Philosophy 150 : Day 6 Informal Fallacies - Part 2
Copyright 2006 Julian Cole/ Makoto Suzuki
Aims for Day 6
Discuss 8 further informal fallacies.
I will ask you where in each sample argument the fallacy in question is committed.
These informal fallacies belong to the category of fallacies of relevance because they direct themselves not to the issue at hand, but to making moves irrelevant to establishing the conclusion.
Sample Argument ( Ignoratio Elenchi )
Grade school children these days can neither read nor write.
Clearly, prayer should be returned to the classroom.
Sample Argument ( Ignoratio Elenchi )
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 ( Ignoratio Elenchi )
The fallacy of missing the point is committed when the premises might provide support for a conclusion, but not the conclusion of the argument being offered.
Be careful with this fallacy. Many people are mislead by a more colloquial use of the phrase missing the point (merely “not getting it”). This is NOT what the fallacy of missing the point means.
A Caution on Missing the Point
“ 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 - Example
You argue that abortion should be illegal, but I disagree because you are stupid.
Al, you argue that global warming is real. But I do not believe you because you are boring.
Ad Hominem Circumstantial - Examples
I’m not amazed that your mechanic says a complete engine overhaul is recommendable. Do you know how much money he stands to make from that?
“ Well he would say that, wouldn’t he? We should ignore what he says.”
Ad Hominem Tu Quoque: Examples
Mr. Bentham has argued that we should stop hunting because it kills animals with great pain. But we can safely disregard his argument. He eats meat everyday.
My parents criticizes me for skipping school and partying around. But I know they did the same thing when they were college students. So it is OK to continue what’s I am doing.
The Army has discharged the female soldier for having posed nude for Playboy. But the Army’s stalls sell Playboy to the soldiers. So the Army’s judgment of dismissal is mistaken.
Fallacious Arguments against the Person ( Ad Hominem )
This fallacy is committed only when one tries to refute another’s view in a certain way.
The fallacy of argument against the person is committed when one attempts to refute another’s view by attacking that person rather than criticizing the view itself.
This fallacy confuses
the credibility of a view
the credibility of the person who holds it .
Three Types of Arguments against the Person
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.
A Caution on Argument against the Person
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.
Is this case a fallacy? -1-
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.
Is this case a fallacy? -2-
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 next three fallacies are also special versions of fallacies of relevance.
They (intentionally or unintentionally) manipulate the audience so that they accept the conclusions.
Sample Arguments ( Ad Populum )
A recruitment billboard whose caption runs: The Few, the Proud, the Marines.
Dean N to an unconvinced faculty:
We have to institute this new curriculum if we are going to meet the challenge of the future. I just don’t understand why you are dragging your feet against our attempts to improve our programs here.
Appeal to Emotion ( Ad Populum )
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)
Spite or indignation
Appeal to Pity - Examples
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.”
Appeal to Pity ( Ad Misericordiam )
The fallacy of appeal to pity is a special case of appeal to emotion where the emotion appealed to is pity.
That is, it is committed when one tries to make a conclusion or act appear true [false] or good [bad] by merely evoking pity in the audience.
Sample Arguments ( Ad Baculum )
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.
Appeal to Force ( Ad Baculum )
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 .
Caution 1 on Appeal to Emotion, Pity & Force
Consider these arguments:
Frank has six hungry children to feed, and his wife desperately needs an operation to save her sight. It is very charitable of Henry to lend $ 10,000 to Frank.
A doctor to Frank’s wife: If you do not have an operation now, you will lose sight within a year. So you should have an operation immediately.
Do these arguments commit a fallacy?
No, even though they include emotionally appealing, pitiful or threatening/fearful phrases.
Caution 1: If phrases are relevant to establishing the conclusions, the arguments including them are NOT the fallacies of appeal to emotion, pity or force.
Caution 2 on Appeal to Emotion, Pity & Force
An instance of appeal to pity is also a case of appeal to emotion. An instance of appeal to force is also a case of appeal to emotion if it appeals to the fear of the audience.
However, in the exam or in the logbook of fallacies, you should be maximally specific: that is, you should choose the name “appeal to pity” or “appeal to force” when you face such an instance.
The next fallacy is also a specific type of fallacies of relevance.
This fallacy misses the mark, because it diverts attention away from the actual point at issue.
Often this is an intentional tactic.
Sample Argument (Straw Man)
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.
The exam on Monday will be in six parts:
Part 1: Recognizing arguments, explanations and non-arguments
Part 2: Reconstructing arguments in standard form (including the reconstruction of one extended argument)
Part 3: Supplying missing premises
Part 4: The nature of arguments: valid/invalid
Part 5: Validity and soundness
Part 6: Questions about Definitions
Part 7: Informal fallacies
How to prepare for the 1 st midterm
Since the questions in the exam resemble the exercises and assignment, try them again.
The correct answers have been uploaded.
Don’t forget to check out the Exercise on Validity and Soundness .
As to the exercises for Day 5 and Day 6, copy both, cut them into strips and mix them so that you are in the position to name one out of 18 fallacies.
You might want to check out Midterm Optional Materials on our carmen webpage.
If you have trouble
If you have trouble in solving the questions or explaining why the correct answers are correct, go back to the relevant part of the course packet.
If your trouble persists, contact me. You may send an e-mail to my address ( [email_address] ). Or you may come to see me during an extra office hour on F & M, 12:00-14:00 pm in 214 University Hall .