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Logical Fallacies Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Circular Reasoning

You're in a meeting when you decide to bring up what you think is an important issue. When you're finished, your boss turns to you and says, "Well, that's not important."

      "Why not?" you ask.
      "Because it just doesn't matter," he replies.

Your boss has just committed a very common logical fallacy called circular reasoning (also known as begging the question). Circular reasoning is a very appropriate name, because that's what this false logic does: It goes in a circle. Notice how your boss's argument doubles back on itself. In other words, his conclusion and premise say essentially the same thing:

    Conclusion:   That's not important.
    Premise:   It doesn't matter.

Instead of progressing logically from conclusion to evidence, the argument gets stuck at the conclusion. Like a dog chasing its tail, it goes nowhere. Here's another example:

You know that's not good for you; it isn't healthy.

Notice how the premise, "it isn't healthy," is no support for the conclusion, "that's not good for you"—rather, it simply restates it. Again, the argument goes nowhere.

Circular reasoning can be particularly tricky because a conclusion that doubles back on itself often sounds strong. That is, by restating the conclusion, you reinforce the idea that you're trying to convey. But you're not offering any logical reasons to accept that argument. When you hear someone make a claim that follows this format, look for a logical premise to support the conclusion—you probably won't find one.

Tip

There's an expression some people use called a "Catch-22". It came from the name of a book that came out decades ago but it refers to a type of circular reasoning. It just keeps going around and around without a real beginning or ending.

Two Wrongs Make a Right

Your friend has been having problems with her boyfriend. "What happened?" you ask.

"Well, he found out I went to Marco's party without him," she replies.

"Why did you do that?"

"He told Mary that he might go to Josie's party without me. So why can't I go to a party without him?"

It's time to have a talk with your friend. What she's saying here may seem to be logical, but, as with the other fallacies, it's not—the conclusion she draws doesn't come from good reasoning. Your friend has fallen victim to the "two wrongs make a right" fallacy.

The two wrongs make a right fallacy assumes that it's OK for you to do something to someone else because someone else might do that same thing to you. But two wrongs don't make a right, especially when you're talking about mights. If your friend's boyfriend might go to the party without her, does that make it okay that she already went to a party without him? Of course not.

Don't get this fallacy confused with the eye for an eye mentality. The two wrongs logical fallacy is not about getting even. It's about getting an edge. In an eye for an eye, you do something to someone because that person has already done it to you. But two wrongs make a right argues that you can do something simply because someone else might do it to you. And that's neither logical nor fair.

To show you how illogical this fallacy is, imagine the following scenario. You are walking home alone late at night. As you turn onto your street, you notice a man walking toward you. Although he gives no indication that he has any bad intentions, you clutch the canister of mace in your pocket. Just as you are about to cross paths, you decide—just to be on the safe side—to spray this stranger in the eyes. After all, you think, "What if he was planning to mug me? I better get him first."

As you can see, this approach is neither logical nor fair. It can also create a dangerous situation out of a perfectly normal one. Two wrongs that are built on a maybe—even a probably—don't make a right.

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