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Logical fallacies

July 9, 2010

I’ve been wanting to write about how the left’s arguments are full of logical fallacies for some time. I remember learning debate in speech class and there was a list of some half-dozen or so common logic fallacies commonly used in debate. I couldn’t quite remember what they all were, so I looked up the term “logical fallacies” and I was quite surprised at just how many there are. A really good, concise site is Logical Fallacies and of course Wikipedia has a list of fallacies as well. I used these sites as reference for what follows.

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of fallacies, I thought I’d present just a few common ones. I recommend going to those sites for more types and examples. Remember, the majority of politicians these days are lawyers and lawyers are taught to debate. They may commit any number of logical fallacies and if the opponent in the debate does not point it out, it stands. As Logical Fallacies points out:

Fallacious reasoning keeps us from knowing the truth, and the inability to think critically makes us vulnerable to manipulation by those skilled in the art of rhetoric.

We can lay aside the more formal deductive reasoning errors for the more interesting informal fallacies because we hear a lot of that in political discourse. There are three general types: fallacies of relevance, ambiguity, and presumption. I’ll give some examples of relevance.

One common fallacy of relevance is the ad hominum attack: attacking the person instead of the argument. The perfect example of this is the left attacking Sarah Palin personally because rather than her beliefs. Alinsky takes this further in advocating making fun of someone so that nothing that person says will be believed. They also try this with Glenn Beck and with the Tea Party movement in general. Once you know the game, it’s over: the more they attack someone, the more right that person must be.

Another is the bandwagon fallacy. The mere fact that an idea (or person) suddenly attracts adherents is given as a reason for us to join in with the trend and become adherents of the idea ourselves. Barack Obama’s cult of personality worked in this way. Fueled by social networking tools such as Facebook, it became “cool” to support him. Why? Because your friends did. His real persona and past were–and are–carefully hidden. But as he began to have a track record in public office, his popularity dropped faster than any previous president.

There are many irrelevant appeals as well. An appeal to authority is an argument from the fact that a person judged to be an authority affirms a proposition to the claim that the proposition is true. Since we assume our presidents to be truthful, we expect that when Barack Obama says that the Statue of Liberty was purchased by Americans donating small amounts of money, we assume it to be true. We would be wrong.

An appeal to fear is a specific type of appeal to emotion–an irrelevant appeal sometimes classed as a red herring. This is as much a debating tactic to distract the opponent (or the listener) as it is a fallacy of logic. In the appeal to fear, an argument is made by increasing fear and prejudice towards the opposing side. Examples of this include the classic Democrat strategy of telling the elderly that if they vote for Republicans, they will lose their Social Security or telling legal immigrants that they will be deported if the Republicans win. The left is masterful at playing on emotions. Conservatives are not exempt from this tactic either.

How do you avoid falling into logical traps? It can be challenging. Read, study, listen carefully. Look for the traps and apply what you know to be true. With a good internal moral compass you cannot be led astray.

  1. July 11, 2010 2:33 pm

    I fail to see how “logical fallacies” is isolated to the “left.” You talk of ad hominem attacks as if they are the sole province of the “left” which is in itself a “logical fallacy.” One only needs a cursory look at the past smears by the likes of cheeney and Karl Rove, not to mention Glenn Beck, Coulter, Hannity and their attacks on Al Gore to see that ad hominem attacks are widely engaged in by the conservative side. Sure there are ad hominem attacks across the board and one must be able to recognize them and throw them out, but it is a very weak argument to state that it is only engaged in by the “left.”

  2. July 11, 2010 3:56 pm

    Hi Steve!

    I re-read my post just to be sure: I did not say that logical fallacies are isolated to the left, nor did I say that ad hominem attacks are the sole province of the left. To say that would have been an error of fact. You jumped to a conclusion.

    Socrates is a man
    Al pointed out that Socrates is a man
    Therefore, Al thinks Aristotle is not a man

    The purpose and title of the post was to point out logical fallacies of the left; I’ll leave it to you and others to point out those of the conservative side.

    • July 11, 2010 4:04 pm

      Fair enough.

      How about the right’s claim that Obama is a socialist? Is that not a logical fallacy? Given that the definition of socialism is that government takes over the means of production and takes control of industry? I would submit that calling “liberalism” “socialism” is fear-mongering and attempting to frame the discussion in a dishonest and misleading manner.

      And regarding Palin and attacks on her. My complaint about her is not what she “believes”, though I disagree with her on nearly everything, beginning with her belief that the world is 6,000 years old and that abortion should be illegal even in cases of incest and rape, no… my complaint with Sarah Palin is that she is not smart enough to be president. This is what most “liberals” find astounding with the enthusiasm she generates. Can you not see how dim the woman is? She is just not with it.

      • July 11, 2010 7:34 pm

        Steve, now you’re just being silly. Throw a bunch of stuff out there and see if any of it sticks.

        Calling Obama’s program socialism is not fear-mongering (itself a good Soviet term) but rather a description of his policies. It’s also instructive that the Labor Department participated in the European Socialist convention last year. The federal government has taken over or is in the process of taking over the auto industry, the health care industry, and the banking industry. That will put government control over the means of production somewhere north of 50% of the economy…the highest in Europe is 51% in Sweden.

        If you’re not comfortable calling it socialism, it might be closer to fascism; some are calling it crony-capitalism, which isn’t a whole lot different from fascism. But I already wrote about that last Tuesday.

        As for Sarah Palin: that’s well beyond the scope of this discussion.

  3. July 11, 2010 7:55 pm

    I’m not “being silly.” If you want to engage in discussion with your opposition then first there must be agreement definitions. What is your definition of socialism? Hint: I won’t accept a definition that is not in line with history. As for “crony capitalism” I have to ask, were you a bush/cheeney supporter? The alignment of industry with government has never been as great in this country as it was under bush/cheeney. You will be hard-pressed to counter that.

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