Avoiding Fallacious Reasoning: Lesson 2

Translate this: ”Swinburne’s cosmological argument is a serious attempt to show that God is the best explanation for the existence of the universe. However, he is a well-known theist, and this fact raises some doubts about the strength of his case” (87).
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Appeal to Popularity

According to Vaughn, “appeal to popularity is arguing that a claim must be true not because it is backed by good reasons but simply because many people believe it. The idea is that, somehow, there is truth in numbers” (87).

Appeal to Popularity is also known as ad populum. Use the Latin for the exercises.

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Translate this: ”Johnson argues that our current welfare system is defective. But don’t listen to him – he’s a conservative” (86).
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Appeal to Tradition

According to Vaughn, “Appeal to tradition is actually a kind of appeal to popularity. It is arguing that merely because a claim is sanctioned by tradition, it must be true. This kind of argument says, in effect, that a statement is true because it has been held(or approved of) for a long time” (88).

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“Appeal to tradition is fallacious because the longevity of a traditional claim is logically irrelevant to its truth” (88).

Because a traditional claim is irrelevant to its truth, dismissing or affirming a claim because of its traditional status is fallacious reasoning. A traditional claim could very well be founded in good reasoning.

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Equivocation

According to Vaughn, “the fallacy of equivocation is assigning two different meanings to the same significant word in an argument. The word is used in one sense in a premise and in a different sense in another place in the argument. The switch in meaning can deceive the reader and disrupt the argument, rendering it invalid or weaker that it would be otherwise” (89).

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Translate this: ”The English don’t drive on the right side of the road. Therefore they drive on the wrong side” (Socratic Logic 73).
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Translate this: ”Judge: You have just been convicted of petty larceny. Prisoner: Your honor, I just looked up your salary; you get $200,000 a year. If I’m a thief, you’re the bigger one.” (Socratic Logic 81).
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Appeal to Ignorance

The Latin for appeal to ignorance is ad ignorantiam

According to Vaughn, the appeal to ignorance is when the fallacy “tries to prove something by appealing to what we don’t know. Appeal to ignorance is arguing either that (1) a claim is true because it hasn’t been proven false or (2) a claim is false because it hasn’t been proven true”(90).

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Translate this: ”There is no evidence that people on welfare are hardworking and responsible. Therefore, they are not hardworking and responsible” (90).
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Vaughn adds that no one can “search all space and time” to prove that unicorns and centaurs exist. You can’t prove universal negatives.

Translate this: You can’t prove that a flying spaghetti monster doesn’t exist. Therefore, you can’t say that a flying spaghetti monster doesn’t exist.
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False Dilemma

Here’s what Vaughn says about false dilemmas:

“In a dilemma, you are forced to choose between two unattractive possibilities. The fallacy of the false dilemma is arguing erroneously that since there are only two alternatives to choose from, and one of them is unacceptable, the other one must be true” (91).

The real world usually doesn’t operate in simple either/or premises.

Translate this: ”Either we must spend billions of dollars to increase military and law enforcement operations against drug cartels, or we must legalize all drugs. We obviously are not going to legalize all drugs, so we have to spend billions on anti-cartel operations” (91).
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Begging the Question

Vaughn on begging the question:

“The fallacy of begging the question is trying to prove a conclusion by using that very same conclusion as support. It is arguing in a circle. This way of trying to prove something says, in effect, ‘X is true because X is true’”(91).

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Put simply by Kreeft, “Begging the question means assuming what you set out to prove.

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Translate this: ”All citizens have the right to a fair trial because those whom the state is obliged to protect and give consideration are automatically due judicial criminal proceedings that are equitable by any reasonable standard” (92).
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According to Vaughn, the above example simply states, “All citizens have the right to a fair trial because all citizens have the right to a fair trial.” Yes, it’s written in more complicated language, but it still says the same thing.

Translate this: ”Senator McCarthy when he was asked for evidence to back up his accusation that a certain person was a Communist: I do not have much information on this except the general statement of the agency that there is nothing in the files to disprove his Communist connections” (A Rulebook for Arguments 74).
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Hasty Generalization

Vaughn on hasty generalizations:

“The fallacy of hasty generalization is drawing a conclusion about a whole group, or class, of things based on an inadequate sample of the group”(92).

Translate this: ”All three of the college professors I’ve met in my lifetime were bald. Therefore, all college professors are bald”(92).
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Translate this: ”Modern philosophers are all atheists. Look at Machiavelli and Hobbes and Hume and Mill and Russel and Marx and Nietzsche and Sartre” (Socratic Logic).
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Slippery Slope

Vaughn on slippery slope fallacies:

“The fallacy of slippery slope…is arguing erroneiously that a particular action should not be taken because it will lead inevitably to other actions resulting in some dire outcome. A slippery slope scenario becomes fallacious when there is no reason to believe that the chain of events predicted will ever happen”(93).

Translate this: ”This trend toward gay marriage must be stopped. If gay marriage is permitted, then traditional marriage between a man and a woman will be debased and devalued, which will lead to an increase in divorces. And higher divorce rates can only harm our children”(93).
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Composition

Vaughn on the fallacy of composition:

“The fallacy of composition is arguing erroneously that what can be said of the parts can also be said of the whole”(94).

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Vaughn adds a caveat: “Just remember, sometimes the whole does have the same properties as the parts. If each part of the rocket is made of steel, the whole rocket is made of steel”(94).

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Translate this: Zeno says, ”An arrow that appears to be in flight must really be at rest, for when a thing occupies a space equal to itself, it is at rest. Since the arrow never occupies a space greater or smaller than itself, it is always at rest. Since the arrow is at rest at each moment of flight, it can never move” (qtd. in Socratic Logic 88).
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Translate this: ”All swans we’ve ever seen were white, so all swans must be white (there are black swans around)” (Socratic Logic 100).
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Now for the 13th fallacy!

Division

Vaughn on the fallacy of division:

“If you turn the fallacy of composition upside down, you get the fallacy of division – arguing erroneously that what can be said of the whole can be said of the parts” (94).

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Translate this: ”Irishmen are scattered all over the world. Pat is an Irishman. Therefore Pat is scattered all over the world” (Socratic Logic 88).
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Okay, so all 13 material fallacies have been covered from Vaughn’s chapter 5. In the next lesson the formal fallacies from chapter 2 will be covered; and in addition, lots of review on the 13 material fallacies.

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