Logical Fallacies: Fallacies Of Relevance

Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that can invalidate an otherwise good discussion or formal argument or debate. A formal fallacy is an error in the form in which you present your argument. You may be correct in what you say but it is out of order and therefore sounds like nonsense. An informal fallacy is an error in what you are actually saying. The structure is correct but the premises are off.

Logical fallacies can fall into one of four catagories: Fallacies of Relevance, Fallacies of Omission, Fallacies of Ambiguity, and Component Fallacies. Fallacies of Relevance have to do with examples or appeals to evidence or people who are not relevant to the argument. Fallacies of Omission are due to important or necessary information being left out of an argument. Fallacies of Ambiguity happen when the meaning of words or phrases change throughout the discussion.

This starts a series of episode on logical fallacies. In each episode we’ll discuss a different group of fallacies. The episodes will not be sequential but we will go through all four groups of fallacies by the end of the year. 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.

This group of fallacies have to do with using examples that are not relevant to the argument or appealing to evidence not associated with the premises or conclusion.

Episode Breakdown

Argumentum Ad Baculum

This is more commonly known as the “Appeal to Force” or the “Might-Makes-Right” Fallacy. The argument uses some sort of threat or actual violence or force to coerce the other party into accepting a certain conclusion. The threat may not be of a physical nature, it could include financial or professional consequences such as threatening someone with loss of a job or poor grades if they do not agree with you. This is a tough one to overcome because typically the person using this fallacy has some authority, you will have to either call their bluff or appeal to a higher authority.

Argumentum Ad Verecundium

The literal translation of this means “argument from that which is improper”, it is also called “Appeal to Improper Authority.” This fallacy attempts to use existing respect or positive feelings for a person and set them up as an authority on a subject based solely on that. Appealing to authority isn’t always a fallacy, it’s when that person is not an authority on the subject or when you rely too heavily on the opinion of a few people. A sub-fallacy is Appeal to Biased Authority, which happens when the person is an authority but may have some reason to be biased about a certain view. To address this fallacy, ask for credentials on why that person is an authority on the subject.

Argumentum ad Populum

Also known as the “Bandwagon Fallacy”, translated this means “Argument to the People”. In this fallacy an argument is assumed to be correct because a significant amount of other people agree with it. The patriotic variation of this fallacy states that a belief is true because it is somehow more patriotic than it’s opposition. Another variation, the snob, asserts that one is better or in a group of betters by accepting the argument. This fallacy plays on emotions and needs to be directly called out, many popular opinions turn out to be incorrect given time. Popularity is not an indicator of truth.

Argumentum Ad Traditionem

Also known as Argumentum Ad Antiquitatem, this fallacy is an “Appeal to Tradition”. The premise of the argument is true because people have always believed it to be true. You might see this at work in the form of, “Well it’s always worked this way so we should keep it the same” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While this may seem common sense to some it doesn’t address the question of other possibly better solutions that have yet to be tried. Overcoming tradition can be extremely difficult, it requires more evidence than you think you’ll need and a bit of patience to allow the other party to see the results.into doubt?

Argumentum Ad Misericordiam

The Appeal to Emotion or translated the “argument from pity” or “argument to compassion”. Emotion can be used to motivate or rile people up, but it is not a premise or support for a logical argument. An emotional state, while important in personal situations, is not relevant when discerning the truth or falsity of an argument. Like the previous fallacy, appeals to emotion need to be called out directly for what they are.

Argumentum Ad Hominem

The “Personal Attack” or “Poisoning the Well” fallacy which translated means “argument toward the man.” This is an insult disguised as evidence for an argument. The Tu Quoque or “you also” fallacy attacks the person making the argument instead of the argument itself. When personal attacks come out the logical side of the argument or discussion is over, it’s best to walk away at this point.

Argument from Personal Incredulity

The “I don’t understand it so it must be wrong” fallacy. Personal Incredulity is the assertion that the argument is false because you do not understand the argument or the evidence behind it. This fallacy is commonly used to invalidate evidence by stating that it cannot be used to support the argument because the person doesn’t understand it. Whether a person understands something is not relevant to the truth of the matter, however convincing them of it may require patient explanation of how the thing works.

Tricks of the Trade

Having goals will help you get through turbulent times. A ship sailing toward something has a better chance of getting through a storm than one that just sits at anchor (presuming they aren’t going straight into danger). People are very similar. If the present chaos and disruption is damaging your mood, you might try looking at your goals again. Revising them may help you a lot.

Editor’s Notes:

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