I am currently working on multiple articles on logical fallacies and logic in general, so as to hopefully be a useful resource for those among us who are interested in learning about arguments and their structure. Many of the fallacies you will read about you may recognize from numerous sources and individuals. Fallacies are prominent in all areas of life, from individuals holding a variety of beliefs. They are prominent in church and in schools, in the media, and even in casual conversation. Understanding fallicious arguments will help you point them out to individuals you are talking with, and allow you to further analyze individuals of power (your priest, a scientist, a professor) and the mass media (whom often feed us half-truths and lies packaged as truth itself). It is for these reasons that I feel it is important to write this series of articles on fallacies. Let me continue with another 5 commonly used fallacies:
1). No True Scotsman Fallacy
I find this fallacy to be particularly interesting. In some ways, I find the name that it generally receives ("No True Scotsman") to be rather humerous; though this works well because the fallacy itself is often a humerous entrapment many individuals find themselves in. A familiar term to many individuals will be the phrase "circular reasoning", and the No True Scotsman fallacy falls into this category of fallicious logic. For those who are unaware, a circlular argument attempts to draw a conclusion based on the premise itself. The term "No True Scotsman" comes from the following example: If so-and-so claims that all Scotsman are brave, and you provide a counter example of a Scotsman who is clearly a coward, so-and-so might respond, "Well, then, he's no true Scotsman."
As is evident by this example, this fallacy is frequently used when refering to political or geographical alignment. In the United States, we frequently hear people in the media refering to what a "true American", a "true Republican", or a "true Democrat" is like. A major problem with these sweeping generalizations is that there are a large variety of individuals in each of these categories, and the definition can seemingly be subjective as opposed to strictly objective. The definition of a Scotsman is not a reliable fact or source of information, rather the definition is "made-up" or at best an operational definition. If the latter point is not acknowledged in the argument, than it can be assumed that this fallacy is being followed to a T.
As may also be evident, the notion that all Scotmen are courageous may be loosely based on modern mythology; such as in the story of William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart. We assume that every Scotsman should have the same character traits as this fictional character, then mutate from that a false logical argument.
2).Reductio Ad Absurdum
The reductio ad absurdum fallacy is not nearly as easy to notice as some other fallacious modes of thinking. In fact, in some contexts, this argument can be lead to an accurate logical train of thought. The fallacious variation of this argument then arises when this argument is abused, and trains of thought lead to abolutely ridiculous assumptions. One may consider this argument in the context of an example on which a dependence is on an individuals sense of sight. An individual may say, "If you do not believe in God (because he cannot be actively seen), then you must not believe in the Great Wall of China as you have not actually seen that either." There are multiple flaws with this strain of thought. One, this individual is comparing a metaphysical quality (God) with a physical one. The analogy simply does not sit well, and is fallicious on its own merit. Additionally, the conclusion is reduced to mere absurdity. I have not personally stood before the Great Wall of China and gazed at is, however many individuals HAVE done this; and it is a well documented piece of arcitecture, both historically and pictorally. The larger concern here is that an individual is attempting to argue that God is real because you have not seen the Great Wall of China. That is laughable, and even if you believe in God; I would imagine you have a sense of humor and can laugh at this poor fallicious way of thinking!
3). Slippery Slope Fallacy
You may have heard this phrase in passing, or perhaps in a philosophy course. However, what does it really mean? I know for a while I went about thinking I knew what this meant through its usage, however upon studying it a little I realized I was somewhat wrong. So what is the slippery slope fallacy?
The slippery slope is an argument which indicates that a particular position (often in relation to a belief) is inaccurate because by accepting the position, one must accept all other positions on the "slippery slope" continuum. For example, one may argue that Islam is a wrong mode of belief based on the fact that their are Islamic extremists whom murder, rape, and so forth. This is simple not a valid argument, because there are many Muslims who are relatively peaceful and moderate. In fact, there are some who even speak AGAINST the extremists. One cannot discount the entire Islamic point of view based on the nature of the extremists.
The straw-man argument may also sound familar, though you may not completely be sure of what it entails. Simply put, a straw-man argument attempts to counter a position by attacking a different, often easier, position that is related to the original. In essence, it is a mode of disguising one's rebuttal to a difficult argument by addressing a separate issue. The fact that the separate issue is related to the original point is why this can be difficult to pick up on. In reality, this is a very dishonest technique used in many public debate settings, amongst other locations.
A basic example of a straw-man would be as found in the following hypothetical conversation:
Child: "Dad, can we get a computer?"
Child: "But it will let me communicate with my friends through e-mail!"
Dad: "Still no, we can't afford it."
Child: "What, so you want me to be dumb now?!?"
As you can see, the straw-man occurs when the focus of the discussion is transfered from "getting a computer" to a question of whether or not the father wants his child to be "dumb."
5). Non-Sequitur Fallacy
When one translates this phrase from Latin to English, the phrase becomes, literally, "doesn't follow." As one may well assume, an argument using this fallicious approach will be easy to spot, simply because the logical train of thought is undoubtedly illogical. In fact, most non-sequitur phrases are completely stupid or at least border on the line of stupidity. Here is a prime example:
"George Bush is a terrorist because the sky is blue."
As one can see pretty clearly, the premise and conclusion are heavily unrelated.