Learn your fallacies, and save the world! (Yes, this is hyperbole, but there is something to it)

Is this an exaggeration? Yes! Learning your fallacies may not save the world, but it will make it a little less irrational, and that is a very good thing. You could, of course, go the completely free route, and look at Wikipedia, and the many lists of fallacies, or check out some great free podcasts.

Is this an exaggeration? Yes! Learning your fallacies may not save the world, but it will make it a little less irrational, and that is a very good thing. You could, of course, go the completely free route, and look at Wikipedia, and the many lists of fallacies, or check out some great free podcasts.  Also, you can check out my article Intro to Logic for Commenting on Social Media (aka, how not to be an idiot, when reading, thinking, and posting on social media).

If you only are going to spend a few minutes…then simply read on.

Bad reasoning is typically divided into two major types. The first is a problem in the logical structure relating to a problem in form, or a formal fallacy. The other type of problem relates to a problem of content (the material, or matter, of the argument). Both are important, but if you are not going to spend your time studying logic (be honest), then the most common errors will be discussed here, which can be broadly captured by two camps of errors about the matter of an argument: ‘appealing to the wrong things’ and ‘being hasty.’ Common examples of appealing to the wrong things can be appealing to popularity, authority, force, feelings, pity, envy, etc. The biggest issue that you need to realize is that fallacies screw up your reasoning because they do have something to them, and often they do get you rules that often work out (but they don’t always, and often mislead us). Consider being a poisoner. Would you succeed in poisoning someone if you leave out a contained labeled “POISON!”? No, but you might succeed if you hid the poison in things that look like non-poisonous things tea, coffee, and doughnuts.

Fallacies are like that, they are sneaky little blighters.

You probably would go right, most of the time, by taking your doctor’s advice, but just because a doctor advised something does not mean that it necessarily is the best course (doctors can be wrong). You’d probably get it right sometimes if you polled people on uncontroversial topics like the weather. But here’s the problem: with controversial things, we’re trying to sort out the BS, and to do that, we need to be less hasty, less credulous, and more critical.  To accomplish this, we have to take to heart to some hard lessons, like: facts don’t care about how you feel (it doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that you feel a certain way), doing something doesn’t mean you should (even if a bunch of people think it is ok), believing you are right doesn’t mean that you are, and even thinking carefully–even this– still doesn’t mean that you are right.

The first major camp of informal fallacies is basically about appealing to things that don’t really matter (though it seems relevant), if you think carefully (even if that method often works well normally). The second camp relates to being hasty. This is obviously related to the first, but is a little different, because it has less to do with appealing to something, than with assuming that one’s premise gets you more than it really does.

For instance, consider statistics: correlation does not equal causation. E.g.  100% of serial killers drink water. Coincidence? Put that water down you sicko! This might trick us though, because when there is a causal relation, there will also be a correlation.

Another popular fallacy, also with statistics, ignores this: disparity does not equal injustice. E.g. Two equally trained people do the same things, but one gets paid much more than the other. Injustice! But this is clearly problematic, what if one person is working while in jail for murdering pregnant women and their unborn babies (and working in the prison)? This could also make sense when one person with equal training, background, etc, simply does a better job than the other, despite otherwise equal backgrounds. But in this case, one person was working in a prison, while the other was doing the same job outside of prison (relevantly different than).

Or take an economic fallacy that is driven by the uncritical conviction that equal ‘labor’ should net equal pay (as if labor and calorie expenditure are more valuable than, say, productive value). Contrast the differences between a person that creates an entire industry and makes a billion dollars, and works 70 hours a week, but his twin works 70 hours a week too, but at McDonald’s, and makes far less. If there is an injustice, it requires an argument, rather simply saying that if there is a disparity, then there must be an injustice. In this case, one person took risks, built something that otherwise wasn’t there, and created a complex system of layered planning, cooperation, and voluntary exchanges, on the one hand, while on the other, this person took no risk, built nothing, invested nothing in terms of long-term plans/energy, etc, made naught but a sandwich, created no systems, and did not need to know how to facilitate multi-layered, voluntary exchanges.

This is nothing but a sketch, of course. I’d recommend that you do your own research, try to jump to fewer conclusions, say ‘I don’t know’ a lot (unless, of course, you do), and try to name the fallacies that you think you find in the news, what you read, and what you say. We make mistakes all the time. It is just silly to assume otherwise. So, let us all try to make fewer bad appeals, less hasty generalizations, and help each other seek the truth, encourage civilized discussion, and become self-educated in the best sense of the word. If we do these things the world will be a little better off.

Some other websites with fallacy examples:

https://carm.org/logical-fallacies-or-fallacies-argumentation
https://www.bethinking.org/apologetics/logic-and-fallacies-thinking-clearly
http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/index.html

Some Free Podcasts:

https://player.fm/series/mastering-logical-fallacies

Good Books to Buy:

Socratic Logic: A Logic Text using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles, Edition 3.1
With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies

Some other websites with fallacy examples:

https://carm.org/logical-fallacies-or-fallacies-argumentation

https://www.bethinking.org/apologetics/logic-and-fallacies-thinking-clearly

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/index.html

Some Free Podcasts:

https://pintswithaquinas.com/podcast/28-7-common-logical-fallacies/

https://player.fm/series/mastering-logical-fallacies

Good Books to Buy:

Socratic Logic: A Logic Text using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles, Edition 3.1

With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies

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Author: TheCommoner

I am a philosopher that is interested in what makes life worth living, what is worth pursuing, and how we can learn from the past. I believe that good philosophy benefits everyone and that there should be philosophers that present philosophy to those outside of the academy.

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