The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Mull on That | The wide world of logical fallacies

Nobody likes to argue, but when you’re wrong, you’re wrong! Of course, there are many ways to be wrong when we argue, and we call these wrongs “logical fallacies.” There are formal fallacies, where the structure of a person’s argument is wrong despite possibly having a correct conclusion, and there are informal fallacies where the argument might be wrong structurally but is more-so wrong in its assertion of content.

For example, let’s take a person handing out pamphlets about being vegetarian. Someone goes up to the vegetarian and argues (usually impolitely, I might add) that there is no possible way a vegetarian diet could be healthier than an omnivorous diet, because said person cannot imagine that it’s healthy for anybody — an appeal to common sense.

This fallacy is known as “argument from incredulity,” where no matter what the evidence, a personal disbelief causes one to think it’s not healthy in general and therefore vegetarianism is a false solution.

Or let’s say the person that came up to the vegetarian is a college quarterback who just lost the Sugar Bowl and he decides to take the pamphlet from the vegetarian, rip it up in front of him, and insult his very human existence — this is a pleasant little logical fallacy known as “argumentum ad hominem,” where the actual argument is avoided by directly attacking the traits of the argument’s opponents to disprove them.

Some arguments are presented in a way that asserts that one arguer is better than the other for miscellaneous reasons. Let’s say, for instance, a student in class argues that poverty is an unbreakable cycle of poor education, poor nutrition and low employment rates. The student points to sociological research that has shown significant evidence of these dimensions relating to each other, but another student speaks up and asserts that he’s actually been in poverty, and this student has managed to break out of the cycle.

Thus, being here now suggests that “you don’t know what you’re talking about because I’ve been there.” There are a couple of logical fallacies produced from this argument. One is the “moral high ground” fallacy: the assumption that a poor upbringing gives the student more real-world experience (which it may certainly have), but that because of this upbringing the student is therefore better as a person for breaking out of the cycle.

This is a logical fallacy — it gives the impression that this student is better than the other for that reason, despite the argument being about poverty’s causes and not who is better. His argument is also fallacious because he uses the mind projection fallacy, which is when people consider the way they see the world as the way it really is. For the other student’s case, this outlook on the world may be very different but nonetheless not totally wrong.

But who could forget the wonderful appeals to emotion? These logical fallacies can be fun, in a sad and meaningless way. For example, a fundamentalist Christian might project his voice on a speaker outside on 33rd and Market streets, near Mario the Magnificent. Let’s say that this speaker exclaims that all homosexuals will go to Hell, because it is a sin and God will punish them.

Despite all religious nonsense in general, this fundamentalist tries to use the appeal to fear; any good God-fearing American might be afraid to go to Hell for their actions. Rather than using valid reasons to decry homosexuality, the speaker argues by trying to instill fear. He might also use an appeal to nature, where he’ll say homosexuality is not natural, since it does not allow procreation. Any appeal to emotion or nature is usually a flawed argument that really doesn’t have solid ground to stand on, so watch out for these nasty ones!

There are many, many more logical fallacies, and they have fun Latin names like “reductio ad Hitlerum” (take a wild guess as to what that means), “argumentum ad populum” and “ad baculum,” and “post hoc ergo propter hoc!” Each fallacy is better than the next, so read up on all of them, and make sure your next philosophical argument is logical and infallible! Everybody’s doing it!

Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at op-ed@thetriangle.org.

“Mull On That” publishes biweekly.