What are logical fallacies? You might not be aware of them, but you encounter these every day, especially if you spend most of your time scrolling through political
bardagulan fights discussions on social media. Logical fallacies are flawed arguments or common errors in reasoning that people use to reach a specific conclusion or counter-argument. They’re often used to mislead and manipulate people, distort or undermine an argument, and divert attention from the issue. In other words, they’re “statements that seem to be true until you apply the rules of logic.”
There are many kinds of logical fallacies and some of them are tricky to detect — you might be guilty of making some yourself! Just in case you feel the need to engage in a political conversation soon, here are 8 common logical fallacies and how to avoid them.
Appeal to Authority Fallacy
What it is: The Appeal to Authority fallacy occurs when someone (or a group of people) relies on a single person’s opinion instead of looking at facts and logic.
Why this can be problematic: This kind of statement can place too much weight on someone’s testimony, instead of looking at the facts.
How to avoid the Appeal to Authority Fallacy: Ensure that the statement is based on actual facts — i.e. that it’s not an opinion. To determine if an authority figure’s testimony carries any weight, make sure that:
- The authority is an expert on the said topic.
- The statement of the authority concerns his or her area of mastery.
- There is agreement among experts in the area of knowledge under consideration.
What it is: You’ve heard of “jumping on the bandwagon” and you’ve probably judged people who do that. It’s usually used to refer to someone who starts liking or doing a particular thing because it’s popular, fashionable, or gaining attention. And while that’s generally harmless, this kind of thinking can have serious implications when it carries over to other areas, like politics. When people can assume that something is good or right just because it’s popular, we can cause each other to make bad decisions.
Why this can be problematic: Just because the majority has a certain opinion does not mean that it is beneficial or accurate. For example, centuries ago, most people believed that the world was flat. We know better now. Generally. (We’re looking at you, flat-earthers.)
How to avoid the Bandwagon Fallacy: First, ask yourself if popularity is relevant to the claims you’re making. If not, then it shouldn’t even factor in your argument. Look at the facts instead. The majority of people may have a certain belief, but does the evidence suggest otherwise? A particular candidate could be popular, but what is their track record?
Ad Hominem Fallacy
What it is: Ad Hominem literally translates to “against the man.” Ad Hominem fallacies are probably the easiest to detect out of all the ones on this list. It occurs when someone uses personal attacks instead of rebutting the actual argument. The personal attack could be about their opponent’s looks, background, past, etc.
Why this can be problematic: An Ad Hominem argument doesn’t tackle the actual issue at hand, but makes an irrelevant attack on the person making the argument. In short, it doesn’t add anything helpful to the conversation and you’ll just end up antagonizing the person you’re talking to.
How to avoid the Ad Hominem Fallacy: It’s simple: focus on the argument and not on the one making it. There are so many better ways to respond in a debate. Remember that resorting to Ad Hominem attacks only shows just how unprepared you are for the argument.
Personal Incredulity Fallacy
What it is: The Personal Incredulity Fallacy occurs when a person or a group who doesn’t understand how something could be true labels it as false.
Why this can be problematic: Just because something is difficult to grasp does not mean that it’s not true. What the standard should always be are the cold, hard facts.
How to counter Personal Incredulity Fallacy: If you find it hard to understand something, do your research. Read up on the topic. Look at what reputable sources are saying about it. Be open to learning, cause if you’re caught resisting knowledge, that’s on you.
Tu Quoque Fallacy
What it is: Tu Quoque is Latin for “you also” and is a fallacy that invalidates another person’s argument without addressing the issue or presenting a clear counter-argument. It’s also known as “Whataboutism” — as in starting the sentence with “What about…”
Also known as:
- The “you too” fallacy
- The “two wrongs” fallacy
- The “pot calling the kettle black” fallacy
- The “look who’s talking” fallacy
Usually, people who are using the Tu Quoque Fallacy attempt to focus on the other party’s mistake to justify their own — a criticism for a criticism. They could also be pointing out that a person’s argument must be false because it’s inconsistent with who they were in the past. That’s why this is also known as the “hypocrite” fallacy.
Why it’s problematic: You could call someone out on their hypocrisy, but doing so doesn’t automatically negate their argument. In the illustration above, the woman’s claims that smoking is harmful aren’t invalidated by the girl’s accusation. Sure, the woman might not be the best person to deliver the message, but her behavior doesn’t refute the fact that smoking is bad for you.
How to avoid the Tu Quoque Fallacy: Similar to avoiding the Ad Hominem fallacy, you should focus on the argument itself instead of the person making it.
And if you catch someone else making the Tu Quoque Fallacy, call it out and bring the argument back to the original argument in question, while elaborating on your stance.
Ipse Dixit Fallacy
What it is: If you think the Tu Quoque fallacy is the “laziest” out of all fallacious arguments, it’s time you learned the Ipse Dixit Fallacy — a.k.a. the Fallacy of Bare Assertion. This occurs when a person defends an argument by merely saying that it’s true. It’s like telling someone “It is what it is” and expecting them to believe it right away.
Why it’s problematic: By definition, the Ipse Dixit argument is unsupported and arbitrary. Do you really expect people to simply take your word for it?
How to avoid the Ipse Dixit Fallacy: It’s simple, really. Cite your sources! Show evidence! Far too many people are spreading unsubstantiated information online. Don’t add to the noise and make sure your claims are backed by fact.
Red Herring Fallacy
What it is: It’s a diversion tactic and one that’s used in politics, the media, even among your friends. The Red Herring Fallacy is one of the most common fallacies you’ll observe in everyday conversations. It’s meant to mislead or divert attention from the real issue usually by throwing irrelevant information.
Why this can be problematic: This tactic confuses people and leads them to false conclusions, or distracts them from the actual issue at hand.
How to avoid the Red Herring fallacy: Stay focused on the topic, and if you observe someone using the Red Herring Fallacy, bring the conversation back to what you were talking about.
Straw Man Fallacy
What it is: Those who use the Straw Man Fallacy take an argument and distort or exaggerate it. They then attack that exaggeration as if it were true. This is mostly used in politics and debates to twist and misrepresent an argument and make it about something else entirely, but we can accidentally use it in our everyday conversations. (It’s usually preceded by the words, “so what you’re saying is ….. ?”)
Why it’s problematic: The Straw Man fallacy gets its name from a literal straw man or scarecrow. It creates the illusion of defeating an opponent’s argument by sneakily replacing it with a completely different one (so it’s like you replaced it with a “straw man”). If you feel like you need to distort someone’s ideas to beat them in an argument, then you’ve already lost.
How to avoid Straw Man arguments: It’s easy to accidentally make Straw Man arguments, especially when you’re not too familiar with the topic at hand. So read up and do your research — there are no shortcuts here.
It’s also easy to fall into this trap when you’re overly concerned with “winning” the argument instead of finding the truth. Listen to your opponent’s arguments and try to understand what they’re actually saying.
And if you encounter a Straw Man argument from someone else, calmly clarify what you are saying and lead the conversation back to the actual issue. Or you could just ignore their Straw Man argument — since it’s invalid anyway — and continue defending your stand.