Logical Fallacies Help (page 3)
Introduction to Logical Fallacies
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
—Albert Einstein, German theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner (1879–1955)
Some forms of logical fallacies are tougher to recognize than others because they seem logical. This lesson will help you spot several common fallacies, including circular reasoning and two wrongs make a right.
"Either you're with us or you're against us. Which is it?" Have you ever been put on the spot like this before, where you were forced to decide between two contradictory options? Chances are you have. But chances are you also had more choices than you thought.
Logical fallacies come in many forms. The last lesson covered the false reasoning that appeals to your emotions rather than to your sense of logic. This lesson will examine four logical fallacies that are sometimes a little harder to detect because they don't appeal to your emotions. As a result, they may seemlogical even though they aren't. These types of fallacies are called impostors. Four types will be covered in this lesson, including no inbetweens, slippery slope, circular reasoning, and two wrongs make a right.
No in-betweens (also called false dilemma) is a logical fallacy that aims to convince you that there are only two choices: X and Y, and nothing in between. The "logic" behind this fallacy is that if you think there are only two choices, then you won't stop to consider other possibilities. The arguer hopes that you will therefore be more likely to accept his or her conclusion.
For example, imagine that a husband and wife are planning a vacation to Hawaii. The husband says to his wife, "Either we stay for a whole week or we don't go at all." He gives no good reason for the seven-day minimum he is imposing, and it's obvious that he's using the no in-betweens tactic. By presenting his wife with only these two extremes, he forces her into the decision he wants. How could someone say no to a week in Hawaii when the alternative is no time at all in Hawaii?
It is important to remember that there are very few situations in which there are only two options. There are almost always other choices.
Have you ever heard someone accuse another person of only seeing "in black and white"? That usually refers to someone who sees things in extremes with no "gray" areas in between. As you're finding out, however, there are a lot of "gray" areas in every issue and it's essential that you keep those in mind.
If scientists are allowed to experiment with cloning humans, next thing you know, they'll be mass producing people on assembly lines.
Well, maybe. But probably not, and definitely not for certain. This type of logical fallacy—often called slippery slope—presents an if/then scenario. It argues that if X happens, then Y will follow. This "next thing you know" argument has one major flaw, however: X doesn't necessarily lead to Y. When you hear someone make a claim in this format, you need to use your critical thinking and reasoning skills. You need to carefully consider whether or not there's a logical relationship between X and Y.
If scientists were to experiment with cloning human beings, for example, does that necessarily mean that humans would be mass produced on production lines? Definitely not. First of all, it may prove impossible to clone humans. Second, if it is possible, it's a long way from the production of a single clone to assembly-line production of clones. And third, if assembly-line cloning is possible, it may even be forbidden. So, though the thought of mass-produced human beings is frightening, it's not logical to restrict experiments because we're afraid of consequences that may not happen. More logical reasons need to be presented to justify limiting that kind of experimentation.
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.
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.
Logical Fallacies In Short
Logical fallacies can appear to be logical; to avoid falling into their traps, you need to be on the lookout for false reasoning. The no in-betweens fallacy tries to convince you that there are only two choices when in reality, there are many options. The slippery slope fallacy tries to convince you that if you do X, then Y will follow—but in reality, X doesn't necessarily lead to Y. Circular reasoning is an argument that goes in a circle—the conclusion and premise say essentially the same thing. Finally, two wrongs make a right claims that it is OK to do something to someone else because someone else might do that same thing to you.
Skill Building until Next Time
- Each of the logical fallacies discussed in this lesson is very common. Listen for them throughout the day. Again, these fallacies are the kind you might see in various sitcoms, so look for them even when you're watching television.
- Think about something that you want someone to do for you. Come up with reasons based on the logical fallacies you learned in this lesson for that person to say yes. Then think of several good, logical reasons. Those are the reasons you should use when trying to convince someone of something.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Logical Fallacies Practice.
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