List of Logical
Fallacies are fake or deceptive arguments, arguments
that prove nothing. Fallacies often seem superficially sound, and they far too
often retain immense persuasive power even after being clearly exposed as
false. Fallacies are not always deliberate, but a good scholar’s purpose is
always to identify and unmask fallacies in arguments.
Argument: Also, "personal attack," "poisoning the well." The fallacy of
attempting to refute an argument by attacking the opposition’s personal
character or reputation, using a corrupted negative argument from ethos.
E.g., "He's so evil that you can't believe anything he says." See also Guilt
by Association. Also applies to cases where valid opposing evidence and arguments are
brushed aside without comment or consideration, as simply not worth
Closure. The contemporary fallacy that an argument, standpoint, action
or conclusion must be accepted, no matter how questionable, or else the
point will remain unsettled and those affected will be denied "closure."
This refuses to recognize the truth that some points will indeed remain
unsettled, perhaps forever. (E.g., "Society would be protected, crime would
be deterred and justice served if we sentence you to life without parole,
but we need to execute you in order to provide some sense of closure.") (See also "Argument from Ignorance," "Argument from Consequences.")
Heaven: (also Deus Vult, Gott mit Uns, Manifest Destiny, the Special Covenant). An extremely dangerous fallacy
(a deluded argument from ethos) of asserting that God (or a higher power) has ordered, supports or approves one's
own standpoint or actions so no further justification is required and no
serious challenge is possible. (E.g., "God ordered me to kill my children," or "We
need to take away your land, since God [or Destiny, or Fate, or
Heaven] has given it to us.") A private individual who seriously asserts this fallacy risks ending up in a psychiatric ward, but groups or nations who do it are far too often taken seriously. This
vicious fallacy has been the cause of endless bloodshed over history.
Pity: (also "Argumentum ad Miserecordiam"). The fallacy of urging an
audience to “root for the underdog” regardless of the issues at hand (e.g., “Those poor, cute little squeaky mice
are being gobbled up by mean, nasty cats
that are ten times their size!”) A corrupt argument from pathos. See also Playing to
Tradition: (also "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"). The fallacy that a standpoint,
situation or action is right, proper and correct simply because it has "always" been that way, because people have "always" thought that way, or because it continues to serve one particular
group very well. A corrupted argument from ethos (that of past generations). (E.g., "In America, women have always been paid less, so let's not mess with long-standing tradition.").
The reverse of this is yet another fallacy, the "Appeal to
Novelty," e.g., "It's NEW, and [therefore it must be] good,
Consequences: The major fallacy of arguing that something cannot be true because if it were the consequences would be unacceptable.
(E.g., "Global climate change cannot be caused by human burning of fossil fuels, because if it were, switching to
non-polluting energy sources would bankrupt American
industry," or "Doctor, that's wrong! I can't have cancer, because if I did
that'd mean that I won't live to see my kids get married!")
See also "Argumentum ex Silentio."
Argument from Ignorance:
The fallacy that since we don’t know (or can never know, or cannot prove) whether a claim is true or false, it must be false (or that it must be true). E.g., “Scientists
are never going to be able to positively prove their theory that humans evolved from other creatures,
because we weren't there to see it! So, that proves the Genesis six-day
creation account is literally true as written!” This fallacy includes
Attacking the Evidence, e.g. "Your arguments are false! That proves I'm
right!" This usually includes “Either-Or Reasoning:” E.g., “The
vet can't find any reasonable explanation for why my dog died. See! See! That proves
that you poisoned him! There’s no other
logical explanation!” A corrupted argument from logos. A fallacy commonly found in
American political, judicial
and forensic reasoning.
Argument from Inertia (also “Stay the Course”). The fallacy that it
is necessary to continue on a mistaken course of action even after
discovering it is mistaken, because changing course would mean admitting
one's decision (or one's leader, or one's faith) was wrong, and all one's
effort, expense and sacrifice was for nothing, and that's unthinkable. A
variety of the Argument from Consequences or the Appeal to Tradition.
counterpart of this is the fallacy of falsely justifying or excusing evil or
vicious actions because of the perpetrator's purity of motives or lack of
malice. (E.g., "He's a good Christian man; how could you
accuse him of doing something like that?")
Argument from Motives (also Questioning Motives). The fallacy of declaring a standpoint or argument invalid solely because of the evil, corrupt or questionable motives of the one making the claim.
E.g., "Bin Laden wanted us out of Afghanistan, so we have to keep up the
fight!" Even evil people with corrupt motives sometimes say the truth (and even those who have the highest motives are often wrong or mistaken). A variety of the Ad Hominem argument.
Argumentum ad Baculam (also "Argument from the Club"). The fallacy of "persuasion" by force, violence, or threats. E.g., "Gimmee your money, or I'll knock your head off!" or "We have the perfect right to take your land, since we have the guns and you don't." Also applies to indirect forms of threat. E.g., "Believe in our religion if you don't want to
burn in hell forever and ever!"
Argumentum ex Silentio (Argument from Silence. See also, Argument from Ignorance). The fallacy that
if sources remain silent or say nothing about a given
subject or question this in itself proves something about the truth of the matter. E.g., "Science can tell us nothing about
God. That proves God doesn't exist." Or "Science admits it can tell us nothing
about God, so you can't deny that God exists!" Often misused in the American justice
system, where, contrary to the 5th Amendment, remaining silent or "taking the Fifth" is
often falsely portrayed as proof of guilt. E.g., "Mr. Hixel has no
alibi for the evening of January 15th. This proves that he was in fact in room
331 at the Smuggler's Inn, murdering his wife with a hatchet!" In
today's America, choosing to remain silent in the face of police officer's
questions makes one guilty enough to be arrested or even shot.
Bandwagon (also, Argument from Common Sense, Argumentum ad Populum):
The fallacy of arguing that because "everyone"
supposedly thinks or does something, it must be right. E.g., "Everyone knows
that undocumented aliens ought to be kicked out!" Sometimes
also includes Lying with Statistics, e.g. “Surveys show that over 75% of Americans believe Senator Snith is not telling the truth. For anyone with
half a brain, that conclusively proves he’s a dirty liar!”
Begging the Question (also Circular Reasoning):
Falsely arguing that something is true by repeating the same statement in different words. E.g., “The witchcraft problem is the most urgent
spiritual crisis in the world today. Why? Because witches threaten our very
souls.” A corrupt argument from logos. See also "Big Lie technique."
Big Lie Technique (also "Staying on Message"): The contemporary fallacy of repeating a lie, slogan or deceptive half-truth over and over (particularly in the media) until people believe it without further proof or evidence.. E.g.,
"What about the Jewish Question?" Note that when this
particular phony debate was
going on there was no "Jewish Question," only a "Nazi
Question," but hardly anybody in power recognized or wanted to talk about that.
Blind Loyalty (also Blind Obedience, the "Team Player" appeal, or the
Nuremberg Defense). The
dangerous fallacy that an argument or action is right simply and solely
because a respected leader or source (a President, expert, one’s parents,
one's own "side," team or country, one’s boss or commanding officers) say it
is right. This is over-reliance on authority, a corrupted argument from
ethos that puts loyalty above truth, above
one's own reason and above
conscience. In this case a person attempts to justify incorrect, stupid or
criminal behavior by whining "That's what I was told to do," or “I was just
Blood is Thicker than Water
(also Favoritism, Compadrismo, "For my friends, anything."). The reverse of the "Ad Hominem" fallacy, a corrupt argument from ethos where a
statement, argument or action is automatically regarded as true, correct and above challenge because one is related to, or knows and likes,
or is on the same team as the individual
involved. (E.g., "My brother-in-law says he saw you goofing off on the job.
You're a hard worker, but who am I going to believe, you or him? You're fired!")
Bribery (also Material Persuasion, Material Incentive, Financial
Incentive). The fallacy of "persuasion" by bribery, gifts or favors, the reverse of the Argumentum ad Baculam. As is well known, someone who is persuaded by bribery rarely "stays persuaded"
unless the bribes keep on coming in and increasing with time.
Question: The fallacy of demanding a direct answer to a question that cannot be answered without first analyzing or challenging the basis of the question itself. E.g., "Just
me "yes" or "no": Did you think you could get away with plagiarism and not
suffer the consequences?" Or, "Why did you rob that bank?" Also applies to situations where one is forced to either accept or reject complex standpoints or propositions containing both acceptable and unacceptable parts. A corruption of the argument from logos.
Diminished Responsibility: The common contemporary fallacy of applying a specialized judicial concept (that criminal
punishment should be less if one's judgment was impaired) to reality in
general. E.g., "You can't count me absent on Monday--I was hung over and
couldn't come to class, so it's not my fault." Or, "Yeah, I was speeding on the
freeway and killed a guy, but I was buzzed out of my mind and didn't know what I was doing, so
it didn't matter that much." In reality the death does matter very much to
the victim, to his family and friends and to society in general. Whether the perpetrator was high or not
does not matter at all since the material results are the
Reasoning: (also False Dilemma, Black / White Fallacy). A fallacy that
falsely offers only two possible alternatives even though a broad range of possible alternatives are
always really available. E.g., "Either you are 100% straight or you are queer
as a $3 bill--it's as simple as that, and there's no middle ground!" Or, “Either you’re
us all the way or you’re a hostile and must be destroyed! What's it
”E" for Effort. (Also Noble Effort) The contemporary fallacy that something
must be right, true, valuable, or worthy of credit simply because someone has put so much sincere good-faith effort or
even sacrifice and bloodshed into it. (See also Appeal to Pity, Argument from Inertia, or Sob Story.).
Equivocation: The fallacy of deliberately failing to define one's terms, or deliberately using words
in a different sense than the one the audience will understand. (E.g., Bill
Clinton stating that he did not have sexual relations with "that woman," meaning no sexual
penetration, knowing full well that the audience will understand his
statement as "I had no sexual contact of any sort with that woman.") This is
a corruption of the argument from logos, and a tactic often used in
Essentializing: A fallacy that proposes a person or thing “is what it is and that’s all that it is,” and at its core will always be
the way it is right now (E.g., "All
monsters, and will still be terrorist monsters even if they live to be 100."). Also refers to the fallacy of arguing that something is a certain way "by nature,"
an empty claim that no amount of proof can refute. (E.g.,
"Americans are cold and greedy by nature," or "Women are
better cooks than men.")
Excluded Middle: A corrupted argument from logos that
proposes that since a little of something is good, more must be better (or
that if cutting down on something is good, none at all is even better). E.g., "If
eating an apple a day is good for you, eating an all-apple diet is even
better!" or "If a low salt diet prolongs your life, a zero-salt diet should
make you live forever!"
Analogy: The fallacy of incorrectly comparing one thing to another in order to draw a false conclusion. E.g., "Just
like an alley cat needs to prowl, a
normal person can’t be tied down to one single lover."
Finish the Job: The dangerous contemporary fallacy that an action or standpoint (or the continuation of the action or standpoint) may not be questioned or discussed because there is "a job to be
done," falsely assuming all "jobs" are meaningless but never to be
questioned. Sometimes those
involved internalize ("buy into") the "job" and make the
task a part of their own ethos. (E.g., "Ours is not to reason why / Ours is but to do or die.")
Related to this is the "Just a Job" fallacy. (E.g.,
"How can torturers stand to look at themselves in the mirror?
But, I guess it's OK because for them it's just a job.") (See also "Blind Loyalty," "Argument from Inertia.")
See also "They're Not Like Us."
Guilt by Association:
The fallacy of trying to refute or condemn someone's standpoint, arguments or actions by evoking the negative ethos of those
with whom one associates or
of a group, religion or race to which he or she belongs. A form of Ad Hominem Argument. (E.g.,
"Don't listen to her. She's a Republican so you can't trust anything she says.")
The Half Truth (also Card Stacking, Incomplete Information). A corrupt argument from logos, the fallacy of telling the truth
but deliberately omitting important key details in order to falsify the larger picture and support a false conclusion (e.g. “The truth is that Ciudad Juárez,
Mexico is one of the world's fastest growing cities and can boast of a young, ambitious and hard-working population, mild winters, a dry and sunny climate, low cost medical and dental care, a multitude of churches and places of worship, delicious local cuisine and a swinging nightclub scene. Taken together, all these facts clearly prove that Juarez is one of the world’s most desirable places for young families to live, work and raise a family.”)
Or, "No, you can't quit piano
lessons. I wish I had a magic wand and could teach you piano overnight, but
I don't, so like it or not, you have to keep on practicing." The parent, of course, ignores
the possibility that the child may not want or need to learn piano. See
I Wish I Had a Magic Wand:
The fallacy of regretfully (and
falsely) proclaiming oneself powerless to change a bad or objectionable
situation.. E.g., "What can
we do about high gas prices? As Secretary of Energy I wish I had a magic
wand, but I don't." [shrug]
Case: A fallacy by which one’s argument is based on a far-fetched or
completely imaginary worst-case scenario rather than on reality. This plays on pathos (fear) rather than reason. E.g., "What if armed terrorists were to attack your
county grain elevator tomorrow morning? Are you ready to fight back?
Better stock up on assault rifles just in case!"
Statistics: Using true figures and numbers to “prove” unrelated claims. (e.g. "College
tuition costs have never been lower. When taken as a percentage of the national debt,
getting a college education is actually far cheaper today than it was in 1965!"). A corrupted argument from logos.
Half-truth, Snow Job, and Red Herring.)
MYOB (Mind Your Own
Business; You're Not the Boss of Me; The Appeal to Privacy), The contemporary fallacy of arbitrarily
terminating any discussion of one's own standpoints or
behavior, no matter how absurd, dangerous, evil or offensive, by drawing a
phony curtain of privacy around oneself and one's actions. A corrupted argument from ethos (your own). (E.g., "Sure,
I was doing eighty and weaving between lanes on Mesa Street--what's it to you?
You're not a cop, you're not my nanny It's my business to speed, and your
business to get the hell out of the way. Mind your own business!"
Or, "Yeah, I killed my kid. So butt out! It's none of your business!") (See also,
"Taboo.") Rational discussion is cut off because "it is none of your
Name-Calling: A variety of the "Ad Hominem" argument.
dangerous fallacy that, simply because of who you are, any and all arguments,
disagreements or objections against your standpoint
or actions are automatically racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, bigoted,
discriminatory or hateful. E.g., "My stand on abortion is the only correct
one. To disagree with me, argue with me or question my judgment in any way would only show what a pig you
really are." Also applies to refuting an argument by simply
calling it a fallacy or declaring it invalid, without proving why it is invalid.
See also, "Reductionism."
Occasionally involves the
breathtaking arrogance of claiming to have special knowledge of why God is doing certain things.
E.g., "This week's earthquake was sent to punish those people for
their great wickedness."
Sequitur: The fallacy of offering reasons or conclusions that have no logical connection to the argument at hand (e.g. “The reason
I flunked your course is because the government is now putting out purple
five-dollar bills! Purple!”). (See also Red Herring.)
Overgeneralization (also Hasty Generalization).
The stupid but common fallacy of incorrectly applying one or two examples to all cases (e.g. “Some college student was tailgating me
all the way up North Main Street last night.
This proves that all college students are lousy drivers and that we should pull their driver’s licenses until they
either grow up, learn to drive or graduate!”).
The Paralysis of Analysis (also, Procrastination): A postmodern fallacy that since
all data is
never in any conclusion is always provisional, no legitimate decision can
ever be made, and any action should
always be delayed until forced by circumstances. A corruption of the
argument from logos.
Playing on Emotion (also, the Sob Story):
The classic fallacy of pure argument from pathos, ignoring facts and calling on emotion alone. E.g., “If you don’t agree
that witchcraft is a major problem just shut up
for a moment and picture in your mind all those poor moms crying
bitter tears for their innocent tiny
little children whose little beds and tricycles lie cold and abandoned, all because of those
wicked old witches! Let’s string’em up!”
("PC"): A postmodern fallacy that the nature of a thing or situation can
be changed simply by changing its name. E.g., "Today we strike a blow against
cruelty to animals by changing the name of ‘pets’ to ‘animal companions.’"
or "Never, ever use the word 'victim' because it sounds so negative, helpless and
despairing. Instead, call them 'survivors.'" (Of course, when "victims"
disappear then the perpetrators conveniently vanish as well!)
Argument: (also, "post hoc propter hoc" argument, or the "too much of a coincidence"
argument): The classic fallacy that because something comes at the same time or just after something else, the first thing is caused by the second. E.g., "AIDS first emerged as a problem during the exact same time that Disco
music was becoming popular--that's too much of a coincidence: It proves that Disco
Herring: An irrelevant distraction, attempting to mislead an audience by
bringing up an unrelated, but usually emotionally loaded issue. E.g., "In
regard to my recent indictment for corruption, let’s talk about what’s
really important instead: Sky-high taxes! Vote for me! I'll cut your taxes!"
Reductionism: (also, Oversimplifying, Sloganeering): The fallacy of deceiving an audience by giving simple answers or slogans in response to complex questions,
especially when appealing to less educated or unsophisticated audiences. E.g., "If the glove doesn’t fit, you must vote to acquit."
Or, "Vote for Snith. He's tough on crime!"
The fallacy of treating imaginary categories as actual, material "things." (E.g., "Back
in the day, the biggest struggle in
youth culture was between Goths and Emos.") Sometimes also referred to as "Essentializing"
Scare Tactic (Also Paranoia): A variety of Playing on
Emotions, a raw appeal to fear. A corrupted argument from Pathos.(E.g., "If
you don't do what I say we're all gonna die! In this moment of great crisis
can't afford the luxury of criticizing or trying to second-guess my decisions.
Our very lives are in peril! We need to be united as one!")
Sending the Wrong Message: A dangerous fallacy that attacks a given
statement or action, no matter how true, correct or necessary, because it
will "send the wrong message." In effect, those who use this fallacy
publicly confessing to fraud and admitting that the truth will destroy the
fragile web of illusion that has
been created by their lies. E.g., "Actually, we're losing the war
against drugs hands down, but if we publicly admit it
we'll be sending the wrong message."
Shifting the Burden of
Proof. (see also Argument from Ignorance) A fallacy that challenges opponents to disprove
a claim, rather than asking the person making the claim to defend his/her
own argument. E.g., "Space-aliens are
everywhere among us masquerading as true humans, even right here on campus! I dare you prove it isn't so!
See? You can't! That means what I say is true."
Slope (also, the Domino Theory): The common fallacy that "one thing inevitably leads to another." E.g.,
"If you two go and drink coffee together one thing will lead to
another and soon enough you'll be pregnant and end up spending your
life on welfare living in the projects," or "If we close Gitmo,
pretty soon armed terrorists will be on our doorstep!"
Job: The fallacy of “proving” a claim by overwhelming an audience with mountains of
irrelevant facts, numbers, documents, graphs and statistics that they cannot be expected to understand. This is a corrupted argument from logos.
See also, "Lying with Statistics."
Or, "Pro-choicers hate babies!" Or, "Pro-lifers hate women
and want them to spend their lives barefoot,
pregnant and chained to the kitchen stove!"
Man (also "The Straw Person"): The fallacy of setting up a phony,
ridiculous version of an opponent's argument and
then proceeding to knock it down with a wave of the hand. E.g., "Vegetarians say animals
have feelings like you and me. Ever seen a cow laugh at a Shakespeare comedy? Vegetarianism is nonsense!"
Taboo: The fallacy of unilaterally declaring certain arguments, standpoints or actions to be "sacrosanct" or not open to discussion,
arbitrarily taking some standpoints or options "off the table" beforehand. (E.g., "Don't bring my drinking into this," or "Before we start,
I won't allow you to attack my arguments by claiming 'That's just what Hitler would say!'")
Testimonial (also Questionable Authority, Faulty Use of Authority): A fallacy in which support for a standpoint or product is provided by a well-known or respected figure (e.g. a star athlete or entertainer) who is not an
expert and who was probably well paid to make the endorsement (e.g., “Olympic gold-medal pole-vaulter Fulano de Tal uses Quick Flush Internet-shouldn’t you?"). Also includes other false, meaningless or paid means of associating oneself or one’s product with the ethos of a famous person or event (e.g. “Try Salsa Cabria, the official taco sauce of the
Winter Olympics!”) This is a corrupted argument from ethos.
They're Not Like Us: A badly corrupted, racist argument from ethos where
arguments, experiences or objections are arbitrarily disregarded, ignored or put down
without consideration because those involved "are not like us," or "don't
think like us." E.g., "It's OK for Mexicans to earn half a buck an
hour in the maquiladoras. If it happened here I'd call it brutal exploitation
and daylight robbery, but way down south of the border they're not
like us." Or, "Sure, the nuclear bombing of
Hiroshima killed hundreds of thousands
of innocent people, but in Asia they're not like us and they don't think
about life and death the
same way we do ." A variety of
the Ad Hominem Argument, most often applied to non-white populations.
TINA (There Is No
Alternative. Also "That's an order," "Get Over It," or the "fait accompli"). A very common contemporary extension of the either/or fallacy, quashing critical thought by announcing
that there is no realistic alternative to a given standpoint, status or action,
ruling any and all other options irrelevant, or announcing that a decision has been made
and any further discussion is
insubordination, disloyalty, or simply a waste of valuable time when
there's a job to be done. (See also, "Taboo;" "Finish the Job.")
Transfer: A corrupt argument from ethos,
falsely associating a famous person or thing with an unrelated standpoint (e.g. putting a picture of
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an advertisement for mattresses, using Genghis Khan, a Mongol
who hated Chinese, as the name of a Chinese restaurant, or using the Texas flag to sell cars or pickups that were made in Detroit, Kansas City or Kyoto)..
Tu Quoque ("You Do it Too!"; also Two Wrongs Make a
Right): A corrupt argument from ethos. The fallacy of defending a shaky or false standpoint
or excusing one's own bad action by pointing out that one's opponent's acts or personal character
are also open to question, or are perhaps even worse than one's own. E.g., "Sure, we torture
and kill but
we don't cut off heads off like they do!" Or, "You can't stand
there and accuse me of
corruption! You guys are all in politics and you know what you have to do to get
reelected!" . Related to the Red Herring and to the Ad Hominem Argument.
We Have to
Do Something: The dangerous contemporary fallacy that in moments of crisis
one must do something, anything, at once, even if it is an
overreaction, is totally ineffective or makes the situation even worse, rather
than "just sit there doing nothing." (E.g., "Banning air passengers from carrying
ham sandwiches onto the plane and making babies take off their little pink
does nothing to deter potential hijackers, but we have to do something
to respond to this crisis!") This is a corrupted argument from pathos. (See
also "Scare Tactic.")
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire (also Hasty Conclusion, Jumping to a Conclusion).
The dangerous fallacy of drawing a snap conclusion
and/or taking action without sufficient evidence. E.g., “My neighbor Jaminder Singh wears a long beard and a turban
and speaks a funny language.
Where there's smoke there's fire. That’s all the evidence we need that he's
a terrorist! Let's burn his store down!” A variety of the “Just in Case” fallacy.
7/06 with thanks to Susan Spence. Rev. 2/15.