6 Common Logical Fallacies With Examples
If you don’t know much about logical fallacies, this article might be surprising or even unsettling. A great number of arguments that are widely taken as valid, are in fact based on flawed logic and therefore partially or completely wrong. Once you learn about the most common of these fallacies, you will be able to spot them and not make them yourself. After you’ve internalized them, you might be more aware of how often they occur in newspapers, internet forums and television and how often people accept seeming truths that depend on the acceptance of their faulty conclusions.
1. Ad hominem
An ad hominem (latin for “to the person”) fallacy is one where instead of attacking the substance of an argument, the person making the argument is attacked. This is a problem because an argument is true, no matter who makes it. It is also tricky, because if someone who is a known liar makes a true statement, people are likely not to believe that statement.
Some examples of an argumentum ad hominem fallacy:
“You claim the Greek economy is not doing well. But you are not Greek. I’m Greek and I’m telling you the Greek economy is fine.”
Just because the person making the statement is Greek, that doesn’t mean his judgment of the Greek economy carries more value than the addressed person. The other person might be an economist and might have more insight into what makes an economy bad.
“How can you claim that wages are too low. You never had to pay any wages.”
What makes a wage too low is determined by many factors, such as cost of living, how an industry is performing and by a negotiation between employer and employee. The fact that one person has to pay the wage does not automatically make him more qualified to determine when it is too low.
2. Bandwagon (Appeal to the Majority)
The bandwagon fallacy means that a statement is deemed true, just because a majority of people think that it is true. It is often used as a means of exerting peer pressure on a majority to persuade not by reason but by group dynamics.
“The majority of doctors agree that the plague is caused by bad odors”
In the middle ages this was a widely held belief. Since pathogens weren’t discovered yet, this made sense at the time. But it was still incorrect.
“Most people believe in a higher power, therefore there must be a higher power”
There might be a higher power, and there might not be. But just because many people believe in something, that doesn’t make it true.
“A majority of our people support starting a war, therefore it is a good idea.”
There might be good reasons for starting a war. And the majority might support it because they believe in a good reason. But the opinion of the majority itself is not a good reason.
3. False Dilemma
The false dilemma is a fallacy where someone claims that there are only two alternative courses of action or conclusions to be drawn from a set of facts, when there might be other alternatives or explanations.
“Either you are with us or you are against us”
The person addressed could sympathize with the goals of the one making the claim while disagreeing with the methods. Or he could just be indifferent to the goal, in which case he would neither be for or against the person making the claim.
“If he says x, he is either stupid or lying.”
It might be the case that x is stupid or lying or both, but he could also be correct or draw false conclusions because of flawed premises without being stupid.
4. Naturalistic Fallacy (post hoc ergo propter hoc)
Post hoc ergo propter hoc is latin for “after it therefore because of it”. This is a fallacy where one event is claimed to be causing another event. This is a case where it is hard to distinguish between a legitimate argument and a fallacy, because causation is often hard to prove.
“Car sales are down because people are afraid of climate change.”
That might well be the case, but it requires more proof. It could also be the case that the economy is bad and fewer people can afford to buy new cars or that newer cars last longer and therefore people don’t buy them as often.
“School shootings happen because young men are playing violent video games.”
Video games might be a contributing factor, but they also might have little influence on someone’s decision to commit a school shooting. It could be the case that the shooters have other reasons for their actions and would have committed the crime even if they hadn’t played computer games.
5. Anecdotal evidence
This fallacy takes the experience of a non-representative sample and generalizes it. Someone might tell a story about what happened to them or someone they know and then assume this might happen to everyone.
“My grandfather smoked and drank all his life and lived almost to 100.”
If you accept the fact that smoking and drinking have a negative effect on health and longevity, this argument might strike you as invalid, but they are also logically flawed. Often the flaw becomes immediately clear once the implied conclusion gets articulated:
“Therefore smoking and drinking aren’t harmful.”
The fact that smoking and drinking are harmful is not even the reason that this argument is fallacious. It’s the fact that one person’s experience can’t be taken as a reason to claim that everyone will have the same experience.
6. Straw man
In this fallacy, someone’s position gets distorted or misrepresented in a way that makes it easier to attack.
“People that argue for higher taxes want to take away all your hard earned money and squander it for nonsensical government projects.”
That might be the case for some, but others might have a better reason or other necessity for raising taxes.
“People that argue for lowering taxes want to privatize everything until you have to pay to use the sidewalk or even breathe the air.”
Lowering taxes might have other reasons beyond privatization. Also most people who argue for lower taxes would probably not be in favor of charging pedestrians to use the sidewalks or breathe the air.
These are just 6 common fallacies with some examples. If you pay attention to the news or arguments with other people, you might recognize some of them or even catch yourself making fallacious statements. There are many more ways in which arguments are obviously flawed in a future article we will look at some others.
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If you enjoyed this article, you might also want to read about 15 helpful mnemonic techniques.