Among popular items like gifographics, quizzes, and SlideShare presentations, one emerging format is the opinion or “rant” article.
“Being passionate and knowledgeable about a popular topic is a great starting point for a credible opinion piece,” he said. “The clearer and more unique your position is, the more likely it’ll be read and shared.”
This got me thinking (and tapped into my inner philosophy geek) — if you’re writing an opinion or rant piece, you’re likely making some type of argument, right? If so, you’ll want to make sure that argument has solid footing. Beyond making sure it’s valid and/or sound, there are also some common logical fallacies* that even the smartest of smartie-pants can fall victim to.
So before you set out to blog the greatest argument that was ever blogged, give it an audit to avoid these traps. Then, go blow people’s minds.
Attacking the person making the argument rather than the argument itself. For example, if someone who believes in UFOs won’t listen to a skeptic’s point of view because they deem them “close minded.” Personal attacks themselves don’t necessarily qualify — an argument is ad hominem only if the personal attack is being used to try to discredit someone else’s argument.
Appeal To Authority
Saying something is true because a person of authority claims it to be. This is especially problematic when the person is not an authority on the subject at hand.
Appeal To Common Belief
Arguing that because most or all of a group of people believe that something is true, it is. We can easily find countless examples of this in history that prove this is a dangerous way to think. After all, it was a relatively short time ago that everyone believed Earth was flat!
Argument From Final Consequences
Working backwards and arguing an effect based on a cause, without proper evidence that they are tied together. An example of this would be arguing that because you got sick after eating a piece of sushi, the sushi is what made you sick. I mean, it probably did, but you’ve got to have proof!
Begging The Question
This term is often used incorrectly as a way to say that something triggers a question to be asked. What “begging the question” actually refers to is when a conclusion is assumed in one of the argument’s premises. For instance, saying that everyone is buying a certain toy because it’s the “hottest toy of the season.” This is a form of circular reasoning.
Burden Of Proof
Claiming that because something can’t be disproved, it must be true. Or rather, when a lack of evidence for one side of an argument is taken as evidence for the other side.
Assuming that because something is true for one part of a whole, it is also true for all other parts, or the whole itself. For instance, thinking that because atoms are invisible and human beings are made up of atoms, human beings are invisible as well.
I think we’re all guilty of this one, if only because it helps us feel we can make a little more sense of the world. It means that because something happened often during a period of time, it will happen less often in the future, or vice versa. Like a gambler thinking that because he’s lost 15 times in a row, he’s bound to start winning (hey, they named it the Gambler’s Fallacy for a reason).
Here, “genetic” refers to history or origin as well as DNA. It’s like an ad hominem argument in that it focuses on someone or something’s origins to attack them/it.
No True Scotsman
The name of this fallacy comes from the example itself. That being that, if someone says that all Scotsman are brave and someone counters with an example of a cowardly Scotsman, that first person might say they are “not a true Scotsman” then. It attempts to include a conclusion about something in the definition of the word itself.
A red herring is a diversion tactic where someone will redirect an argument to another issue which they can better respond to. Say that someone claims the levels of mercury in seafood is unsafe, and that person responds with the question of how fisherman will support their families without the fishing industry — there's your red herring.
The idea that if we accept one thing, we have to then accept its most extreme version or consequences. This is often used to sensationalize a point and generate fear around it.
This is when someone misrepresents, oversimplifies, exaggerates, or twists an argument to make it easier to attack. For instance, if someone says that more government funds should be put into schools and another person responds by saying they must not care about the safety of their country if they think it should cut military spending.
Tu quoque literally translates to “you also.” This fallacy occurs when someone answers criticism with criticism, trying to justify their wrongness by comparing it to someone else’s.
I know there are a bunch that I'm missing here! Feel free to add more in the comments. :)
*Thanks to Purdue University, yourlogicalfallacyis.com, Logically Fallacious, and The Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe for refreshing my memory (and providing examples)! My university years were a depressingly long time ago.