Logical Fallacies

25 Aug

We believe that our intelligence makes us wise when it actually makes us more susceptible to foolishness. Puncture this belief, and we may be able to cash in on our argumentative nature while escaping its pitfalls.
– Dan Jones

How we influence each other is something that I’ve been observing and researching for a few years now. The way I am persuaded by others, and the way others are influenced by me is a fascinating subject. There are so many variables including strength of argument, strength of character of the proponent, cognitive biases, our susceptibility to logical fallacies, and so on.

My aim has been to become more aware of how people influence me, to be less influenced by spurious reasoning and to focus more on a rational and logical basis for my views.

Alas this is not an easy thing. Daniel Kahneman has said that for all his knowledge of biases he’s still susceptible to them. In fact he’s done studies which show that even if one is aware of such biases, especially experts in the field, they still struggle to avoid being influenced by them.

I have long been trying to avoid using logical fallacies when I try to convince someone, trying instead to rely on logic and evidence. For me I’ve realised it is something of a moral imperative.

I am aware that I can lose arguments because of my avoidance of fallacious reasoning, particularly appeals to emotion. People are subtly convinced in so many ways by subconscious cues, or emotional aspects of the person making a proposition, that often the logic behind the argument takes second place.

So here are some examples of logical fallacies worth watching our for:

– One fallacy I’ve been discussing recently is the argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantiam) – assuming that a claim is true because it has not been proven false or cannot be proven false. Bertrand Russell argues this eloquently with his teapot argument.

– The strength of belief of the arguer is a huge influence – people are much more likely to agree with a point of view if they perceive genuine conviction. Inspirational leaders in politics and religion are great examples of this.

– I’ve coined the ivory tower fallacy (argumentum ad turris eburnea) to describe people that dismiss an argument simply because it doesn’t come from a respected or scholarly source.

– Argument by analogy  is a significant issue; this is a very powerful tool and easy to misuse. It makes sense given our use of metaphor to understand so much of the world. It’s arguably how our minds are so adaptable and how humans can focus their understanding on such a variety of diverse areas. Further, linguists show that most, if not all, words originate in a metaphor. So it’s a great tool humans have, though a bias of which to be aware.

– The naturalistic fallacy is one that gets my goat, as I’ve written previously.

– Another is agreeing with a point of view just to keep the peace, perhaps the ‘don’t- rock-the-boat fallacy’.

In conclusion, I think this logical fallacies listing is one of the most useful Wikipedia pages there is. The problem is that we are much better at spotting the flaws in other people’s argument, but tend to be blind to the mistakes we make ourselves. So, if you see me falling for any of them, do call me on it.


6 Responses to “Logical Fallacies”

  1. Anand Jeyahar August 25, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    It’s for this reason that I’ve started writing a daily journal. Sometimes i use it as an hourly journal though.. Since, i use 750words.com and i am online at work, it becomes a distraction at times to avoid work, but nevertheless, the daily journal idea works…


  1. Logical Fallacies II – Evolved To Be Illogical? « unfebuckinglievable - September 7, 2012

    […] from the previous post on this topic, a recent New Scientist article ‘The Argumentative Ape”, Dan Jones […]

  2. Tim Harford – Adapt (Lecture) « unfebuckinglievable - October 29, 2012

    […] then described the cognitive bias of loss aversion which is where people “strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring […]

  3. Why We Believe What We Believe – Andrew Newberg « unfebuckinglievable - November 2, 2012

    […] like having our beliefs challenged, which is something he comes onto later in the book, discussing cognitive biases and how to become aware of the influences our beliefs have on our perceptions and corollary […]

  4. Beware Crowds – Logical Fallacy #58 | unfebuckinglievable - March 8, 2013

    […] ad Populum, or appeal to the crowd, is a logical fallacy which asserts that a proposition is true because many people believe […]

  5. Russell Brand and the Halo Effect | unfebuckinglievable - December 6, 2013

    […] than on the value of their opinion. It’s a subtle and subconscious version of the Ad Hominem fallacy. I still do this of course – we all do – but much less than I used to. I have been […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: