Logical Fallacies: Component Fallacies

Component fallacies are considered formal fallacies because they have to do with the form of the argument. You may be correct in what you say but it is out of order and therefore sounds like nonsense. This group of fallacies have to do with errors in reasoning. This may be inductive or deductive reasoning.

This part two in a series of episode on logical fallacies. A few weeks ago we discussed Fallacies of Relevance. There are a lot of logical fallacies out there, enough to have entire college classes on them. These episodes will only cover a few of the more common ones in each category.

You are going to run into logical fallacies all the time, especially in informal conversations with friends or on social media. It’s important to understand that fallacies are faults in the logic of an argument. Because what someone says contains fallacies, that does not mean they are not correct, it just means their particular argument didn’t prove them correct. Keep that in mind and be lenient on those who may commit the fallacies. Use the knowledge here to better your own use of logic when arguing your point.

Episode Breakdown

Petitio Principii

The Fallacy of Presumption or Begging the Question is also known as assuming the conclusion. This happens when the conclusion to the argument is used as part of the premise for that same argument. Sometimes the term “begging the question” is used in ways other than in relation to the Fallacy of Presumption such as when someone means “raising the question”. Circular Reasoning is a form of Begging the Question where the argument repeats what has already been assumed instead of arriving at a conclusion. These are really not arguments but instead restatements of the same thing to look like a logical argument.

Ignorantio Elenchi

Also known as the Irrelevant Conclusion Fallacy, this happens when the argument leads to one conclusion but that is used to prove a different unrelated conclusion. The insidious nature of this fallacy appears when the irrelevant conclusion is tangentially related to the topic of the argument but not directly related to the argument at hand. The most well known type of irrelevant conclusion fallacy is the Red Herring. This is a distraction technique that appears to be relevant but is not on-topic. You may see this when considering Javascript frameworks, the argument may be made that you need a solid user experience. That however does not address the issue of which is best for your purposes and if the ones being considered will provide it. This may be tricky to decipher as topics may appear irrelevant but then tie back into the main conversation. If confused ask for clarification as to how this side topic relates to the discussion at hand.

Dicto Simpliciter

Hasty Generalization are also known as “Jumping to Conclusions” and “Converse Accident”. This is a failure of inductive reasoning where there are not enough samples to prove a point. It’s normal and natural to generalize, the problem comes when there is an insignificant amount of evidence for the generalization or it is take beyond the constraints of the evidence. Many times you’ll see this in the “we tried that a few years ago and it didn’t work” argument. This can be a difficult one to overcome because what is considered sufficient varies depending on the circumstances.

Non Causa Pro Causa

Literally translated meaning “not the cause, for a cause”, the False Cause Fallacy occurs when the conclusion comes before there is enough evidence for the conclusion. This tends to happen when the person making this fallacy wants the conclusion to come from a particular cause because it fits into their own narrative or argument. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (Post Hoc for short) means “after this, therefore because of this” and is an error in logic that assumes a causal relationship because of temporal proximity. You’ll see this in debugging a lot, especially when working with QA who are not themselves developers. “Correlation does not equal causation” is that mantra for overcoming this fallacy.

Non Sequitur

This literally translates to “It does not follow” and happens when an argument doesn’t make sense from the premises given. The middle step or steps in an argument are left out in this fallacy. The “Slippery Slope” Fallacy is a type of non sequitur that states once the premises of a benign conclusion are met it will set into motion events that will lead to a catastrophic conclusion. You may see this when trying to maintain remote work post COVID, “If we let developers work from home they won’t have to dress up for work and therefore will slack off in other areas leading to a break down in the entire development process.” To combat this ask the person using this fallacy to fill in the missing pieces that lead to their conclusion. If they are able to do so without sounding ridiculous you will see into their thought process and then address the middle areas in the argument with counter points.

Straw Man Argument

Instead of attacking the actual argument the straw man fallacy attacks an oversimplified misrepresentation of the argument. The term comes from using a “straw man” or scarecrow as a training dummy when learning combat because the straw man cannot fight back. This can be used as a literary device to get the core concepts of a philosophy across without confusing the reader with deeper conversations. Your likely to see this a lot in forums or even in conversation when the topic of preferred language/framework/OS comes up. Most of the time this fallacy occurs because the person making it doesn’t realize they are oversimplifying or they have a misunderstanding of the opposing side.

Either/Or Fallacy

Also called “the Black-and-White Fallacy,” “False Dilemma,” or “False Dichotomy,” this fallacy limits the options to only two when there are others to choose from. It oversimplifies complex issues into terms of two opposing sides, usually implying that one is right and the other is wrong. These are only fallacious when there are more than two actual options. If the dilemma based argument only has two options then it is not a fallacy. This is another one you’re likely to see in forums and discussions about languages/frameworks/etc, people like to view things as us vs them. False dilemmas are a polarizing tool used to limit options and make one side look better than the other.

Tricks of the Trade

Don’t confuse the message with the messenger.

Editor’s Notes:

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