There are several common fallacies we encounter daily, in this article I will explore a few of them and their relevancy to daily discussions. The most important application in spotting these flaws of reasoning are whenever you are watching the news or reading on any subject in which the motivation for bias in the writer is in question. We all approach our arguments with the slant of our viewpoint and biases, most of the time we don’t notice.
The skill of forensics is not taught as it should be any longer. To this end the media’s mind control is made even easier as too often we lack to tools to express what we feel is wrong. We will start with a few of the common fallacies.
ad hominem (personal attacks against the arguer).
This is the error of attacking the character or motives of a person who has presented an idea, rather than the point they are addressing. One of the most obvious example of this fallacy is when one debater disparages the character of another debater (e.g, “The members of the opposition are a couple of fascists!”), but this is actually not that common. A more typical example of argumentum ad hominem is attacking a source of information — for example, responding to a quotation from Richard Nixon on the subject of free trade with China by saying, “We all know Nixon was a liar and a thief, so why should we believe anything he has to say?”
This fallacy also occurs when someone’s arguments are discounted merely because they stand to benefit from the opinion they present — such as Steve Jobs arguing against antitrust, rich people arguing for lower taxes, white people arguing against affirmative action, minorities arguing for affirmative action, etc. In these cases, the relevant question is not who makes the argument, but whether the argument is valid.
There are some cases when it is not really a fallacy, like when one needs to evaluate the truth of factual statements (as opposed to lines of argument or statements of value) made by interested persons. If someone has an reason to lie about something, then it would be naive to accept his statements about that subject without question. It is also possible to restate many ad hominem arguments so as to redirect them toward ideas rather than people, such as by replacing “My opponents are fascists” with “My opponents’ arguments are fascist.”
Argument from ignorance
Can be summed up by when the arguer presents facts about a particular subject but nothing in particular is said about the topic. This is always based on circumstantial evidence where it assumed that something may be known about the topic.
A variant occurs where a lack of evidence is assumed to be proof, for example when a murder suspect does not have an alibi.
Circumstantial evidence is well known in the courtroom as being weak evidence, if evidence at all. Yet in daily life it is used with impunity. Yet the notion of a person being innocent until proven guilty also makes conclusions without proof. Similarly, scientists largely assume something does not exist until it is proven.
A significant question with this is where the burden of proof lies. Is it with the prosecutor or the accused? Usually it is with the person making a claim that something exists or has occured
Straw Man Argument
Any time spent on the internet browsing or participating in chat rooms shows this is rampant. You take the one component of the person’s argument that is easily disproved or can easily be called into question and use that one point as a basis for dismissing all they have to say. Any complex conspiracy theory often overwhelms the simpler minds. They reach a point where critical thinking and keeping track of the facts becomes too difficult, this is the last or sometimes first resort of the fool. If this fallacy is presented expect name calling to follow (see Piers Morgan).
Faith and Logic
It is important to remember that faith and logic are mutually exclusive. Where faith begins logic ends. Most all of the major sciences are realizing this as the edges of theories are producing probabilities instead of conclusions. Probabilities are of course not demonstrable. This should not bother us as the human body of knowledge stretches to the limit we are forced to deal with the immaterial.
There are may more fallacies to be mastered. An internet search will reveal many variations and opinions. I encourage all to pursue further. I cruise for refreshers often. As we are continually bombarded with media sound bytes and talking head opinions these fallacies become easier to identify.