If you’re a lieutenant commander on the U.S.S. Enterprise, and your name is Spock, it’s a given that you’re all about logic.
If you’re not Spock or a Vulcan (I’m assuming you’re not either of these), you might be guilty of faulty logic and might end up with at least one logical fallacy in your paper.
The trick, of course, is knowing how to identify logical fallacies in order to avoid them in your own writing.
10 Logical Fallacies That Will Kill Your Argument
As you read the list of logical fallacies, keep these points in mind:
- A fallacy is a deceptive or misleading idea or an unsound argument.
- A logical fallacy is, in the most basic of terms, a flaw in logic.
- Logical fallacies use irrelevant arguments and/or faulty evidence that doesn’t support a claim.
- Logical fallacies make your argument invalid.
1. Slippery slope
The slippery slope fallacy is the false assumption that one thing will lead to another.
Slippery slope example: If fast-food restaurants display the calories in value meals, consumers won’t want to eat value meals, and all fast-food restaurants will go out of business.
That’s a pretty big leap, isn’t it? Posting the calories in a value meal may mean that some people will make healthier choices, but you can’t simply state that listing calories will shut down an entire type of restaurant.
Of course, there are times when one thing will most certainly lead to another (like chemical reactions). If you empty a box of baking soda into your kitchen drain then pour vinegar to wash it down, the chemical reaction will cause the mixture to fizz.
It will do this every time without fail. One action leads to another.
2. Hasty generalization
This refers to drawing inaccurate conclusions based on information (or insufficient information).
Hasty generalization example: If you’re hunting for morel mushrooms and find one in a wooded area, you might think that you’ve hit the jackpot. You’ll surely find more with each step you’ll take.
Basing your expectations of finding more mushrooms on seeing one single mushroom means that you’ve developed a conclusion on insufficient evidence.
You would need to find at least a few mushrooms on more than one occasion in order to argue that the wooded area is a good spot to find morels.
3. Ad hominem
You’re guilty of using an ad hominem logical fallacy if you attack a person’s character rather than the person’s arguments.
Ad hominem example: The governor’s speech about the education plan must be a lie because he’s a known liar. After all, he cheats on his wife.
This example is a logical fallacy because it attacks the person’s moral values and his character (accusing him of being an adulterer). The real argument in this case is his speech and education plan, not his personal life.
4. Straw man
When you think of the straw man fallacy, think of the Big Bad Wolf from The Three Little Pigs. When he wants to attack the pigs, where does he go first? That’s right, the house made of straw. Why? Because it’s a flimsy structure. It’s weak and easy to blow down.
If you’re using a straw man argument, you over-simplify the argument and pick your opponent’s weakest point as the one to argue against.
Straw man example: People who don’t donate to the ASPCA must hate animals.
In this example, you’re trying to argue that a person’s failure to donate to a specific charity means the person doesn’t support the charity’s mission (in this case, preventing cruelty to animals).
Obviously, an argument is much more complex than this, and people may have many reasons for not supporting individual charities.
5. Circular argument
Ever get in a discussion with a friend and tell him he’s talking in circles? The circular argument logical fallacy is kind of like that. You simply restate the argument without providing any evidence to support the argument.
Circular argument example: Our coach is a good leader because he knows how to provide direction.
This is a circular argument because being a leader is synonymous with providing direction. To avoid this fallacy, you should provide reasons he is a good leader. For instance, he might know his players well and understand strategy.
Need help finding sources to support your argument? Check out 5 Best Resources to Help With Writing a Research Paper.
6. Ad populum
This logical fallacy plays on people’s emotions. It often focuses on concepts such as patriotism, religion, terrorism, etc.
Ad populum example: As an American, you should support people’s right to get tattoos.
In this example, you’re appealing to people’s feelings of what it means to be an American and connecting two unrelated concepts: being American and getting tattoos.
7. Red herring
This fallacy doesn’t have anything to do with fish, but if you’ve ever watched a political debate, you’ve likely seen the red herring fallacy in action.
Rather than address the argument directly, a person (like a politician) uses a red herring to divert attention from the actual argument by bringing up an unrelated point.
Red herring example: A politician might argue that the drinking water may have unsafe levels of lead, but the real issue is the level of scrutiny the city is facing.
Here, the politician doesn’t address the problem of the unsafe levels of lead and instead attempts to divert the attention to something else: the scrutiny being faced by the city. This, however, does nothing to immediately help the people facing the problem.
How many times have you tried to convince your parents that you should be allowed to do something because one of your friends is doing the same thing? This is the classic example of the bandwagon logical fallacy.
You attempt to validate your argument by suggesting that others believe the same.
Advertisements often use the bandwagon logical fallacy. Advertisers show everyone enjoying a drink, a car, a restaurant, or any number of other products and hope to convince you that, because everyone else loves the product, you should too.
Bandwagon example: “Alesha’s parents and Emma’s parents are letting them go on the road trip, so you should let me go too.”
Here’s the example (that I mentioned above) of trying to convince your parents to let you do something simply because other people are doing it.
(Here’s also where your parents would answer, “If Alesha’s parents and Emma’s parents said they could jump off a bridge, does that mean I should let you do it too?”)
Need a few additional tips to improve your persuasion skills? Read How to Write a Persuasive Essay That’s Convincing.
9. Card stacking
If you stack a deck of cards, you make sure that the cards are in a specific order so that you can win the card game. If you’re using the card stacking fallacy, you’re stacking the argument in your favor by only presenting information or data that supports your argument.
In card stacking, you ignore all other relevant information that may counter your argument.
Card stacking example: The new acne medication is one of the best on the market because it clears up acne in record time.
If this statement is true, it could mean that the acne medication is one of the best, but let’s say the writer has ignored the fact that the medication has been proven to also cause other serious side effects.
If this is the case, clearly the writer has stacked the deck to only include favorable arguments and is ignoring other evidence.
10. Emotional appeals
This fallacy is just like it sounds. You appeal to people’s emotions instead of appealing to logic and actual evidence. It can sometimes be used as a scare tactic to make people think about potential negative consequences of not supporting the argument.
Emotional appeals example: You can help provide a nutritious meal for a hungry child for only 52 cents each day. Wouldn’t you want to help a child live?
This type of appeal is common in ads for charitable organizations. In this example, the argument appeals to viewers’ emotions and wants them to feel both sympathy and empathy to help a starving child.
This example also implies that, if you (the viewer) don’t contribute “only 52 cents each day,” you’re standing by and allowing the child to die.
With your new knowledge of how to spot (and avoid) logical fallacies, you’re now on your way to writing an effective paper with logical arguments that even Spock would be proud of.
Avoiding logical fallacies isn’t the only thing to be wary of when writing an argument. You should also make sure you have a strong thesis statement and that you create a powerful argumentative essay outline before you begin drafting your paper.
Struggling to find a topic for your argument paper? Check out 70 Argumentative Essay Topics that Will Put Up a Good Fight.
If you want to read more about logical fallacies, check out these sample essays.
Need some extra guidance on perfecting your Spock-level logic, read these posts:
Kibin editors are also available to check the logic of your arguments, so send your essay to us for a thorough review.
Live long and prosper!
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The Most Commonly Used Fallacies
A fallacy is an often plausible argument using false or illogical reasoning.
1. Appeal to Pity (Ad Misericordiam) — an argument that appeals to another’s sympathy; not answering the argument
EX: A woman applies to college. When the Admissions Director asks about her grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, she states that she didn’t have much time to study because her mother has been sick for several years and she has had to work through almost all of high school.
2. Appeal to Ignorance (Ad Ignorantum) — asserting a proposition is true because it has not been proven false
EX: Taking vitamin X is good for you since nobody taking it has become sick.
3. Arguing by Association — an argument used to promote guilt by association
EX: Both Senator Muha and Latin American Marxists are critics of the Chilean government; therefore, Senator Muha must be a Marxist.
4. Argument Backed by a Stick (Force; Argumentum Ad Baculum) — resorting to threat in order to have a point accepted
EX: Our paper certainly deserves the support of every German. We shall continue to forward copies of it to you, and hope you will not want to expose yourself to the unfortunate consequences in case of cancellation.
5. Bandwagon Appeal (Ad Populum) an argument that suggests one is correct if they go along with the “crowd”
EX: Every fashionable senior this year is wearing a piece of Navajo jewelry.
6. Begging the Question (Circular Reasoning) — you report what is true, repeating what you believe, only in different words
EX: I am in college because it the right thing to do. Going to college is expected of me.
7. Contradictory Premises — the points of the argument contradict each other; therefore, there is no argument
EX: If God can do anything, he can make a stone so heavy that He won’t be able to lift it.
8. False Alternative (either/or syndrome) — all other possibilities, explanations, or solutions are ignored
EX: Given the alarming number of immigrants in the U.S. who fail to learn English and speak it, mandating English as the official language of our country must be done.
9. False Analogy — an argument that assumes a fundamental similarity between two things that resemble each other only in part
EX: A college has no right to fire a popular teacher. To do so is like throwing out of office a public official who has just been reelected by the majority of the voters.
10. False Cause (Post Hoc) — this argument equates sequence with causality: Because Event A was followed by Event B, the first caused the second
EX: Every time I wash my car, it rains. I washed my car today; therefore, it will rain today.
11. Half-Truths — an argument that contains evidence that is only partly true
EX: Making English the official language is a good idea because it will make it easier for people to understand one another.
12. Hasty Generalization — this argument assumes “all” are the same, but there are too few instances to support such a claim
EX: John likes Keating’s health plan, Becky likes Keating’s health plan, and Sayd likes Keating’s health plan; therefore, Keating’ s health plan must be the best choice.
13. Hypothesis Contrary to Fact — an argument that starts with an untrue hypothesis and then tries to draw supportable conclusions from it
EX: If I had never met Dan twenty years ago in college, I would never have fallen in love.
14. Oversimplification — an argument that makes simple of a very complex issue by using catchy phrases such as: “It all boils down to...”or “It’s a simple question of...”, etc.
EX: Censorship is a simple question of protecting our children from obscenities.
15. PoisoningtheWell/Personal Attack (Ad Hominem) — an argument that personally attacks another as to discredit the issue at hand
EX: Two students are running for student body president. Prior to the vote, one candidate puts up fliers all over the building indicating that the other boy is a cheater, liar, and has bad grades.
16. Red Herring — think of a stinky smoked fish dragged across the trail to throw a tracking dog off scent; an argument that tends to sidetrack everyone involved
EX: While discussing the need for tobacco subsidies in the federal budget, somebody asserts that all restaurants should have non-smoking sections.
17. Shifting the Meaning of a Key Term (There are two ways of doing this: First through Equivocation [shifting the meaning of one term] and through Amphiboly [shifting the meaning through sentence structure]) — an argument that uses the meaning of words or sentences in two different senses
EX: Criminals do everything to obstruct arrest, prosecution, and conviction. Likewise, liberal lawyers try in every way to obstruct the work of police. Obviously, then, most liberal lawyers are no better than criminals themselves. (Amphiboly)
18. Slippery Slope — the assumption that if one thing is allowed, it will only be the first in a downward spiral of events
EX: If you continue to watch professional wrestling, your grades will drop, you will become violent, and eventually you will end up in jail.
19. Sweeping Generalization (Dicto Simpliciter) — an argument based on an unqualified generalization
EX: All high school students are irresponsible.
20. Shameful Argument (Argumentum Ad Verecundium) — appealing to an authority in one field regarding something in another field in which that authority has no more standing than anyone or anything else
EX: The policeman testified on the witness stand that the cause of death to the victim was a bullet wound that entered the body at the sternum, penetrated the left lung and lodged at the 5th lumbar vertebrae.