Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How Not To Argue!

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After years as an internet warrior and educator I thought I would give up on anyone bothering to take a course in Critical Thinking or Logic. It has often been futile to try to reason with some people who had no clue there are actual rules as to what is a reasonable argument and what is not. I thought I would propose a common sense list of the most common fallacies and my own simple examples. Keep in mind, though many of these look very familiar and feel comfortable, this is how you "Fail" to be logical, so please don't mistake this as an endorsement of these techniques.

I realize many will think it is intellectual crap and "everyone has a right to an opinion" but this entire list is accepted by all logicians from Aristotle on as the wrong way to argue. It presupposes that "not everyone has a right to an opinion" if there is no sufficient basis.

Please note: We don't use bibles as reference sources for logic. Some of you may chose to print this and use it as a pocket map of how to beat people in an argument. Feel free to do so! If you are one who likes to show people how they are wrong, this should be helpful.

As you listen to those who try to persuade you, remind them that saying it twice, or loudly and stylishly doesn't make them right. If you chose to use the techniques below as a roadmap to winning arguments I make no warranties as to how people will accept them only as to how they are.

Some may consider this academic and some humorous; you be the judge.


Appeal to force

I will kill you if you don’t give me an A.

I will tell everyone you are gay if you don’t give me an A.

-Appeal to pity
I have only one arm therefore you should give me an A.

Appeal to the people

Vote for me and you’ll all get A’s.
Come on, everybody’s doing it.
They all voted for me; you should too.
I love a man in uniform. Dress for success!
My shirt has an alligator on it; yours has "Sears", therefore I’m more stylish.

Argument Against the Person (Ad Hominem)

Don’t speak to him; he’s a fag.
Don’t speak to him; he doesn’t have any money.

-Tu quoque “you too”

You are a murderer. > You are too, so who are you to talk?> So, murder is okay.

-2 wrongs make a right
You had an affair, so can I.

Accident (Misapplied rule)

Why can’t I play my stereo loudly; it’s a free country.

Straw Man (picking it apart/or attacking something that it isn't)

Jesus wasn’t really perfect; he lost his temper once in the temple; Anger is a sin, so don’t follow sinners like Jesus.

Missing the Point

Crime is going up, so we should put everyone in jail.
Bush-There are terrorists, who hate our freedom,
therefore we should give up our right to privacy and free speech.

Red Herring

Students participate in peaceful protest>
Communists participate in peaceful protest>
Don’t protest or you’re a communist.

Weak Induction

Appeal to Unqualified Authority

My preacher said you could get AIDS from kissing.

Appeal to Ignorance/Lack of evidence

He hasn’t proved he is innocent; therefore he is guilty.
or vice versa -
He hasn’t proved he is guilty; therefore he is innocent.

Hasty Generalization

Affirmative Action in 30 years hasn’t solved all the problems of racism over the last 300 years;

therefore, it will never work.


Bush- Diplomacy hasn’t worked so far;

therefore, war is the appropriate next step—immediately!

False Cause

He got AIDS because he is immoral and promiscuous.

Slippery Slope (Compounded Exaggeration)

If I join the army, I might kill someone; if that person was working on a cure for AIDS and; as a result of my killing him, he fails; then millions of people will die. Then everyone who didn’t get AIDS will feel so bad they kill themselves.

Therefore, I shouldn’t join the Army.

Weak Analogy

Dogs don’t like cats, so blacks should not marry whites.

Presumption, Ambiguity, Grammatical Analogy

Begging the Question

I am poor because I don’t have any money.

Complex Question/Assumptive
Follow-up Questions Without a Foundation

Have you told your mother you’re gay?

Are you still having an affair with your secretary?

How much pot do you smoke each week?

False Dichotomy

Either you study for this course or you will never finish college.

Suppressed Evidence/Missing/Forced Choice

Situation- John has AIDS. Mary Knows it. Mary tells Susan she should have children with him because he is so smart.

Equivocation (not be confused with “Ambiguous”)

Quarterbacks pass well; therefore, John, the Quarterback will pass his Logic course.


I saw a man outside.

Meaning- I was in my house when I saw a man outside my window.

0r - I was outside when I saw a man.

Composition (Mixed is as good as separate)

I love pizza and ice cream therefore put some pizza and ice cream in the blender, it should be delicious.


Nitric Acid does not explode.
Glycerin Soap does not explode.

Therefore, nitroglycerin would not explode.

Division (Separate is as good as mixed)

A car will get me across the country.
Therefore, a carburetor will get me to Chattanooga.

Definitions of fallacies

Below you will find a few examples of my favorite illogical or easily misunderstood fallacies in the real world.

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