List of Logical
Fallacies are fake or deceptive arguments, arguments
that prove nothing. Fallacies often seem superficially sound, and far too
often have 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 potential opposing 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
Innovation," e.g., "It's NEW, and [therefore it must be] improved!"
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
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!” Sometimes this also includes “Either-Or Reasoning:” E.g., “The
vet can't find any reasonable explanation for why my dog died. See! See! That proves
that my neighbor poisoned him! There’s no other
logical explanation!” A corrupted argument from logos. A fallacy commonly found in
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 is unthinkable. A
variety of the Argument from Consequences.
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., "She's a good Christian woman; how could you
accuse her 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 (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, which proves God doesn't exist." Or "Science can tell us nothing
about God, so you have no basis for denying that God exists!" Often misused in the American justice
system, where 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 Pass Inn, murdering his ex-wife!"
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 thinks 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 challenge 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 (an expert, 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 or
above one's own reason and 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."
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 usually 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., "Answer
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.
falsely applying a specialized American judicial concept (that criminal
punishment should be less if one's judgment was impaired) to logic in
general. E.g., "You can't count me absent on Monday--I was hung over and
couldn't come to class--it's not my fault." Or, "Yeah, I was speeding on the
freeway and killed a guy, but I was high 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 her 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
Diminished Responsibility: The common contemporary fallacy of
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 really available. E.g., "Either you are 100% straight or you are queer--it's as simple as that, and there's no middle ground!" Or, “Either you’re
me all the way, or you’re my enemy and must be destroyed!
”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 sex 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 what it is right now (E.g., "All ex-cons are
criminals, and will still be criminals 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.")
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 human being 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 like any
other.") (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
a collective 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, because there is no alternative. 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 imaginary worst-case scenario rather than on reality. Plays on pathos (fear) rather than reason. E.g., "What if armed terrorists were to attack your
own neighborhood day-care center tomorrow morning? Are you ready to fight back?
Better stock up on assault rifles!"
Statistics: Using true figures and numbers to “prove” unrelated claims. (e.g. "Gas
prices have never been lower. When taken as a percentage of the national debt,
filling up at your corner gas station is actually far cheaper today than it was in 1965!"). A corrupted argument from logos.
Half-truth, Non Sequitur, Red Herring.)
MYOB (Mind Your Own
Business; You're Not the Boss of Me), The contemporary fallacy of arbitrarily prohibiting 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., "So
I was doing eighty and weaving between lanes on Main Street--what's it to you?
You're not a cop, so mind your own business!") (See also, "Taboo.")
Rational discussion is cut off because "it is none of
your business!" (See also, the "Appeal to Privacy.")
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 know why God is doing certain things.
E.g., "Obviously, God sent the earthquake 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!”). (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 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, 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 Emotions (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 witchcraft is a major problem, just stop
for a moment and think of 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 all up!”
("PC"): A contemporary fallacy that the nature of a thing or situation can be changed simply
by changing its name. E.g., "We can strike a blow against cruelty to animals by changing the name of ‘pets’ to ‘animal companions.’"
or "What's going on in Juárez is not a 'war,' it is a fight
between drug cartels. That means
it's not that bad."
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--terrorists
are out there, and if we don't stop them we're all gonna die!"
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." Often involves appeals to emotion (pathos). E.g., “Moms! If you want to
little kids from armed terrorists, vote for Snith!”
The fallacy of treating imaginary categories as actual, material "things." (E.g., "The biggest struggle in
youth culture today is between Goths and Emos.") Sometimes also referred to as "Essentializing"
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 uses 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, but if we admit it
we'll be sending the wrong message to our enemies."
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, even here on campus, masquerading as true humans! I dare you prove it isn't so!
See? You can't! That means you have to accept that 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 cut and run in Iraq
pretty soon all of southwest Asia will be run by
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."
Man (also "The Straw Person"): The fallacy of setting up a phony 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 put my arguments down by saying '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 for 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 Vancouver Winter Olympics!”) This is a corrupted argument from ethos.
They're Not Like Us: A badly corrupted, bigoted argument from ethos where
argument or objection is 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 were here, I'd call it exploitation
and daylight robbery, but south of the border they're not
the same as we are." Or, "Sure, the nuclear bombing of
Hiroshima killed hundreds of thousands
of innocent people, but over there they're not like us and don't think the
same way we do about life and death." A variety of
the Ad Hominem Argument, most often applied to non-White populations.
TINA (There Is No
Alternative. Also "Get Over It," 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 simply a waste of time (or even
insubordination or disloyalty) when
there is a job to be done. (See also, "Taboo.")
Transfer: A corrupt argument from ethos,
falsely associating a famous person or thing with an unrelated standpoint (e.g. putting a picture of George Washington on an advertisement for mattresses or using Genghis Khan
(a Mongol) 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 (also Two Wrongs Make a
Right): 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 even worse. E.g., "Sure, we may have tortured prisoners of war, but
we didn't cut off heads off like they do!" A corrupt argument from ethos. 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 worse, rather
than "just sitting there doing nothing." (E.g., "Banning air passengers from carrying
nail clippers probably
does nothing to deter potential hijackers, but we have to do something to respond to this
crisis!") This is often a corrupted argument from pathos.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire (also Hasty Conclusion, Jumping to a Conclusion).
The dangerous fallacy of quickly drawing a 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. This is war, our country is in danger, and that’s all the evidence we need to string him up!’” A variety of the “Just in Case” fallacy.
7/06 with thanks to Susan Spence. Rev. 2/10.