The Top 10 Logical Fallacies to Avoid in Arguments


The Top 10 Logical Fallacies to Avoid in Arguments

  1. Straw Man Fallacy
  2. Begging the Question Fallacy
  3. Ad Hominem Fallacy
  4. Post Hoc Fallacy
  5. Loaded Question Fallacy
  6. False Dichotomy Fallacy
  7. Equivocation Fallacy
  8. Appeal to Authority Fallacy
  9. Hasty Generalization Fallacy
  10. Appeal to Popular Opinion Fallacy

Logical Fallacy Definition:

A Logical Fallacy is defined as an error in reasoning or a false inference within an argument, or an argument that is constructed wrongly. Errors in reasoning are Informal Fallacies. When the argument itself is wrongly constructed, that is a Formal Fallacy. Formal Fallacies break the rules of logical construction in argumentation. Informal Fallacies may have the proper logical construction, but are fallacious by making an argument where the conclusion is wrong in some manner and doesn’t follow from the premises.

Fallacies fall within these two categories: Informal Fallacies and Formal Fallacies.

Successful Student has made a how-to guide for students to learn the art of argument in a series of articles. This is the first, which explains what the top logical fallacies are along with definitions and descriptions, how to recognize them, and how to avoid logical fallacies. The second article in this series is How to be Persuasive in Making Arguments.

There are many formal and informal logical fallacies in the world of logic and argumentation. This is because there is one right or logical way forward and many potential errors that render arguments as fallacious. In a given argument there is one way to be right and many ways to be wrong. We have compiled the top 10 most common logical fallacies that every student should know, which include formal and informal fallacies.

Learning the top most common logical fallacies is necessary to avoid their many pitfalls. Familiarize yourself with them and improve your debate skills and logical argumentation.

The Top 10 Logical Fallacies to Avoid in Arguments

1. Straw Man Fallacy

The Straw Man Fallacy is misrepresenting the position of the opponent. This is done by replacing their position with a different position (a straw man), and then attacking that different position. Changing the opponent’s argument into a weaker form is called a Straw Man because a man made of straw is a weaker version of a man, which is easy to defeat.

This fallacy sets up an easy and false version of the opponent’s argument, and then knocks that down or argues against that false position. Meanwhile, the actual argument of the opponent hasn’t been addressed at all. Arguments cannot be conducted under these fallacious conditions because the subject of the argument itself isn’t actually being addressed.

Example: Mary says “This is the best Thai food restaurant in the city.” John responds with “You think this is the best restaurant in the city?”

2. Begging the Question (Circular Reasoning) Fallacy

Re-stating or reaffirming the premise (or premises) as the conclusion (without any further explanation or information). Assuming the conclusion in the premises. The problem with this fallacy is that it never progresses the argument past the premise(s).

The premises are simply reasserted as the conclusion. Or, the conclusion is put into the premises, and then reasserted as the conclusion. The premise of an argument has to be different in content and meaning than the conclusion. And the conclusion has to be separate in content and meaning than the premise(s), albeit related through logical coherence.

Example: Mary says “John always tells the truth.” Bob asks “How do you know?” Mary: “Because John says that he always tells the truth.”

3. Ad Hominem Fallacy

Attacking the person and not their argument. One manifestation of this argument fallacy is saying that the identity of a person disqualifies them from making or engaging in the argument itself. It’s attacking a person, such as their identity or character, instead os attacking their actual position in the argument.

Example: An example would be to say that Cliff cannot be correct that squares have right angles because he is a bad person and has been known to steal ideas and credit them for himself. The position that squares have right angles or not has been left untouched by this fallacy.

You can see this playing out in the political sphere in modern American politics.

Example: Mary says “You say that freedom should be a priority over social justice because you are a Republican.” So John says, putting it the other way, “You say that social justice is more important than freedom because you are a Democrat.”

4. Post Hoc Fallacy “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (after this, therefore because of this) Fallacy

Assuming causality from order of events. Claiming that since B always happens after A, then A must cause B is the fallacy. Order of events doesn’t mean causation, necessarily. Actual causation would remain unexplained. The sequence of events needs actual causation to be understood in order for causation claims to be made.

Example: Burglars breaking into cars rises whenever the sun is shining, and declines when it’s raining outside. Therefore, the sunny days cause crime.

5. Loaded Question Fallacy

Asking a question which includes the desired outcome of the questioner, and against the position of the person answering the question. The classic example of the Loaded Question is “Are you still beating your wife?” Whether the person answers yes or no, the person is still framed as a wife beater.

6. False Dichotomy (False Dilemma, Either/Or) Fallacy

Dichotomy means “a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.” A False Dichotomy is when the arguer is presenting only two possible options or outcomes to a position, when in reality there are more.

It’s done to narrow the opponent’s position to only two possible outcomes (often to outcomes which are untenable or ridiculous to both parties of the argument). It’s a rhetorical tactic designed to lead to unwanted conclusions.

7. Equivocation (Doublespeak) Fallacy

To Equivocate means to use language in a wrong or misleading way to either conceal a truth or to avoid being committed to a position. The goal behind this fallacy is to mislead the listener through a manipulation of language. Often the meaning of a word is changed mid-argument to serve the purposes of the one who is being misleading.

Equivocate is to make an incorrect equivalence between words (or concepts that are at issue within the argument). An example of equivocating would be to use the word “right” in two ways within an argument: right as in morally correct, and right as in functionally correct (such as the right tool to use).

8. Appeal to Authority (ad verecundiam) Fallacy

The authority’s bona fides needs to be established. Even then it can be fallacious to cite them as an authority, depending on the authority’s claim. This one is tricky because it depends on the circumstances and scenario.

There are experts (authorities) on opposing sides of court cases. They can both be right in certain domains, or within the same domain one can be more correct than the other. The fallacy would be to make more of a claim than just an expert opinion should warrant. Being an expert on a given topic doesn’t mean that anything that the expert claims is therefore correct.

9. Hasty Generalization Fallacy

Making an unwarranted claim about the group from the particulars or characteristics of a select few within the group. The characteristic or characteristics of a person who belongs to a group doesn’t therefore necessarily translate those characteristics to the group taken as a whole, or to most of the members of the group. People have varied characteristics, and often the categories that people belong to are often based on one thing, and are unidimensional. Once their individual characteristics are really parsed out, the differences become apparent between individuals who belong to a category or group.

10. Appeal to Popular Opinion (ad populum) Fallacy

Making an argument that a position is true or has validity because a great number (or the majority) of people hold to that position. The fallacy here is that the majority may be factually wrong as a result of being misled or having partial information and drawing wrong conclusions. We’ve seen this in history, in which the majority of people have been misled by their media or by their government or by wrong scientific assumptions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are examples of logical fallacies?

Straw Man Fallacy, Begging the Question (Circular Reasoning) Fallacy, Ad Hominem Fallacy, Post Hoc Fallacy “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (after this, therefore because of this) Fallacy, Loaded Question Fallacy, False Dichotomy (False Dilemma, Either/Or) Fallacy, Equivocation (Doublespeak) Fallacy, Appeal to Authority (ad verecundiam) Fallacy, Hasty Generalization Fallacy, and Appeal to Popular Opinion (ad populum) Fallacy.

Back to top

How would you explain a logical fallacy?

As an argument in which the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise or premises. The premises could be wrong, or the conclusion could be wrong, or both. First, identify which logical fallacy is being used. From there you can describe the fallacy by giving a hypothetical example that your listener will understand. An over-exaggerated example works best, because it draws-out, by exaggeration, where in the argument the fallacy is. Then you can explain exactly how (at the over-exaggerated point) the break in logic occurred, and how the conclusion isn’t supported by the premise(s). For example, with a Straw Man fallacy, you can make another Straw Man type of argument that’s more directly obvious as being fallacious by grossly misrepresenting the opponent’s position. This should illustrate the point of where the mistake occurred.

Back to top

What makes a logical fallacy?

What makes an Informal Logical Fallacy is an incorrect conclusion reached through faulty reasoning. Said another way, reaching a conclusion that is not supported by the premises. You may have correct premises, but yet through faulty reasoning you’ve arrived at an incorrect conclusion. A Formal Fallacy occurs when the argument itself is constructed wrongly. The premises may be true, but the argument is fallacious because the formal construction is faulty.

Back to top

Is generalization a logical fallacy?

Hasty Generalization is a logical fallacy. The relevant part of this is the “hasty’ nature of the generalization, which means generalizing the group erroneously and without supported evidence, based on the particulars of a few within that group. As explained above, it’s “Making an unwarranted claim about the group from the particulars or characteristics of a select few within the group.” Generalization by itself is not necessarily a fallacy. You would have to look at what’s being generalized, and on what grounds the generalization is based.

Back to top

What is a fallacy example?

Appeal to Authority Fallacy: appealing to an authority in an argument doesn’t settle the question of the cogency of the argument at hand. Authorities can be wrong. As explained above: The authority’s bona fides needs to be established. Even then it can be fallacious to cite them as an authority, depending on the authority’s claim. This one is tricky because it depends on the circumstances and scenario. There are experts (authorities) on opposing sides of court cases. They can both be right in certain domains, or within the same domain one can be more right than the other. The fallacy would be to make more of a claim than just an expert opinion.

Back to top

Why are logical fallacies important?

Knowing and understanding logical fallacies is important because it stops the exchange of untruth. They’re only so good as they root out what’s not true, so that, when determined, an argument ceases to be valid, and hopefully ceases to be asserted and/or believed. It’s also important because identifying where the mistake in logic occurred allows for correction. Logical fallacy identification is the corrective for bad argumentation.

Back to top

How do you respond to a logical fallacy?

The best way to respond to a logical fallacy is to identify it by name, and then explain what the fallacy is, and how it was used, and where it occurred in the argument.

Back to top

Why should you avoid logical fallacies?

You should avoid logical fallacies to make true arguments, or at least arguments that aren’t false in their formulation or reasoning. The point of avoiding logical fallacies it to make valid arguments. The point of making valid arguments is to interpret and navigate the world and all of its facets correctly and without logical errors.

Back to top

What is the best way to prevent making logical fallacies in arguments?

The best way to avoid making logical fallacies is first to learn the most common fallacies. Secondly, and just as important, is to assess your own arguments, and see if the arguments you’re making are using any logical fallacy, and if so, which one(s)? This requires self-assessment, analyses, and reflection. The goal is to be able to have an ongoing ability to determine this as the argument is being made (not after the fact, but while the conversation is occurring). It requires having an internal monitor as to the cogency of what you’re saying or writing.

Back to top

What’s the difference between Formal and Informal Fallacies?

Formal Fallacy: A formal fallacy occurs when the structure of the argument itself is flawed, by being constructed wrongly. Informal Fallacy: an informal fallacy refers to faulty or erroneous reasoning within a proper logical construction. In an Informal Fallacy, there is some form of erroneous reasoning involved that undermines the argument. Both Formal and Informal Fallacies render the arguments erroneous.

Back to top

What does the word Fallacy mean?

The word Fallacy is a derivative of the Latin word fallacia, which meant to trick or be deceptive. The word Fallacy in modern English means to make an error in reasoning, or a false inference. Fallacy refers to a broad category that encompasses individual kinds of fallacies, of which there are many different types. Errors in reasoning can usually be placed within these individual categories, and identified by the nature of the error itself. How the reasoning was faulty determines the category of fallacy in which the error is placed, and identifies the fallacy type.

Back to top