Logical Fallacies Reference Guide
This short list of fallacies is collected from the ‘Fallacy of the Week‘ which first appeared weekly at Steelonsteel.com. This list is just a sampling of larger body of classic logical arguments. These particular fallacies were selected because of their frequent occurrence in mainstream media and public education. Some references in this list were excerpted from the book: Discerning Truth by Dr. Jason Lisle.
1. Ad Hominem
Directing an attack against the person making a statement rather than the statement itself.
“To the man”: ad hominem (subclass): “poisoning the well”
- “Dr. Smith’s data on the cell is biased! Nobody could possibly believe anything this guy says! I mean, he’s a Creationist!“
Proponents of this fallacy attack the validity of a claim solely based on the beliefs or actions of the person or group making it. They can’t find fault with the argument so they sling mud at the source.
2. Affirming the Consequent
A statement where the second premise affirms the consequent of the first premise.
- If Johnny takes poison, then Johnny will die. Johnny is dead. (Affirming the consequent) Therefore: Johnny took poison.
Error. Johnny might have been hit by a bus.
3. Appeal to Emotion
The attempt to persuade people by evoking strong emotions rather than making a logical argument.
- “It’s for the children; those poor, innocent children!”
Other fallacies in the same category:
- Appeal to Envy (Argumentum ad Invidiam)
- Appeal to Fear (Argumentum ad Metum)
- Appeal to Hatred (Argumentum ad Odium)
- Appeal to Pity (Argumentum ad Misericordiam)
- Appeal to Pride (Argumentum ad Superbiam)
- Wishful Thinking
Strong emotions can displace rational thought, and manipulating emotions in an argument is fallacious. When we have strong emotions, we often want to take some sort of action but we must assess whether or not the actions we take are motivated by irrational feelings.
4. Appeal to force/ Fear
Threats that negative consequences will follow if the other person does not accept their position. (Argumentum ad metum)
- Either “A” or “B” is true. “B” is frightening or uncertain. Therefore, “A” is asserted to be true.
- “Millions of retired Americans are struggling financially. Unless you support public policy “X”, your Social Security benefits will be cut!”
Persuasion by fear is commonplace in both politics and marketing. Evoking emotions is often used to manipulate people into supporting a policy, candidate or product.
The appeal to force or fear is the fallacy of coercing people into a specific action by asserting a negative consequence.
Appeal to force/ fear isn’t necessarily a threat since there is no direct correlation to the cause and effect relationship of the argument.
5. Appeal to Ignorance
Claiming the unknown; specifically when someone argues that a statement is true simply because it has never been proven false. (Argumentum ad ignorantiam)
- There is no evidence against “X”. Therefore, “X”.
- There is no evidence for “X”. Therefore, “X”.
- If “X” were true, then I would know that “X”.
- I don’t know that “X”. Therefore, “X” is false.
The Appeal to Ignorance fallacy occurs when lack of evidence is used as evidence in an argument. If positive evidence for the conclusion is found, then we have reasons for accepting it, but a lack of evidence by itself is no evidence.
6. Appeal to Pity
Coercing someone to accept a position by creating sympathy for those who hold the same position. (Argumentum ad misericordiam)
- “These men have devoted their entire lives researching “X”. Some have lost everything they had for it. Their conclusions must not be discarded simply by a lack of evidence.”
The appeal to pity attempts to persuade people to accept a position using emotions like sympathy, rather than making a factual statement.
This type of argument is fallacious because our emotions are not a good means of determining truth; emotions can obscure, rather than clarify, issues. We should base our beliefs upon reasonable evidence, rather than emotion.
Emotions may identify what’s important to us, even if it’s not true. That’s why it’s important to be able to communicate logically.
7. Begging the Question
Jumping to the conclusion of what someone is attempting to prove before they finalize their statement. (Petitio Principii)
- “If such actions were not illegal, then they would not be prohibited by the law.”
An argument begs the question when it assumes any controversial point not conceded by the other side. This fallacy happens in an argument in which the conclusion occurs as one of the premises, or a chain of arguments in which the final conclusion is a premise of one of the earlier arguments in the chain.
It becomes circular in form as the point being made is derived from the assumed truth of the first premise. There is no objective authority or external evidence given to support the argument.
“The layers of rock certainly date the fossils, but the fossils within them date the layers more accurately.”
The supposition that there are only two mutually exclusive outcomes, when there may, in fact, be several. Also known as the “black and white” fallacy, the false dilemma fallacy and the “either-or” fallacy.
- “You either have faith, or you have reason. Which is it?”
There are many more outcomes; you could have faith and reason, no faith and no reason or variations of these. They place faith and reason at two opposite ends and suppose them to be mutually exclusive.
The person committing this fallacy assigns their definition to the words faith and reason. They assume that the argument is limited to these two false absolutes.
Bifurcation – “The stoplight is either red or green, it can’t be both!” No in fact, it may be yellow.
9. Complex Question
Coercion by asking a loaded question. Supposing or inferring intent, placing the second party in an uncomfortable or confusing position.
- “Is there anything hidden in your carry-on that could hurt me or anyone on the plane?
- “How often do you lie to authority figures?”
- “Will you finally accept reality and admit that you are wrong and I’m right?”
These are just a few examples of complex questions. They are “loaded” because they imply a fact that hasn’t been established. The complex nature of the question means that a simple yes or no answer will infer guilt. It attempts to set a ground rule for further incrimination. These types of questions are constructed to do just that. The person being asked the complex question may simply ask a return question to diffuse it.
TSA worker: “Is there anything hidden in your carry-on that could hurt me or anyone on the plane?
Passenger: “What can hurt you?” “What is dangerous to have in my bag?”
First, it’s assumed that you’re hiding something. Next, you would have to know everything that could hurt anyone before you could truthfully answer. Maybe someone has a rare allergy to something you’re carrying but you wouldn’t know that unless they told you!
Watch out for the loaded question and be prepared to ask the right question back!
10. Denying the Antecedent
A statement where the second premise denies the antecedent of the first premise and draws a conclusion that doesn’t support it.
- If my car breaks down, I’ll be late for work. My car won’t break down. Therefore, I won’t be late for work.
This is fallacious because there are many reasons for being late to work. While the conclusion may be true, it does not follow from the premise.
Altering semantics. Transitioning from one definition of a word to another within an argument.
- Teaching people Logic helps them argue more effectively. It’s too bad that people argue so much. We shouldn’t encourage arguments.
Notice how the definition of the word “argue” was shifted. First, it refers to making a rational statement. I would “argue” that 1+1=2, for example. Next, the definition of argue is shifted to mean a bitter exchange of irrational outbursts. The fallacious conclusion is that teaching and using Logic causes fights.
In order to counter equivocation in an argument, simply ask for a definition. More information brings about better resolution when getting the facts straight.
12. The “Fallacy” Fallacy
The argument that a statement is false simply because an argument for that position can be proven fallacious. (Argumentum ad Logicam)
- “His economic theory seemed really promising, but the various studies supporting its validity turned out to have too many flaws, so the theory isn’t valid.”
This reasoning is fallacious because there may be another proof or argument that successfully supports the proposition. Since fallacious arguments can arrive at true conclusions, the validity of the conclusion doesn’t always render the initial premise true.
This fallacy is often combined with a “Straw Man” fallacy to counter an argument where burden of proof is not easily obtained. More information or better perspective will bring resolution to this kind of fallacy.
13. Fallacy of Composition
The position that what is true of the parts must also be true of the whole, or what is true of the individual members of a group is also true of the group itself.
- Matter is made up of invisible particles. Everything is made of matter, therefore everything is invisible.
- Both oxygen and hydrogen are flammable. Water is made up of both these flammable elements; therefore water will burn.
- If I save money and stop spending, I’ll eventually become wealthy. Everyone can become wealthy by doing the same.
It’s fallacious to assume that what is true of the parts is the same as the whole itself. The properties or functions of the individual parts may not be indicative of the nature of the whole.
However there are exceptions to the rule. Some properties are such that if every part of a whole has the property, then the whole will display those properties.
Example of an exception:
- If every piece of the puzzle is plastic, then the puzzle is made of plastic.
Understanding the properties, functionality and relationship of the individual parts to the whole is the key to spotting this fallacy.
14. Fallacy of Division
The supposition that what is true of the whole must also be true of the parts. This is the reverse of the Fallacy of Composition.
- One of the wealthiest communities in America is Beverly Hills, California. Bob lives there so he must be rich.
The fallacy of division happens when someone makes the argument that what is true of a whole must be true of its constituent parts, without evidence to support the premise. This is often used to marginalize a person’s viewpoint by associating them with a group’s traits.
The fallacy of division could be associated with a hasty generalization or red herring to distract from the point of an argument. In our example, the fictional Bob could be from out of town, homeless or maybe bankrupt.
Watch out for this fallacy and ask for specifics. As always, fallacies tend to run in the dark and away from the facts.
15. Fallacy of False Cause
Claiming the existence of a false cause-and-effect relationship between two separate events. (Non causa pro causa)
(Subclass 1): “After this, therefore because of this”: post hoc ergo propter hoc
(Subclass 2): “With this, therefore because of this”: cum hoc ergo propter hoc
- The “Rooster Syndrome”. Every morning the old rooster crows just before dawn. He believes it’s his crowing that causes the sun to rise.
The form is: “A” occurred, then “B” occurred. Therefore “A” caused “B”.
Here’s another scenario:
You live in the country and you’re out on your property doing a little target practice. Your neighbor comes over and frantically claims you just shot and killed his dog. Upon further investigation, you find no injury to the dog. Apparently he had died of purely natural causes.
Sometimes opponents are so eager to make a point that they don’t stop and use rational thinking to arrive at their conclusion. Others are just engrained in a particular way of thinking that is void of didactic reasoning. Still some will stop their ears, shut their eyes and will not look at the evidence provided to them because it conflicts with their worldview. They usually evade questions about their reasons for holding a view or they become indignant and often resort to more fallacious behavior.
For those who choose to reason, the solution is to just slow down and look at all the available evidence. Then you can begin to carefully work through that information to the truth. Remember, reality gets to speak last and when it does, it has the final word.
16. Fallacy of Irrelevant Thesis
This fallacy involves proving a valid point, but not the point at issue.
A type of “red herring” fallacy (Ignoratio elenchi) “ignorance of refutation”.
Example taken from Dr Jason Lisle’s book “Discerning Truth”:
- Suppose I was the sole survivor of an airplane crash. When a reporter asks me how it was that I was able to survive, it would be fallacious for me to reply, “Because if I hadn’t survived, I would not be here to answer your question.” Although it is true that I would not be around to answer the question had I died, this really doesn’t answer the question itself-why I was able to survive. All fallacies of irrelevant thesis can be rebutted with this simple phrase: “True perhaps, but irrelevant.” -Dr. Jason Lisle, Discerning Truth p. 81
17. False Analogy
Drawing a comparison between things that are similar in trivial ways, but not at all pertaining to the argument being made.
- “People entering the workforce today are like nails; they can hold your company together only if you hit them on the head first.”
This fallacy often shows up in the form of an outlandish word picture intended to evoke an emotional response. Logically, the wordplay doesn’t make sense especially if a point is being made.
The power of analogy is to simplify a premise by drawing a comparison to an object, person or scenario. The error of false analogy is in twisting the semantics to arrive at a different meaning. Even more dangerous is one in which the argument produces a purely emotional result.
18. Faulty Appeal to Authority
The endorsement of a position or statement simply based on the social stature of the person making it.
(Opposite of the ad hominem fallacy)
- “My uncle says the earth is flat. He has a PhD in geophysics”.
Not every appeal to authority is faulty. Credible experts in almost every field have proven theories by research and diligent study. However, credentialing by itself doesn’t have bearing on the factual status of a claim.
Some experts are well versed in their area of research, but not in others. For example, it would be unwise to take serious medical advice from someone who never studied it but was highly credentialed in another field.
It’s also wise to take into consideration the worldview of the person stating the claim. What a person thinks is directly connected to how they think. Strong evidence can be pushed aside when it conflicts with one’s worldview.
Usually, with a faulty appeal to authority, the opponent doesn’t have a well informed grasp of the subject at hand and thus you encounter some mention of a “higher” power. Since the “expert” isn’t there to give his evidence and the premise is lofty; the argument becomes moot. This really should be classified as a red herring attempt.
You don’t need alphabet soup behind your name to know the truth. Stay informed and don’t get distracted by a false appeal to authority.
19. Genetic Fallacy
The rejection of a claim simply because someone objects to the source of the information.
Example from Dr Jason Lisle’s book Discerning Truth:
- If a Creationist cites an article in the Answers Research Journal in support of a particular claim, it would be fallacious for the critic to respond, “Well, that’s a creationist journal. Do you have any support from mainstream journals?”
- p.76 Discerning Truth by Dr. Jason Lisle
Arguments should be evaluated purely on on the validity of the claim itself. The source, while it may be obscure, controversial or even unorthodox shouldn’t discredit the claim.
Truth often comes in uncomfortable packages and sometimes even from the mouths of disreputable persons. Simply put: “don’t judge a book by…well, you get the idea.
20. Hasty Generalization
Making a general claim which is derived from an insufficient number of specific examples.
- “Prisoner X was a member of an extremist group. Everyone in that group is obviously dangerous”.
The media is rife with one-sided stories reported by ignorance, bias and neglect. Usually, one commits this fallacy when they’ve made up their mind about a subject before hearing the facts. This is why we emphasize worldview analysis and didactic reasoning over the dialectic, feeling-based approach.
We all have feelings but if we let them govern our thinking and reasoning especially in the fight for truth, we will become a casualty in the worldview wars.
21. Moralistic Fallacy
Moralistic Fallacy _ the demand that because something should be a particular way, that it validates that way. Or, jumping from arguments about what ought to be to statements about what is.
- “People shouldn’t steal things; It’s wrong and it’s against the law. Therefore, I don’t have to lock my doors when I leave home.”
This is the “In a perfect world…” argument. Usually, the person committing this fallacy has a certain preconception about how things should be. They’ve been offended by the harsh nature of reality and resort to elevating their “it ought to be so” scenario.
Those with power and wealth can’t resist shaping the world according to their view of how things should be. Progressive elites have always positioned themselves at the helm of the dialectic process to steer the herd toward a predetermined end.
The herd thinks they’re making a collective democratic choice, but the elites always change the rules and definitions to maintain control of the outcome.
22. Naturalistic Fallacy
The position that since something is a particular way, it is morally acceptable for it to be that way.
- “Might makes right. After all, it’s a jungle out there!”
- “All natural is more healthy.”
- “I can’t help it, It’s my nature.”
This fallacy really hangs on the ambiguous definition of what is normal, regular or natural. To further compound the problem, the assumption is that normal or natural is qualitatively better than otherwise. Arguments about the supposed supremacy of “more evolved” or advanced cultures has lead to a philosophical justification for the oppression or elimination of the “lesser” groups.
Advertisers use the premise that since their products or methods are “All natural”, that they are superior to “artificial” ones. What really defines natural and artificial? What is normal and why is it good or better?
You have to define the terms you’re working with: normal, natural, better, worse etc. Realize that in systems of dialectic consensus, that the terms and definitions are constantly changing within the confines of the group. They seek to use the size of the group to impose their definitions upon the rest. If you are “outside”, most likely your definitions are at odds with theirs.
23. “No True Scotsman” Fallacy
The arguer defines a term in a biased way in order to protect his position from rebuttals.
- “You can believe what you want about Creation but no real scientist would agree with you. You don’t have any degrees!”
The “No True Scotsman” fallacy is actually made up of several fallacies. It’s a blend of equivocation and begging the question (possibly with an epithet) with a twist of faulty appeal to authority thrown in for garnish.
The redefinition of terms coupled with a derogatory remark makes this fallacy a popular weapon in heated debates when the two sides run out of intelligent things to say.
In our example above, suppose we brought in a well-known and highly credentialed expert to weigh the evidence. If he agreed with the Creationist, he could be dismissed as not being a real scientist. If he disagreed, one could use his notoriety as a faulty appeal to authority.
Truth exists in what is, not who says it. Reality is a powerful voice and it always gets the last word.
24. Question-Begging Epithet
Using biased or emotional language to coerce people into accepting a position rather than using logic or evidence.
- “Only a total moron would agree with your position! You and all your supporters are completely wacko!“
Strong language doesn’t equal sound argument. In fact, this fallacy is usually committed when the opponent can’t find anything worthwhile to to say in rebuttal. A knee-jerk response is a very good indicator that a civil and logical discussion is nearing the end.
Many people don’t like having their worldview challenged. You’ll know the sensitive areas of a person’s beliefs when you gently prod them a bit. It’s like a doctor probing a patient for the source of their discomfort. Often, it takes facing pain and self-inspection to overcome illness. Vulnerability and exposure frightens some people and keeps them in bondage. Truth is an instrument of healing; for both diagnosis and for remedy.
If you find yourself stomping off and calling the other guy a jerk, it’s time to inspect your worldview. Never be afraid to examine your weaknesses. Build up your ability to stand by asking yourself the hard questions like “Is what I believe about this true?”. Be willing to really listen to people and see things from their position. Research opposing viewpoints to yours and graciously admit when you’re wrong or when you need more information.
In the worldview wars, we don’t have to hate each other to fight a good fight.
We have a saying around here: “Your failure to be informed doesn’t make me a wacko!”
Attributing an absolute definitive characteristic to something abstract. Otherwise known as the Fallacy of Ambiguity.
- “Love is blind.”
- “Justice is impartial.”
- “Evil has no conscience.”
This is closely related to the Equivocation Fallacy by altering the definition of a word, term or object within an argument. Assigning human qualities to inanimate objects or abstract composites is called anthropomorphization. Anthropos meaning man and morphos meaning to change into.
How we describe things indicates what we believe about them. We sometimes use word pictures to convey to others how we see the world around us. If we draw a literal comparison between philosophical abstracts and objects or intentions, we risk sending the wrong message.
It’s precisely this method of disinformation that makes reification dangerous in media and debate. The one using reification attempts to incorrectly paint a word picture to bias or taint the truth.
26. Slippery Slope Fallacy
The claim that a particular action will trigger a negative chain of events, when in reality many surrounding factors would prevent the result.
- “We can’t allow people to bring beverages into the conference room. If we do, soon they’ll be bringing in snacks and then meals. Pretty soon we’ll have a full-blown restaurant in here! I’d have to hire wait staff and a chef! We could get shut down for a health code violation! Somebody could even choke and die! Do you want that on your conscience?”
The power of this fallacy comes from the “domino effect” of linking one hypothetical scenario to another, and so on, to an undesirable end. That end result is then used as a powerful emotional reason to prevent the so-called “cause”.
There are valid cause and effect relationships to everyday scenarios and by using logic and information; we can extrapolate those results with accuracy. However, in the Slippery Slope fallacy, the normal safeguards between the steps which would prevent the progression are intentionally left out.
The fallacy is identified by an increasing number of vaguely defined steps between cause and effect to draw out an emotional response.
It’s also important to note that the Slippery Slope fallacy is not incrementalism. Progressives have an agenda to move people from one paradigm to another slowly, without much notice or resistance. In this case, the safeguards are removed by stealth and deception. The progress to the desired outcome is carefully controlled and monitored.
27. Special Pleading
The error of using a double standard.
- “Law enforcement should be exempt from some of the laws they enforce. After all, laws are made to protect us from criminals“.
This tactic has been used over and over again to bend the rules or change who the rules apply to. Elites often try to sway the game in their favor by changing the definitions.
Another way they get this accomplished is by using an emotional appeal to make an exception to the rule for a “special” case. You see this constantly in the media. For every single confessed standard, there is an unconfessed double standard at work.
Here’s a compact reference list of the fallacies mentioned above.
- Ad Hominem – Directing an attack against the person making a statement
rather than the statement itself.
- Affirming the Consequent – A statement where the second premise
affirms the consequent of the first premise.
- Appeal to Emotion – The attempt to persuade people by evoking strong
emotions rather than making a logical argument.
- Appeal to Force/ Fear – Threats that negative consequences will follow if
the other person does not accept their position.
- Appeal to Ignorance – Claiming the unknown; specifically when someone
argues that a statement is true simply because it has never been proven
- Appeal to Pity – Coercing someone to accept a position by creating
sympathy for those who hold the same position.
- Begging the Question – Jumping to the conclusion of what someone is
attempting to prove before they finalize their statement.
- Bifurcation – The supposition that there are only two mutually exclusive
outcomes, when there may, in fact, be several.
- Complex Question – Coercion by asking a loaded question. Supposing or
inferring intent, placing the second party in an uncomfortable or confusing
- Denying the Antecedent – A statement where the second premise denies
the antecedent of the first premise.
- Equivocation – Altering semantics. Transitioning from one definition of a
word to another within an argument.
- “Fallacy” Fallacy – The argument that a statement is false simply because
an argument for that position can be proven fallacious.
- Fallacy of Composition – The position that what is true of the parts must
also be true of the whole, or what is true of the individual members of a
group is also true of the group itself.
- Fallacy of Division – The supposition that what is true of the whole must
also be true of the parts. A reverse of Fallacy of Composition.
- Fallacy of False Cause – Claiming the existence of a false
cause-and-effect relationship between two separate events.
- Fallacy of Irrelevant Thesis – Involves proving a valid point, but not the
point at issue.
- False Analogy – Drawing a comparison between things that are similar in
trivial ways, but not at all pertaining to the argument being made.
- Faulty Appeal to Authority – The endorsement of a position or statement
simply based on the social stature of the person making it.
- Formal Fallacies – Errors in logical reasoning which flow from the
structure or the form of the argument itself.
- Genetic Fallacy – The rejection of a claim simply because someone
objects to the source of the information.
- Hasty Generalization – Making a general claim which is derived from an
insufficient number of specific examples.
- Hypothetical Proposition – A claim that if A is true, then B must be true
- Mixed Hypothetical Syllogism – A statement with two basic premises,
one of which is merely hypothetical.
- Moralistic Fallacy – The demand that because something should be a
particular way, that it validates that way.
- Naturalistic Fallacy – The position that since something is a particular
way, it is morally acceptable for it to be that way.
- “No True Scotsman” Fallacy – The arguer defines a term in a biased way
in order to protect his position from rebuttals.
- Question-Begging Epithet – Using biased or emotional language to
coerce people into accepting a position rather than using logic or evidence.
- Reification – Attributing an absolute definitive characteristic to something
- Slippery Slope Fallacy – The claim that a particular action will trigger a
negative chain of events, when in reality many surrounding factors would
prevent the result.
- Special Pleading -The error of using a double standard.
- Straw Man Fallacy – Drawing a false analogy of an opponent’s position
and then refuting the false analogy rather than what the opponent had
- Sweeping Generalization – Generalizing an exception.
Alternate Names of Fallacies Including Latin Names (in Italics)
- The Appeal to Emotion: Argumentum ad populum
- The Appeal to Force: Argumentum ad baculum
- The Appeal to Ignorance: Argumentum ad ignorantiam
- The Appeal to Pity: Argumentum ad misericordiam
- Begging the Question: Petito principii
- Complex Question: Plurium interrogationum
- Equivocation: “Bait and switch.”
- Fallacy Fallacy: Argumentum ad logicam, “argument to logic”
- Fallacy of False Cause: Non causa pro causa.
(subclass 1): ‘After this, therefore because of this”: Post hoc ergo propter
hoc. (subclass 2); “With this, therefore because of this”: Cum hoc ergo
- Faulty Appeal to Authority: Appeal to Inappropriate/Improper Authority,
Argumentum ad verecundium.
- Hasty Generalization: The fallacy of converse accident, A Dicto secundum quid ad
- Irrelevant Thesis: Irrelevant conclusion, red herring, Ignoratio elenchi.
- Reification: Hypostatization, or the fallacy of misplaced concretion.
(subclass): the pathetic fallacy.
- Slippery Slope Fallacy: Absurd often faulty extrapolation of events.
- Sweeping Generalization: The fallacy of accident, A dicto simpliciter ad dictum.
secundum quid (sometimes simplified to: Dicto simpliciter)
“to the man”: Ad hominem (subclass): “Poisoning the well”.