Tag Archive | Specious Reasoning

Project Logicality | The Non Sequitur Fallacy

What’s going on when the reasons we give to support or refute a statement have no relation to it at all? What is the fundamental error of reasoning underpinning almost all logical fallacies, and when does this represent special cases?

Here we discuss the general fallacy of the Non Sequitur, Latin for does not follow.

This can generally refer to any sort of logical fallacy, any argument where a logical connection between premises is implied that just isn’t there.

This fallacy is often found with other forms of invalid reasoning in the very same statement. Here’s a couple of handy examples of the most common form:

Our cult shall be feared by all, for Azathoth is freakin’ scary when annoyed.

Human-caused global warming is impossible, because it’s cyclical, the ozone hole over the antarctic is closing, cow farts, and Mars is warming too, not just the earth.

But there are more specific named forms of this fallacy as well:

The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle:

In which a conclusion is incorrectly drawn from two given or assumed premises, and takes the form of:

All Xs are Cs.

A is a C.

So, A is an X.

An obviously ridiculous example would be:

All birds generate their own body heat.

My cats generate their own body heat.

My cats are birds.

There is…

…Denying the Antecedent:

Which takes the form of:

If C is true, then D is true.

C is false.

So, D is also false.

A good example would be:

If I am in ancient Athens, I’m in Greece.

I’m not in ancient Athens.

So, I’m not in Greece.

This is absurd, as there are many locations and times in Greece other than Athens or the Ancient period. There is also…

…Affirming the Consequent:

which takes the form:

If C is true then D is true.

D is true.

So C is true.

An example:

If my Senior Technician intends to transfer me to another project, she’ll have a talk with the Program Director.

My Senior Technician is going to talk with the Program Director.

She wants to get me transferred to another project.

This last is clearly an example of invalid reasoning because the Senior Tech could be seeing the Program Director for entirely different reasons than those given.

One problem people sometimes have with this fallacy is that it can be subtle, and they are often too proud to speak out when they cannot see how an argument follows, or are too polite to point out its lack of relevance to the speaker.

It’s important to more specifically pick out what is being said even as a less general sort of fallacy, including the non sequitur’s aforementioned variants.

So be careful that what facts you bring to an argument are actually relevant to the point you’re trying to make. Otherwise, it may just fail the application of the “so what” test!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Fully Updated, Retitled, Broken Links Removed on 2017.06.06)

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Project Logicality | False Choice Fallacies

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 21.28.48

Here, we discuss a common error in reasoning, the False Choice, also known as the False Dichotomy, the Bifurcation fallacy, the Either-Or fallacy, the Fallacy of Negation, the False Dilemma, and for a common variant with only three options, the False Trichotomy.

This uses informal, or language-grounded, logic, and takes the form of a Dilemma, a class of argumentation that takes its effectiveness from resemblance to a formal argument known as a Disjunction.

A Dilemma, false or not, unlike a Disjunction, has a conclusion that follows only to a degree of probability, not necessarily or with complete certainty.

As a fallacy, this argument uses a misleadingly simple choice of two or otherwise too few options, one assumed as true to the negation, discredit, or rejection of all alternatives. In all variants, this falsely constrained selection of options are presented as though they were the only ones.

It generally takes the following form:

Either X or Y.

Not X.

So Y.

In any realistic choice there is often a much greater selection of options to take than rhetorically suit the purposes of those who like to use this argument strategy.

On occasion, however there are exceptions, when there do exist a restricted selection of options, as when a prediction made by a scientific hypothesis is either provisionally validated or falsified, or with the argument against theistic moral theories from the dialogues of Plato, Euthyphro’s Dilemma. Sets of choices that reflect realistic limits would not count as a commission of this fallacy.

I’ll provide a few of examples of the False Choice below:

Either young-Earth creationism is true or we came about through blind evolution. But I declare evolution to be false as it contradicts the literal truth of scripture, which I know to be true. Since evolution is false, young-Earth creationism must be true.

You either worship my God, or you worship the Evil One. You don’t worship my God, and since everyone worships something, you must worship the Evil One.

If these are redone as false trichotomies, we get:

Either young-Earth creationism, Intelligent design, or Darwinism is true, and since Darwinism and Intelligent design are false, young-Earth creationism must be true.

This argument completely ignores the vast variety of theological systems and creation myths of all the world’s cultures, past and present, misleadingly presenting an anachronistic 19th century caricature of modern evolutionary science, the creation myths from Genesis (Both of them!) as interpreted by biblical literalists, and Intelligent design as the only possible options.

There is also:

You either worship my concept of God, the Evil One, or the fleshy gods of materialistic science.

This ignores the fact that one may in fact worship nothing at all, no gods, no masters, no devils, no objects of worship of any kind, as is usually the case with atheists.

The rest are simple (and of course, simplistic) dichotomies…

You’re either a believer and a theist, or you’re a skeptic and an atheist.

Two words suffice to refute this: Martin Gardner. Look him up.

Anyone who doesn’t support the Patriot Act supports terrorists!

Either the girl broke her ex-boyfriend’s jaw with that slugger, or it started flying around and fractured his jaw by itself!

Either your cat stole my burrito or maybe a psychic just teleported in and grabbed it? Suuure…

If you are not with us, you are against us.

You’re either pro-choice or pro-life. There’s no middle ground!

Note that realistically, not all imaginable options in a set of alternatives need to be considered, only those options that are somehow meaningfully testable, as with the rule of thumb known as Occam’s razor, or the principle of theoretical economy.

Also, there is at least one other reason that this argument is not always a fallacy, such as when it is used to further the goal of advancing a critical discussion, and not merely block further consideration or thwart attempts to resolve a controversy.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Project Logicality: The X of the gaps fallacy

Getting reliable knowledge can be tricky. But contriving explanations for what we don’t know with what’s itself unknown is slippery. We humans are naturally disposed to see patterns and intentional agency in nature. It comes quickly and easily to us.

But the best explanations we’ve found for things in our experience have consistently and reliably been natural, rarely obvious, and almost never simple. Each and every time. Never has any successful inquiry undertaken ever uncovered any explanatory agents outside, apart from, or in any way above nature.

As our knowledge improves, this gives whatever such agencies we invoke ever-shrinking responsibilities, them being reduced to what Neil deGrasse Tyson has called “an ever-receding pocket of ignorance.” However it’s used to explain things not currently understood, it’s often called the God of the gaps fallacy, for, so the argument goes, wherever there are gaps in our knowledge, there lies God…or any other sort of extraordinary entity we might give a name to.

From here on, I’ll call this the X of the gaps fallacy, with X standing in for any concept we choose as our unknown causal agent.

It’s the same argument when we use any sort of extraordinary or otherwise unknown or unknowable entity; witches*, wizards, demons, angels, ghosts, psionic abilities, aliens, faeries, cloud nymphs, computer pixies, evil secret conspirators, quasi-evil conspirators, pseudo-evil conspirators, diet cola of evil conspirators, such elusive things as souls and free will***, and the list goes on.

A few examples of this argument follow:

  • This study has produced statistical results that appear to rule out chance.
  • So something other than chance must be at work.
  • I don’t know what that something might be apart from psi.
  • So that something must be psi.

 


  • Witches cause all kinds of misfortune with their evil spells.
  • My milk got curdled, my best ram died after eating them funny-looking weeds, a hailstorm wiped out my crops, and all my cats have hairballs again.
  • So witches must be responsible for all of this!

 


  • We do not know, to an arbitrary level of detail, the exact naturalistic mechanisms giving rise to the origin of life, its diversity, or the origins of the universe.**
  • No one is smart enough to figure out the answer.
  • So the Intelligent Designer™ must have done it all, in ways we know not at all, for the Designer’s ways are Mysterious™.

While there’s no absolute guarantee that our knowledge will continue to progress as it has, it does us no good to invoke things we don’t really know or understand to explain other unknowns based only on our own subjective or even collective ignorance.

After all, why not just be honest with ourselves and admit that when we don’t know, we just don’t know. It’s better, more effective and more rational to make a real effort to look for answers instead of making them up, and either convincing ourselves that we have all the answers or throwing up our hands and declaring that we if don’t know something now then we’ll never understand.

That is simply intellectual laziness.

That’s no judgment on anyone’s persons, but an observation of the sort of thinking process at play.

Lazy thinking leads to fuzzy understanding and unreliable knowledge claims that don’t stand up to the test of reality, and we all do it, both we ordinary mortals and those Sophisticated Theologians™ alike.

*This does not include Wiccans, but only those now stereotypical witches and warlocks imagined during the European witch hunts, and the modern witch hunts going on in African nations, many of which horrifically involve the old and the helpless, like young children.

**It should go without saying that these involve different branches of science, but Creationists and many Intelligent Design proponentsists (sic) tend to treat them as though they were the same.

***thanks to Benjamin Steele for mentioning that last. It had slipped my mind in the original writing of this post, so I’m adding it in this edit.

Project Logicality | The Appeal to Force

(This post contains rough language, and at least one rather graphic example, not particularly kid-friendly, is provided. Then, this is not a kid-friendly blog, so no biggie.)

What happens when the threat of force is used as an argument? Is such use valid? If so, when?
Here we discuss the appeal to force, just for the sake of annoying pedantry, the argument from the cudgel, or the ad baculum fallacy.It’s an informal, language-derived argument, often an irrelevant appeal, to compel compliance or even merely seeming agreement with a claim using force or its threat, whether physical, psychological, or legal.

It may be thought of as a subset of the argument from final consequences, and in a simple and slightly vulgar formulation basically amounts to:

Agree with me and do as I say, or I’ll kick your f**king *ss!

Or a bit less crudely,

Agree that I’m right because I’m badder and meaner than you are and I can light you up!

There’s also:

Do as I say, not as I do …or else!

That last might also double as an argument from authority, it and the ad baculum both being not-so-subtle forms of bullying.

It’s a fallacy when the threat implied or expressed used has no valid relation to the claim. It aims to exploit a demand for submission to authority or fear to substitute for good argument.

This is probably apocryphal, but there’s a classic example I’ve seen in one of my Great Courses lectures, of something attributed to Hitler, on hearing the then Pope’s displeasure with his policies, in which he allegedly said:

“…and how many tanks does the Pope have?”

Not exactly a rhetorical question.

But that nicely illustrates the use of this argument in exploiting the idea that ‘might makes right.’

Another example of this is Pascal’s wager, with its choice, actually a false dichotomy, of theistic belief while supposedly losing nothing and maybe winning everything, or non-belief and the supposed risk if ‘wrong,’ whatever that means. There are many unstated assumptions going into the wager without independent support, which if not presupposed undermine Pascal’s case, but I won’t deal with that here.

An ad baculum argument can have valid applications, as when the threat made directly relates to the claims and not just to overthrow discussion by substituting intimidation or fear for real justification of a claim.

There are those criminal penalties imposed as punishment in various legal systems. This includes crimes like theft, fraud, murder, and treason, with such penalties as narfling the Garthok, or maybe being consigned to Jabba the Hutt’s Rancor pit for making awful 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 can be horrific, worse than death, as madness comes while they eat your brain. To best avoid this unpleasant fate, you must not read ‘Reflections on Infinity.’

Okay, so that was a little over the top.

With many arguments, sometimes using fallacies or not, valid or invalid use depends on context. The use of it for furthering is valid and invalid for squelching reasonable discussion.

Most such fallacies are not simple and easy matters of the argument structure. They depend on meaning bound up in language, which is not merely decorative filler as with formal logic.

Content matters. With informal arguments, content and meaning are structure.

One final note as well: an argument may be formally valid in terms of structure, yet informally invalid, committing a fallacy, or several fallacies, in the exact same statement.

So we must examine our assumptions going into an argument, and our reasoning to our conclusions on two fronts, both formally and informally.

And that, I think, goes a bit further to making us better, smarter thinkers, and more skillful with our reasoning as a means of self-defense for the mind in a post-truth world.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Last Updated 2017.06.06)

Convincing Troythulu of…Whatever

An earlier post (Click Me Here) sparked a brief online discussion, partly in the comment threads and part by email, with a friend of mine, more skeptical of man-made global climate change than I am, a position that given his differing political views is entirely understandable.

In the original post, I expressed my own position, somewhat clumsily in retrospect I think, and also expressed a lack of interest in debating the subject, because I was confident then and I’m confident now that the science is largely settled, the fine details of the findings being only slightly less certain than the nuts-and-bolts of the research, and only the political arguments about it and will to do something remaining a real factor.

And I don’t really care for politics…

Well, regardless of who’s right or wrong on this, he and others expressed misgivings about changing my mind. Are they justified? I think it’s dangerous to believe anything absolutely, and no, I do not believe that absolutely – the exception is my pastime enjoying what certainty that can be found in mathematics – and I can give my provisional assent to virtually any claim as long as certain rules are followed.

Ceiling cats of Lovecraft…I’m an arrogant f**k…but I have standards that must be met.

So I thought it would be fun to point out just what those rules are, so as for some to avoid much frustration when trying to convince me of a point, and note that they apply to any sort of extraordinary claim. Here they are, in gruesome detail:

First, I know a thing or two about logical fallacies, and I cannot overstate the importance of minding the soundness and validity of one’s reasoning when attempting to persuade me, rather than crying logical foul and diving face-first to attack arguments I never made and positions I don’t hold. Valid, well-justified arguments are much more likely to win me over.

Regarding anthropogenic climate change: Pro or con, I am not going to be convinced by the same old flawed arguments I’ve seen before on climate skeptic websites, environmentalist sites, nor by the arguments of politicians and political pundits, including Glenn Beck or Al Gore. And no, I haven’t directly seen or read anything by Al Gore, nor do I care about anything he says or does. If you really want to know, I didn’t vote for him in 2000.

Try to address arguments I actually make and state outright, and do try to avoid seeing implications in my arguments that aren’t really there. If I have to point out during a discussion that a supposed implication in an argument doesn’t exist, there’s a good chance that it doesn’t. Really.

Attempting to refute points I don’t raise, like the figures on short-term or local temperature variations, the statistics on the polar bear population, or the specifics of arctic ice melting and refreezing estimates, for a few examples, is a bad idea. The reason I don’t bring up certain talking points in an argument is the fact that I don’t bring up matters I don’t consider valid, relevant, or important. To sum it up, if I don’t bring it up, I’m not arguing it. Make no mistake on that.

Next, don’t use arguments appealing to partisan ideologies, especially ones I don’t happen to have in common with you, whether political, religious, or otherwise obviously slanted toward a particular view and not having anything directly to do with science. Nothing sets my baloney-detector off more easily than arguments with loaded language and obviously biased partisan rhetoric. Use your arguments like a laser beam, not a blunderbuss.

Next: Evidence! Evidence! Evidence! Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, as Carl Sagan once said, and this especially applies to claims that I think are extraordinary, even if you do not. Remember, I may have different criteria for the truth-conditions of the evidence. Be prepared to reference your sources, and make doubly sure that they actually support your claims. And on that last, if they don’t support you, that’s known as a simple honest mistake with careless peeps, and known as ‘lying with footnotes’ with less honest folks. Try to reference sources that we can both agree on the validity of: As long as you don’t quote me Watts Up With That or Faux Nu’z, I won’t reference Al Gore or Treehugger.com to you. Deal?

Be aware that if you do not cite your sources, then I cannot check them and will remain indefinitely skeptical of your argument, and if you do cite your sources, I can check them for myself. Well, there you are, and them’s the rules. Good luck, and always keep your arguments well-polished.

Project Logicality | The Non Sequitur Fallacy

What’s going on when the reasons we give to support or refute a statement have no relation to it at all? What is the fundamental error of reasoning underpinning almost all logical fallacies, and when does this represent special cases?

Here we discuss the general fallacy of the Non Sequitur, Latin for does not follow.

This can generally refer to any sort of logical fallacy, any argument where a logical connection between premises is implied that just isn’t there.

This fallacy is often found with other forms of invalid reasoning in the very same statement. Here’s a couple of handy examples of the most common form:

Our cult shall be feared by all, for Azathoth is freakin’ scary when annoyed.

Human-caused global warming is impossible, because it’s cyclical, the ozone hole over the antarctic is closing, cow farts, and Mars is warming too, not just the earth.

But there are more specific named forms of this fallacy as well:

The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle:

In which a conclusion is incorrectly drawn from two given or assumed premises, and takes the form of:

All Xs are Cs.

A is a C.

So, A is an X.

An obviously ridiculous example would be:

All birds generate their own body heat.

My cats generate their own body heat.

My cats are birds.

There is…

…Denying the Antecedent:

Which takes the form of:

If C is true, then D is true.

C is false.

So, D is also false.

A good example would be:

If I am in ancient Athens, I’m in Greece.

I’m not in ancient Athens.

So, I’m not in Greece.

This is absurd, as there are many locations and times in Greece other than Athens or the Ancient period. There is also…

…Affirming the Consequent:

which takes the form:

If C is true then D is true.

D is true.

So C is true.

An example:

If my Senior Technician intends to transfer me to another project, she’ll have a talk with the Program Director.

My Senior Technician is going to talk with the Program Director.

She wants to get me transferred to another project.

This last is clearly an example of invalid reasoning because the Senior Tech could be seeing the Program Director for entirely different reasons than those given.

One problem people sometimes have with this fallacy is that it can be subtle, and they are often too proud to speak out when they cannot see how an argument follows, or are too polite to point out its lack of relevance to the speaker.

It’s important to more specifically pick out what is being said even as a less general sort of fallacy, including the non sequitur’s aforementioned variants.

So be careful that what facts you bring to an argument are actually relevant to the point you’re trying to make. Otherwise, it may just fail the application of the “so what” test!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Fully Updated, Retitled, Broken Links Removed on 2017.06.06)

Project Logicality | False Choice Fallacies

Here, we discuss a common error in reasoning, the False Choice, also known as the False Dichotomy, the Bifurcation fallacy, the Either-Or fallacy, the Fallacy of Negation, the False Dilemma, and for a common variant with only three options, the False Trichotomy.

This uses informal, or language-grounded, logic, and takes the form of a Dilemma, a class of argumentation that takes its effectiveness from resemblance to a formal argument known as a Disjunction.

A Dilemma, false or not, unlike a Disjunction, has a conclusion that follows only to a degree of probability, not necessarily or with complete certainty.

As a fallacy, this argument uses a misleadingly simple choice of two or otherwise too few options, one assumed as true to the negation, discredit, or rejection of all alternatives. In all variants, this falsely constrained selection of options are presented as though they were the only ones.

It generally takes the following form:

Either X or Y.

Not X.

So Y.

In any realistic choice there is often a much greater selection of options to take than rhetorically suit the purposes of those who like to use this argument strategy.

On occasion, however there are exceptions, when there do exist a restricted selection of options, as when a prediction made by a scientific hypothesis is either provisionally validated or falsified, or with the argument against theistic moral theories from the dialogues of Plato, Euthyphro’s Dilemma. Sets of choices that reflect realistic limits would not count as a commission of this fallacy.

I’ll provide a few of examples of the False Choice below:

Either young-Earth creationism is true or we came about through blind evolution. But I declare evolution to be false as it contradicts the literal truth of scripture, which I know to be true. Since evolution is false, young-Earth creationism must be true.

You either worship my God, or you worship the Evil One. You don’t worship my God, and since everyone worships something, you must worship the Evil One.

If these are redone as false trichotomies, we get:

Either young-Earth creationism, Intelligent design, or Darwinism is true, and since Darwinism and Intelligent design are false, young-Earth creationism must be true.

This argument completely ignores the vast variety of theological systems and creation myths of all the world’s cultures, past and present, misleadingly presenting an anachronistic 19th century caricature of modern evolutionary science, the creation myths from Genesis (Both of them!) as interpreted by biblical literalists, and Intelligent design as the only possible options.

There is also:

You either worship my concept of God, the Evil One, or the fleshy gods of materialistic science.

This ignores the fact that one may in fact worship nothing at all, no gods, no masters, no devils, no objects of worship of any kind, as is usually the case with atheists.

The rest are simple (and of course, simplistic) dichotomies…

You’re either a believer and a theist, or you’re a skeptic and an atheist.

Two words suffice to refute this: Martin Gardner. Look him up.

Anyone who doesn’t support the Patriot Act supports terrorists!

Either the girl broke her ex-boyfriend’s jaw with that slugger, or it started flying around and fractured his jaw by itself!

Either your cat stole my burrito or maybe a psychic just teleported in and grabbed it? Suuure…

If you are not with us, you are against us.

You’re either pro-choice or pro-life. There’s no middle ground!

Note that realistically, not all imaginable options in a set of alternatives need to be considered, only those options that are somehow meaningfully testable, as with the rule of thumb known as Occam’s razor, or the principle of theoretical economy.

Also, there is at least one other reason that this argument is not always a fallacy, such as when it is used to further the goal of advancing a critical discussion, and not merely block further consideration or thwart attempts to resolve a controversy.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Last Update: 2017/06/06)