the situation was that, among the perhaps 25 people listening to that lecture, I was the only one who noticed the inconsistency: the conclusion did not follow, and in fact contradicted the previous points established. Most everyone else bought into it. It's a powerful logical fallacy, apparently.