Defined as common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument, fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points. They are often identified because they lack evidence to support their claims.
Social media is full of fallacious arguments. Hasty generalizations abound and are reinforced by small mobile keyboards. Typing on the go doesn’t lend itself to well-reasoned arguments, so this is probably the one I see most often. I’ll admit, I catch myself making generalizations because it’s easy and convenient.
I’ve seen the Slippery Slope fallacy quite a bit in the context of this year’s American Presidential election. This is a conclusion based on the premise that if A happens, then eventually through a series of small steps, through B, C,…, X, Y, Z will happen, too. The person using the ‘slippery slope’ fallacy is equating A and Z. So, if we don’t want Z to occur, A must not be allowed to happen either.
Example: If you don’t want fascism, you have to vote for Clinton because Trump is a fascist.
In this example, the idea that every branch of government and every American will abandon the constitution and the rule of law to fall in line with one of the most reviled candidates in American history seems completely far-fetched. I admit he’s said some incredibly fascistic things to target racial and religious minority groups. But candidate comments and actions of incumbents never overlap so neatly, and the truth is, no one knows what any candidate will do once he or she is in office.
I see ‘Circular Arguments’ on social media quite often as well. This fallacy restates the argument rather than proving it. A good example might be: people are poor because they don’t have any money.
In this example, the conclusion that “people are poor” and the evidence used to prove it “they don’t have any money” are the same idea. Concrete evidence such as using everyday language, breaking down complex problems, or illustrating points with humorous stories would be needed to prove either half of the sentence.
Fallacies that bug me the most
One of the fallacies that I see all the time online is the Ad Hominem Attack. It is a Latin phrase that means “against the man”. As the name suggests, it involves commenting on or against an opponent to undermine them instead of their arguments.
The Ad hominem fallacy is an attack on the character of a person rather than his or her opinions or arguments. I see this in the comments where a friend-of-a-friend or an old classmate is posting back and forth with a new friend or something. Anything that falls under the category of ‘personal abuse’ ‘personal attack’ or something that feels like bullying, usually falls under this category.
Example: “How can you say that vegetarianism is healthy when you are enjoying your steak?”
This example clearly shows how a person’s activity of eating a steak is attacked directly while the idea that vegetarianism may or may not be healthy is instead completely ignored.
The other fallacy that bugs me most often is the “Straw Man Argument.”
This is when someone gives the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument. But actually, they are refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent. The thing they are denying is almost always an oversimplification, easily knocked down by their hollow argument.
Maybe you’ve seen this a lot as well. Someone might say, “well if you believe X then Y and Y is stupid.” or “But x is just a new twist on Y and Y is wrong.”
In these two examples, the person is attacking Y which is something no one else ever mentioned. It was never put forth as an option, and that is what the person is trying to knock down. It’s often something tangential or weakly connected.
More Fallacious arguments to explore
Avoid these common fallacies in your arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others. Check out this cool website for that explores 300+ fallacies of logic.
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