Reporters keep the public informed, and we all know that a well-informed public is necessary to bring about any semblance of justice. Besides, reporters keep public officials and others ‘honest’ by digging out the facts behind their claims and exposing them when they don’t tell the truth or when they engage in questionable practices. Therefore, I think that the courts are grossly unfair to newspaper reporters when they force them to go to prison just because they won’t reveal the sources of their information.
“ Missing the point” is actually another general name for fallacies of relevance.
We will see particular fallacies of relevance below. In the following and in the exam, we will apply the phrase “missing the point” to fallacies of relevance that do not fall under any one of the more specific kinds discussed below.
Ad Hominem abusive – arguments against someone’s character or ability.
Ad Hominem circumstantial – arguments against someone on the basis of their circumstances, e.g., job, political affiliation, religion, nationality, or associates (unpopular family, friend, ally etc.).
Ad Hominem tu quoque – arguments that the person arguing against a position is associated with the very position being attacked or something just as bad, i.e., accusing someone of being hypocritical . (The Latin phrase “ tu quoque ” means “you, too”.)
Prejudice as a Source of Fallacious Arguments against the Person
This fallacy is often committed when we are (correctly or incorrectly) prejudiced against the person making an argument or against the conclusion of the argument itself.
Good critical thinking requires us to put these prejudices aside in evaluating arguments.
A good argument is good whoever makes it; a bad argument is bad whoever makes it.
Mere Criticism of a Person NOT an Ad hominem Fallacy
To criticize someone, for example, by calling him a hypocrite, is not itself a ( Ad Hominem ) fallacy .
But if you then say or imply that his view or argument is mistaken, you commit the fallacy.
You commit the fallacy when you confuse the criticism of a person with the criticism of his view.
Why? Because calling someone “immoral”, “hypocrite” etc. does not refute his position.
A person who murders someone might hold that we should not kill. He is immoral and hypocritical, but his position is probably correct.
Most arguments against the person provide no evidence against the opponent’s view, so they are fallacious.
However, occasionally an argument against the person provides evidence that some premise of the opponent’s argument is mistaken. In such a case, the argument against person casts doubt on the opponent’s argument and is NOT fallacious.
Ex.: Suppose a politician argues that he is honest, so people should vote for him. A critic counters that he is dishonest based on the observations that he has concealed his bad records, and has distorted the data unfavorable to his policy.
Does the critic commit a fallacy?
The critic criticizes the personality of the arguer (the politician), but it is not a fallacy.
Why? Because the critic’s argument provides evidence against the plausibility of the politician’s premise relating his personality (“he is honest”), and hence of his argument.
A prosecutor argued that the defendant is guilty of murder based on a witness’ testimony. The defense lawyer attacked the trustworthiness of the witness by providing the evidences of his past perjury, the evidence of his potential benefit from lying, and the evidence that his memory is unreliable.
This is not a case of fallacy though the lawyer criticizes the personality of witness. Why?
The lawyer’s argument casts doubt on the prosecutor’s argument by providing evidence that he is such a untrustworthy guy that his testimony may well be false.
The credibility of one’s testimony depends on the trustworthiness of him or her as its source. Thus, attack against the trustworthiness is not a fallacy if testimony is a premise of the argument.
The fallacy of appeal to emotion is committed when one tries to make a conclusion or action look true [false] or good [bad] by associating it with something irrelevant but emotionally appealing “to the people” he or she is talking to.
Varieties of the Emotions Appealed to: Examples
The feeling of debt
The desire to be approved by others
The feeling of vanity or pride
The feeling of reverence or respect for a ‘tradition’
Ethnocentric preferences: preferences to ‘our’ beliefs or practices over ‘others’’
Positive feelings towards novel things
Positive or negative feelings towards those who hold a view (ex. the feeling of like/dislike or moral feeling about them)
Members of the jury, I realize there is a good deal of evidence that these two brothers killed their parents. But these kids are now orphans. They have no one to take care of them. They must now face the cruel world alone. Surely they are not guilty of these heinous crimes.
Please don’t fail me. I know I failed all the exams, but you don’t understand how difficult this quarter has been for me. My girlfriend dumped me, my roommate gave me smallpox, my moped has two flat tires, and the Jerry Springer show turned me down for the episode called “Guys you wouldn’t let you dead dog date.”
A Professor to his class: I know you’re going to find all of my jokes funny. In the past, all of those who haven’t laughed have failed the course.
Dear Dean Schmitz: I hope that the application I sent to your Admission Office will be processed quickly because my Dad, a steady contributor to your great university, is anxious to send you his $ 1,000,000 donation this year again. I also hope you agree that the notice I received indicating that I was not admitted must be an error. After all, Elizabeth is a fairly common name.
The fallacy of appeal to force is committed when one uses threat, intimidation with force, or the fear of the audience to motivate them to believe or act in a desired way.
Appeals to force are closely related to appeals to emotion. For they often appeal to the emotion of fear to motivate people.
Even if an argument appeals to the audience’s concern or self-interest, it is not enough to be an instance of appeal to force. If it is neither threatening nor fearful, the argument rather belongs to the broader category of appeal to emotion .
Mr. Rankin has just given his arguments against affirmative action for women. It seems that what he is saying is that women should stay out of the work place altogether. Just keep them barefoot and pregnant. That’s what Rankin wants. Well, I think we are all smart enough to reject that argument.
The fallacy of creating a straw man is committed when an arguer distorts an opponent’s argument, demolishes the distorted argument, and then concludes that the opponent’s (real) argument has been demolished.
It is named for the practice of training soldiers by having them attack straw men.
Once again, be careful not to be confused by colloquial usage (ex. calling a rough draft for submission “straw man”).
The Final Warning If you deliberately use fallacies to convince people of whatever you want them to believe, because you do not care about truth but just pretend to do so, you are bullshitters . Now try Exercises.