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. Note
that many of these definitions overlap, but the goal here is to identify
contemporary and classic fallacies as they are used in today's discourse.
A Priori Argument: Also, "Rationalization." Starting with a
given, pre-set dogma, doctrine, "fact" or conclusion and then searching for
any reasonable or reasonable-sounding argument in order to
rationalize, defend or justify it. Certain religious fundamentalists are
proud to use this fallacy as their primary method of "reasoning" and do not hesitate
to say so.
Actions have Consequences: The contemporary fallacy of
falsely describing a given punishment or penalty as a "consequence" of a
negative act. E.g.," The consequences of your misbehavior could include
suspension or expulsion." A corrupt argument from ethos, arrogating to
oneself or to one's rules or laws an ethos of cosmic inevitability,
i.e., the ethos of God, Fate, Destiny or Reality Itself. Freezing to
death is a "consequence" of going out naked in subzero weather. Going to
prison is a punishment for bank robbery, not a (natural, inevitable
or unavoidable) "consequence," of robbing a bank. Not to be confused
with the Argument from Consequences, which is quite different.
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 arguing about, solely because of the lack of power or status of the
person making the argument.
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, which is unthinkable, and those affected will be denied "closure."
This fallacy reifies a specialized term from Gestalt Psychology (closure),
while refusing 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 closure.") See also,
Argument from Ignorance, and Argument from Consequences.
Heaven: (also Deus Vult, Gott mit Uns, Manifest Destiny, American
Exceptionalism, the Special Covenant). An extremely dangerous fallacy
(a deluded argument from ethos) of asserting that God (or History, or a higher power) has ordered, supports or approves
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 Manifest Destiny, or Fate, or
Heaven] has given it to us as our own.") 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
done 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
counterpart of this is The Appeal to
Novelty, e.g., "It's NEW, and [therefore it must be] improved!"
Not to be confused with Actions have Consequences.
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 terminal cancer, because if I did
that'd mean that I won't live to see my kids get married!")
See also "A Priori Argument" and "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 evidence is missing, incomplete, or
even faked! 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.
see also Moral
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. The
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?")
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., "Join 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 available sources remain silent or current knowledge and evidence can
prove nothing about a given
subject or question this fact 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 a police officer's
questions can make 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
following orders." See also,
"The Soldiers' Honor Fallacy."
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.
See also, Either/Or Reasoning.
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 options 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 gonna be?"
”E" for Effort. (Also Noble Effort) The contemporary fallacy that something
must be right, true, valuable, or worthy of respect and honor 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"
or "'The poor you will always have with you,' so any effort to eliminate
poverty is pointless."). 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.") See also "No Discussion" and "A priori
Excluded Middle: A corrupted argument from logos that
proposes that since a little of something is good, more must be better (or
that if less of 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 adult 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,"
"The Soldiers' Honor Fallacy" and "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 minimizing or 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 Juárez is one of the world’s most desirable places for young families to live, work and raise a family.”)
Heroes All (also Everyone's a Winner). A contemporary fallacy
that everyone is above average or extraordinary. A corrupted argument from
pathos (not wanting anyone to lose or to feel bad). Thus, every member of the
Armed Services, past or present, who served honorably is a national hero, every student who
competes in the Science Fair wins a ribbon or trophy, and every racer is
awarded a winner's shirt. This corruption of the argument from pathos,
much ridiculed by American comedian Garrison Keeler, ignores the fact that
if everyone wins nobody wins, and if everyone's a hero nobody's
a hero. The logical result of this fallacy is that, as author Alice Childress writes, "a hero ain't nothing but a
sandwich." See also the "Soldiers' Honor Fallacy." The counterpart of this is the postmodern fallacy of
"Hero-Busting," under which, since nobody in this
world is perfect there are not and have never been any
heroes: Washington and Jefferson held slaves, Lincoln was
a racist, Martin Luther King Jr. had an eye for women, the Mahatma drank his
own urine (ugh!), the Pope is wrong on women's ordination, Mother Teresa was
wrong on just about everything, etc., etc.
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 also, TINA and The Law of Unintended Consequences.
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] .
Just Do it. (Also, "Find a way;" "I don't
care..." ) An Argumentum ad Baculam (argument from force), in
which someone in power arbitrarily overrules the objections of subordinates
and orders them to accomplish a goal by any means necessary Most
often, the clear implication is that unethical or immoral means should be
used. E.g., "You say there's no way you can finish the dig because there's
an old unmarked graveyard under the excavation site? Well, find a way! Just
do it! This is a million dollar contract and we need it done by
Case: A fallacy by which one’s reasoning 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 at dawn? Are you ready to fight back?
Better stock up on assault rifles and ammunition today, just in case!"
Law of Unintended Consequences: In this very dangerous,
archly pessimistic postmodern fallacy a bogus "Law of Unintended
Consequences," once a
semi-humorous satirical corollary of "Murphy's Law," is elevated to to the status of an
iron law of history. This fallacy
arbitrarily declares a priori that since we can never know
everything or foresee anything, sooner or later in today's "complex world" unforeseeable
adverse consequences and negative side effects (so-called "unknown unknowns") will always end up blindsiding and overwhelming, defeating
and vitiating any and all "do-gooder" human efforts to improve
our world. Thus we must always
expect defeat and be ready to roll with the punches
by developing "grit" or
"resilience" as a primary survival skill. This nihilist fallacy is a
practical negation of the the possibility of any argument from logos. See also, TINA.
Statistics: Using true figures and numbers to “prove” unrelated claims.
(e.g. "College tuition costs have actually never been lower. When
expressed as a
percentage of the national debt, the cost of getting a college education is actually far
lower today than it was in 1965!"). A corrupted argument from logos.
Half-truth, Snow Job, and Red Herring.)
Mala Fides (Also, the Argument in Bad Faith;
Sophism): Proposing an argument that the arguer himself or
herself knows is not valid. E.g., An unbeliever attacking believers by
throwing inconvenient quotes from their own Holy Scriptures at them, or
arguing for the innocence of someone who one knows to be guilty. This latter
is a common practice in American jurisprudence, and in the past was
sometimes portrayed as the worst face of "Sophism."
Moral Licensing: The contemporary ethical fallacy that
one's consistently moral life, good behavior or a recent especially
significant sacrifice earns one the right to commit an immoral, selfish or
negative act without repercussions or consequences. E.g., "I've been good
all year, so just this once won't matter," or "After what I went
through, I need this." See also Argument from Motives.
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, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." Or, "Yeah, I killed my baby. So what? Butt out! It's none of your business!") Rational discussion is cut off because "it is none of your
business!" See also, "Taboo." The counterpart of this is "Nobody Will
Ever Know," the fallacy that because nobody is looking one may freely commit
immoral, selfish or negative acts without consequence.
Name-Calling: A variety of the "Ad Hominem" argument.
dangerous fallacy that, simply because of who one is, any and all arguments,
disagreements or objections against one's 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," and the "Ad Hominem Argument."
No Discussion (also No Negotiation, the
Control Voice, Fascism): A pure Argumentum ad Baculam that rejects
reasoned dialogue, offering either instant, unconditional
compliance/surrender or death as the only two options for settling even
minor differences. E.g., "Get down on the ground, now!"
or "We don't talk to terrorists." This deadly fallacy falsely paints real or
potential "hostiles" as monsters devoid of all reason, and far too often
contains a very strong element of "machismo" as well. I.e. "In a
confrontation a real, muscular leader never resorts to pantywaist pleading,
apologies, fancy talk or argument. That's for lawyers, liars and pansies
and is nothing but a delaying-tactic. A real man stands tall, talks
straight, draws fast and shoots to kill." Actor John Wayne frequently
portrayed this fallacy in his movie roles. See also, The Pout.
Occasionally involves the
breathtaking arrogance of claiming to have special knowledge of why God,
fate or the Universe is doing certain things.
E.g., "This week's earthquake was obviously meant 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 printing purple
five-dollar bills! Purple!”). (See also Red Herring.)
Nothing New Under the Sun (also, “Seen
it all before,” "Plus ça change, plus c'est la
même chose."): Fairly
rare in contemporary discourse, this deeply cynical fallacy falsely proposes
that there is not and has never been any real novelty in this world,. Any
argument that there are truly “new” ideas or phenomena is judged
unworthy of serious discussion a priori and dismissed with a sigh
and a wave of the hand as "the same old thing."
E.g., “[Sigh!] Idiots, don't you see
that the current influx of refugees is nothing new? It's just another
chapter of the same old Muslim invasion of Europe that’s been going on for
1,500 years?” Or,
“Libertarianism is nothing but anarchism, which, in turn, is nothing but the
ancient Antinomian Heresy dressed up in modern clothes. Like I told you,
there's nothing new under the sun!”
Overgeneralization (also Hasty Generalization, the Pars pro Toto
Fallacy). 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!”).
(See also "Law of Unintended
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 Pathetic Fallacy):
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 feel for all those poor moms crying
bitter tears for their innocent tiny
children whose cozy little beds and happy tricycles lie all cold and abandoned,
just because of those
wicked old witches! Let's string’em all 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 play the 'victim' card, because it's so manipulative
and sounds so negative, helpless and
despairing. Instead, we are 'survivors.'" (Of course, when "victims"
disappear then perpetrators conveniently vanish as well!)
The Pout (also The Silent Treatment, Noncooperation,
Non-recognition). An Argumentum ad Baculam that rejects dialogue. The most
benign nonviolent form of this fallacy is found in passive-aggressive
tactics such as slowdowns, boycotts and strikes. The United States recently ended
a half-century long political Pout with Cuba. See also "No Discussion."
Argument: (also, "post hoc propter hoc," 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
back in the very same era when 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: Terrorism! Vote for me! I'll fight
terrorists wherever they may be!"
Reductionism: (also, Oversimplifying, Sloganeering): The fallacy of deceiving an audience by giving simple answers or
bumper-sticker 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!"
Reifying: The fallacy of treating imaginary categories as actual,
material "things." (E.g., "The War against Terror is a fight to the death
between Fanaticism and Freedom.") 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 shut up and 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 and freedom are in peril! We need to be united as one!")
See also, "We Have to do Something!."
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 has to be 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 very 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
or evaluate. This is a corrupted argument from logos.
See also, "Lying with Statistics."
Soldiers' Honor Fallacy. The ancient fallacy that all who wore a
uniform, fought hard and followed orders are worthy of some special honor or
glory or are even "heroes," whether they fought for freedom or fought to
defend slavery, marched under Grant or Lee, Hitler, Stalin or McArthur,
fought to defend their homes, fought for oil or fought to spread empire, or
even fought against and killed U.S. soldiers!. A corrupt argument
from ethos (that of a soldier), closely related to the "Finish the Job"
fallacy ("Sure, he died for a lie, but he deserves honor because he followed orders and did his job to
the end!"). See also "Heroes All." This fallacy was recognized and
at the Nuremburg Trials after World War II but remains powerful to this day
nonetheless. Related to this is the State Actor fallacy, that those who
fight and die for a country (America, Russia, Iran, the Third Reich, etc.)
are worthy of honor or at least pardonable while those who fight for a
non-state actor (abolitionists, guerrillas, freedom-fighters, jihadis) are
not and remain "terrorists" no matter how noble or vile their cause,
until or unless
they are adopted by a state after the fact.
Man (also "The Straw Person"): The fallacy of setting up a phony,
ridiculous parody 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!"
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!"
Taboo: The fallacy of unilaterally declaring certain arguments, standpoints or actions "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,
you need to know I won't allow you to play the race card, or to attack my arguments by claiming 'That's just what Hitler would say!'")
Testimonial (also Questionable Authority, Faulty Use of Authority): A
corrupt argument from ethos 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!”)
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 serious 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
different from 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 Fallacy, 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 precious 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
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 into 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: (Also, Security Theater). The dangerous contemporary fallacy that when
"People are scared / People are angry" it becomes necessary to do something, anything,
at once even if it is an overreaction, is totally ineffective or actually makes the situation
than "just sitting there doing nothing." (E.g., "Banning air passengers from carrying
ham sandwiches onto the plane and making parents take off their infants' little pink
does nothing to deter potential hijackers, but people are scared and we have to do something
to respond to this crisis!") This is a badly 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.
- Zero Tolerance (also, The Disproportionate Response, Even One is Too Many, Judenrein). The contemporary fallacy of promising to devote unlimited
resources to solve a limited
or even imaginary problem. E.g., "I just read about an actual case of
cannibalism somewhere in this country. That's disgusting, and even one case is way, way too many!
We need a Federal Taskforce against Cannibalism with a million-dollar budget
and offices in every state, a national
SCAN program in
all the grade schools (Stop Cannibalism in America Now!), and an automatic
penalty for cannibals; in other words, zero tolerance for cannibalism in
this country!" This is a corrupt and cynical argument from pathos,
politically driven, a particularly sinister variety of the "We Have to do
Something" fallacy. (See "Playing on Emotions," "Red
Herring," and also the "Big Lie Technique.")
7/06 with thanks to Susan Spence. Latest revision 2/16, with thanks to all
readers who suggested corrections, additions and clarifications!