Informal logical fallacies are the bane of worthwhile discussion and critical thinking.
Whether encountering them in a logic or philosophy class or through social media and elsewhere, we’ve all been exposed to these logical fallacies in one way or another. Consider, for instance, President Trump; he is a living, breathing informal-fallacy-generating machine, and we’re constantly exposed to that on a daily basis.
There are loads of logical fallacies out there, but a certain number of them have maintained an enduring popularity among the politically craven and intellectually dishonest. If you’ll indulge me, dear reader, I’d like to take a brief detour down informal logical fallacy lane.
What spurred all this on was that I recently posted a link to a news story with this headline: “A resolution denouncing neo-Nazis dies in 36 seconds.” I had added a “why, tho” above the article link. Someone – let’s just call him Mr. X – decided to answer my question and posted a comment that included the phrases, “virtue-signaling nonsense” and “democrat cucks” and talked about how “ISIS wants to blow up planes and kill millions.” The article’s central issue was not addressed in the comment. This would be an example of the “red herring” fallacy, the deliberate raising of an irrelevant issue.
This kind of crap happens all the time.
It seems like there are degrees to the severity of a logical fallacy. They can range from the supremely minor to egregiously awful.
A super popular one is the hasty generalization fallacy. This is when someone draws a conclusion about a whole group based on an inadequate sample of the group. I mean, we’ve probably all been guilty of this at one time or another. I know I have.
One time, I ordered the Borderland Scramble from Bob Evans, and it was really watery and undercooked – just one of the grossest things I’ve ever had to eat. I declared right then and there, “I am never coming back here!” And I never did. I’ve completely shunned an entire restaurant on the basis of one (really) bad meal. That’s not fair or reasonable. But it’s OK because, in the end, who really cares about Bob Evans?
Yet there’s an ugly flip side to that hasty generalization coin. This type of fallacious thinking has damaging real world effects. The frequency with which people adopt this line of thinking to justify bigoted ideas is troubling, to say the least. The most extreme kind of example being the condemnation of a religious or ethnic group (See: rampant Islamophobia).
I’m old enough to remember the run-up to the Iraq War and one of the all-time greatest examples of the false dichotomy of the either/or mentality. If you were a Republican member of Congress, you either supported the Iraq War or you hated the troops, hence the popularity of those “Support Our Troops” car decals.
The idea of people disagreeing with the government’s decision to go to war but still respecting individual service members was not an option. Also implicit in this particularly fallacious line of thinking was the all-important question of “why do you hate freedom?”
Of course, that’s ridiculous and unfair, but fairness is not part of the fallacy game. People will try to persuade and cajole and motivate an audience or individual by whatever means necessary, which often includes departing from critical thinking to make a cheap point and win the debate.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether someone employs a fallacy intentionally or unwittingly; neither way is ideal. Being intentionally fallacious seems the more egregious social misdemeanor, though.
I do not claim to be an expert in anything and do not have any training in formal logic. Heck, if you were to get a snapshot of the inside of my brain at this very moment, it’d probably be of tumbleweeds tumbling freely.
But one thing I do know is that a common trait among many of these pervasive logical fallacies is that they present everything in overly simplistic terms.
Many political issues and problems are far from simplistic and, oftentimes, require nuance and sophistication of thought –the kinds of attributes informal logical fallacies don’t allow.