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Tag Archives: Logical Fallacies

This is from a while back, but for ten minutes, it’s the most complete, indepth discussion Dr. Tyson’s given on this subject.

One of the most common ways for arguments to go astray is to make an appeal to irrelevant reasons to support the main claim of an argument, or for complex arguments, the resolution of a case.

Many variations of such appeals are similar to  arguments from authority, in that the authority is not necessarily a person or a direct statement made by same, in or out of context, but a quality attached to an idea, a product, alleged service, protocol, or treatment.

There are several such appeals to evidence which isn’t.

A few are shown below:

  • The appeal to tradition/antiquity — This fallacy lies in inferring that something is true, good, healthy, or works, because it has been in use for a long time, when it’s longevity could simply be the result of social or psychological inertia, or just plain stupidity, and not any real truth, virtues, efficacy, safety, or usefulness of the claim itself. — “But we’ve always held human sacrifices to He Who Nibbles Annoyingly at this time of year to help the crops grow…Why stop now?”
  • The appeal to the new/exotic — Speciously inferring that a thing is good, useful, effective, or to be believed because of some perceived unusual or novel quality, regardless of the actual truth of the claims made for it or other relevant quality of the thing. — “This sweater costs a king’s ransom, but is well worth it, for it was knitted from the wool of Alpine mountain goats fed on imported lichens and flora harvested from a boiling subterranean Antarctic lake by trained eunuchs.”
  • The appeal to sympathy — This is inferring that a claim is to be believed because those making it are deserving of our pity, sympathy, mercy, or are unjustly treated, when such an inference has no relation to the claim being offered — “Hey, this guy’s gotten short shrift in business for years, so let’s consult him on all of our important foreign policy decisions.”
  • The appeal to popularity — This fallacy lies in asserting that something is to be believed because it is widely accepted, when it is easily the case that 7 billion of anybody can indeed be wrong. Indeed, everyone in the universe could believe Azathoth and the Other Gods to be real when that simply would not be the case. — This fallacy, along with appeals to celebrity, is one of the most common used in modern advertising. It is often coupled with the appeal to tradition in some arguments, but is pure poison no matter how it’s used.
  • Appeal to unconventionality/antiauthority — A variation of the argument from authority or perhaps a positive ad hominem, in which the claimant’s virtue is perceived to come from opposition to a tyrannical and dogmatic establishment. Indeed, it’s the claimant’s lack of expertise and allegedly revolutionary mindset that is their main claim to authority. — But those matters requiring real expertise are what they are — revolutionary sentiment and bold words do not make a science, art, or good policy.

Those using these fallacies to promote their claims still must bear the burden of proof if they wish to be taken seriously by those doing genuine research work, or not. And if they wish to do so, the first thing to be done is to use evidence for their claims that actually bear on the issues they raise, to avoid these crimes of relevance, for science answers to a higher authority than any one researcher — reality — and while you can fool individual scientists, reality is not so easily fooled, and the truth will come out no matter how facile the argument against it.

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I couldn’t have put it better! Another classic from the archives…

Description of the argumentum ad baculum

Image via Wikipedia

The content of this post may contain NSFW language and at least one rather graphic example, not particularly kid-friendly, is provided.

You’ve been warned.

In this installment I’ll discuss the ad baculum argument, or just for the sake of annoying pedantry, because I’m evil like that, the ‘argument from the cudgel,’ or otherwise known as the appeal to force.

This is an informal argument, and often fallacious in its use of an irrelevant appeal, to compel compliance or at least feigned agreement with a conclusion by duress or by the threat of it, whether that duress be physical, psychological, or legal.

It’s a subset of the argument from consequences, and in a simple but possibly vulgar formulation basically amounts to, “Agree with me and do as you’re told, or I’ll kick your ass,” or maybe a bit less crudely, “I’m right because I’m badder and meaner than you are and I can light you up easily. So there.”

There’s also the (in)famous “Do as I say, not as I do,” with the addendum, “…or else!”

It’s fallacious when the threat implied or expressed used has no logical relation to the claim offered, and it aims to exploit a demand for submission to authority and fear as a substitute for valid argument.

This is probably apocryphal, but there’s a classic example I’ve seen on various places on the Web, of a statement of Hitler’s upon hearing the then-current Pope’s displeasure with his policies, whereupon he is to have said, “…and how many tanks does the Pope have?”

Not exactly a rhetorical question…

…and it quite nicely illustrates the specious use of this argument in making use of the idea that ‘might makes right.’

Another example of this is Pascal’s Wager, with its choice, actually a false dilemma, of either belief in God while supposedly losing nothing and a chance at winning everything, or non-belief and risking perdition if one is ‘wrong,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean, since to many religious believers, everyone else’s beliefs, or lack of them as the case may be, are wrong, even intolerable, and sometimes pure evil to boot.

Never mind the underlying self-serving motivation for belief promoted by the Wager, but that’s a subject for a future post…

But an ad baculum argument not always a fallacy, and can have valid applications, such as when the threat, force or punishment invoked has a direct relation to the claims of the argument and is not merely used to overthrow a discussion by substituting intimidation or fear for actual justification of a claim, such as the criminal penalties imposed to support the edicts of various legal systems that certain activities, including but not limited to theft, fraud, and treason, are wrong, or unethical, and should be punished by law, such as by narfling the Garthok, or being consigned to Jabba’s Rancor pit for making bad SF movie references on this blog. Ouch.

For example:

  • If you read the forbidden (and completely made-up) haiku collection ‘Reflections on Infinity,’ horrible and nasty critters (equally fictitious)from the Outer Void (as made-up as the first two)will show up and slowly eat your brain.
  • Attracting the attention of such horrors would be very unpleasant, and worse than death, for madness comes as they eat your brain.
  • So to best avoid this unpleasant fate, you must not read ‘Reflections on Infinity.’

Yes, that was a little over the top, but I did say this post wasn’t kid-safe.

Like several forms of argumentation, sometimes fallacies and others not, the valid or invalid use of it is dependent on context, and the use of it for the promotion or squelching of a critical discussion, valid when used for the former, invalid for the latter…

…or sound or unsound, strong or weak, in any case, even though the logic used is probabilistic rather than certain in nature.

Most informal fallacies are not simple matters of incorrect structure having nothing to do with the content of an argument, as with syllogistic logic, but are heavily dependent on the meaning bound up in the language used, for language is inextricably bound into informal argumentation, not mere decorative filler.

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