Saturday, September 3, 2016

On Logical Fallacies

Logical fallacies are something to watch out for, obviously. If your logic is flawed, the argument you're making will be too. However these fallacies seem to be often confused with valid logic, or misattributed to others. There are also many logical fallacies, so it's easy to use them accidentally. This leads into the fallacy fallacy-the claim because a fallacy occurred, the entire argument is false. So though logical fallacies must be accounted for, and their use could be the fodder of a critique against others' arguments, they can easily be turned on the user.

When examining arguments, it can be difficult to tell if a fallacy is being used or not. For instance, it's common to see people describe at great length the negative consequences which they claim flow from some contrary position. One may strongly suspect that the arguer is using the appeal to consequences, i.e. claiming this position is false because it leads to bad outcomes. However, it is rare for a person to state this explicitly. So, the principle of charity dictates you take the view that the argument is really "X is false, and these are some bad outcomes which it leads to as well", and not the reverse. Or else you may be using a fallacy fallacy yourself.

However, in some cases I have seen fairly explicit uses of the actual fallacy, such as "I can't believe materialism is true, because that would mean our lives are meaningless" or words to that effect. Some people do not seem to realize this is invalid reasoning in the first place, perhaps. Or else they simply wish to convey the psychological fact that belief in this position would be impossible for them, in spite of any evidence for it.

This can be complicated by the fact that fallacies are sometimes similar to valid arguments. "If you want X, do Y" is valid, not an example of the appeal to consequences. The entire ethical theory of consequentialism rests on this, although of course it can be critiqued on other grounds. Or the ad hominem fallacy, in which a personal attack is claimed to be evidence that a person's argument was wrong, i.e. "You're an idiot, therefore you're wrong." In actual practice, people tend to take this literally, citing any personal attack as an ad hominem fallacy. Thus falling into the fallacy fallacy. Logical fallacies are thus quite the minefield, and should be assessed carefully. 

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