We’ve all used them. We’ve all been confused by them. Let’s talk logical fallacies and how our understanding is shaped by our communications and miscommunications with the people around us. In this post, I will do my best to avoid examples of President Trump exuding fallacies because I choose to believe that he is an outlier when it comes to the United States’ common consciousness….
What is a fallacy? Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim.
This translates as “to the man” and refers to any attacks on the person advancing the argument, rather than on the validity of the evidence or logic.
This is a fairly difficult fallacy to understand or spot. It is categorical in nature and, essentially, means reversing an argument, or putting the cart before the horse, meaning reversing or confusing the general category with the specific/sub-category. Note that in this fallacy the premises/reasons are actually correct or valid; the error is found between the premises and conclusion. Usually, the error occurs because we incorrectly assume that the Premise was a sufficient condition, when in fact it was only a necessary condition (one of many conditions) necessary to prove the conclusion.
Example of both Ad Hominem and Affirming the Consequent:
In response to the announcement that President Obama was planning to protect one of Colorado’s most popular rivers, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) said of the President: “He is not king. No more acting like King Barack. That is not how we do things in the U.S.”
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), a former member of the House, called Obama an “imperial president” for expanding a national monument that protects critical areas of the Pacific Ocean. Yet 16 presidents, from both political parties, have protected incredible landscapes using their executive authority, including President George W. Bush.
Breakdown: Kings have historically taken land. President Obama plans to take land in order to protect a river in Colorado. President Obama also expanded a national monument that protects areas of the Pacific Ocean. Obama must think he is a King and therefor has imperialistic policies.
Well, first let’s identify the issue, then the argument, and then the result. Because in the end, all debates aim to seek clarity and understanding so the result or final common ground found is important.
The issue: Representatives disagree on whether or not the government should protect land in parts of the U.S as a way to preserve important waterways.
The argument against: This is an overreach of government power that would take land away from citizens and businesses. Ultimately leading to more government control.
The argument for: It is in our nation’s best interest to protect watersheds, waterways and oceans that are in danger of being poisoned or suffocated by human waste and run off.
The result? By pointing the finger at Obama and drawing connections and conclusions between his behavior and that of an imperialist or Monarch, the representatives are distracting from the initial point of debate by attacking Obama’s intentions as well as concluding that he himself must align with imperialists because they have found a similarity in their patterns of behavior.
Did you learn anything about the issues? Me neither. But let’s chalk this example up to a “heated reaction” and not necessarily an educational or informational debate. Next we’ll look at a well thought-out written argument addressing climate change, wahoo!
This is basically repeating the claim and never providing support for the premises, or, in other words, repeating the same argument over and over again. Often, dogmatic thinkers don’t even realize this is a fallacy.
One side of the argument is presented as so extreme that no one will agree with it. Often this is done by referring to the exception, rather than the rule, and inferring that the exception is the rule.
Example of both a Circular Argument and Straw Man:
“Through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) they produced the science required to support their claim. It is a well-thought out, well-planned, classic circular argument.” -Tim Ball (Climate Change Denier)
“More succinctly, they created the problem, created the proof of the problem, then offered the solution. This is what was done with the AGW claim. They assumed, incorrectly, that a CO2 increase causes a temperature increase. They then provided proof by programming computer models in which a CO2 increase caused a temperature increase. They ran the model(s) by doubling CO2, ceteris paribus. The results showed a temperature increase, which proved their claim.” – Also Tim Ball
Breakdown: The circular argument Ball claims to identify here would actually be a perfect example of this kind of fallacy if it were accurate (but we’ll get into that a little later). How do we know that this accusation of circular reasoning is wrong? First, there is the fact that the IPCC is a summary of scientific consensus as existed before the creation of the first IPCC. Most importantly, the models that Ball is referring to are not used as a way to prove that climate change is true; they are used as a way to estimate possible consequences of increasing CO2. If a claim of causality was made, then yes, this could be circular reasoning, but no such claim is made. (The only claim made is that observed climate change demonstrates that the models do a decent job of representing the physical reality).
So, contrary to what Ball claims, there is no circular reasoning. However, this is a tactic commonly used: claim that the opposite party is making a claim of causality when none exists, and then accuse them of circular reasoning. This is actually setting up a straw man, which Ball does transparently and clumsily (he is not among the more eloquent of the deniers). He inaccurately set up the opposition’s argument and attacked his creation instead of the initial point to begin with; good job Ball, you beat yourself at your own game.
The issue: Well, this is a little harder to determine considering Ball has addressed an issue that does not exist in the argument. But let’s entertain him for a bit. In Ball’s eyes, the issue is whether or not an increase in CO2 caused a temperature increase.
The argument against: The IPCC creates a problem, then creates a platform to prove the problem exists, and then offers a solution. Ball argues that, because of this reasoning, CO2 does not cause temperature to increase. (anyone notice what’s missing in his conclusion? no? Burden of proof? Sounds a lot like Argument from Ignorance if you ask me.. show me the science! Although I will commend him for throwing some Latin verbiage in there, certainly makes his argument seem more legitimate)
The argument for: is it rude if I just say “Science”?
The result? I actually think I learned a lot here, but I’m also sitting down and fact checking everything as if I’m writing a “make it or break it” essay to see if I’ll fail AP Gov. Not everyone has time for that BS so know the warning signs when you see them. Ask questions while you debate instead of only refuting their points or expressing your own. More often than not, someone who implements logical fallacies isn’t even aware that they’re doing it. If you want to have a lucrative conversation with someone like this, then ASK QUESTIONS. You’d be surprised how often these kinds of debaters will self-destruct their own perspective.
More on that next time!