A fallacy is an invalid form of reasoning, i.e. a form of reasoning that does not prove the conclusion, but it claims to be proving it. There are a number of these fallacies, known for centuries.
The purpose of studying fallacies is to sharpen the students’ reasoning methods and procedures at the very outset by pointing out some of the commoner sorts of errors in reasoning which people commit.
The goal is to clear the mind of different types of error in part to make sure you yourself recognize them and therefore don’t commit them in your own thoughts or statements, and in part to defend yourself in argument against other people who commit them directed toward you. If you know what these fallacies are then you can be alert for them, both in your own statements and in the statements of others. If other people commit them you don’t have to rely on an uneasy feeling that there is something wrong with what is said, but you don’t know specifically what.
You should be able to defend yourself against false reasoning with the aid of intellectual self-defense which the study of fallacies represents.
We will study the plausible fallacies, the kind that actually deceive people.
The most widespread fallacy is
ARGUMENTUM AD VERECUNDIAM,
argument by appeal to reverence. Reverence to the authority of others. This is the fallacy of the appeal to authority. The structure of this fallacy is simple: other people, one or more, believe in a certain idea or thought: therefore it is true. Truth is what other people say.
Of course it is not a fallacy to learn from other people. It does not mean that you must originate every element of knowledge without ever learning from other people. If other people teach you something and give you reasons for their beliefs there is no fallacy involved of any kind in your accepting it. You accept it not on the authority of the teacher, but because you see the reasons for the teaching.
It becomes a fallacy when the mere fact that other people believe it is considered sufficient, and no reasons are asked for it; in other words when you take over ideas of other people without proof being asked for.
Why is VERECUNDIAM a fallacy? Because existence exists or A is A. Facts are what they are independent of peoples’ ideas or beliefs and secondly, men are fallible. Therefore the fact that one or more people believe a certain idea is not alone enough to establish that it is true and corresponds to the objective facts.
You can claim an idea is true only when you have validated it properly. In VERECUNDIAM you do not attempt to validate your ideas.
This fallacy comes in various forms. One variation of this fallacy is when a person says one individual or a few people might be wrong, but if a very large number of people believe in a certain idea, it must automatically be correct. This is the error of collective subjectivism, that consciousness controls matter.
- One Indian can be wrong. Ten thousand Indians can also be wrong. But ten million Indians can’t be wrong.
- The minority can be wrong, but the majority can’t be wrong.
- Everybody on earth believed in this idea for thousands of years. Therefore it must be true.
- This is the belief of society or the „Zeitgeist“. Therefore it must be true. Or this is our tradition, i.e. beliefs accepted by a large number of people for a long time.
- This idea is „in“. Therefore it must be true.
In „The Emperor’s New Clothes“ (Des Kaisers neue Kleider), people believe what others are saying about his clothes. They all commit VERECUNDIAM, except the little boy.
Communism is a dominant view. It started with a handful of individuals who were thought to be „outsiders“. Gradually they won a few disciples. They began to gain acceptance and then the masses accepted it.
Lenin said, „there are seven people who believe in Communism. The success of the Revolution is therefore guaranteed.“
If a view is widespread, especially a philosophical view, it is probable that at the beginning one or two people had originally started it and pushed it.
Or you choose a certain person or institution that is famous and you accept the views because of the prestige of these persons or institutions. You say a great man or a famous man believes it. Therefore it must be true. A movie star, a pop singer, a guru, a Nobel prize-winner says it, so it must be true.
Today people have the attitude to modern science that it is made of supernatural beings who make statements that are unquestionable and infallible.
This is false because scientists are human beings and make irrational statements just like any other professional group of people.
Some scientists e.g. say that elections have free will, etc. Modern science doesn’t give us guaranteed truth. There is really no modern science; there are only modern scientists.
When scientists report facts of their actual observations, then if they have a basis, you can believe it.
But when they start to theorize and interpret their observations, they are influenced by the philosophy of the „Zeitgeist“ just as everybody else.
If the „Zeitgeist“ philosophy is irrational, the scientists will be irrational. Scientists are not infallible. If their theories are to be accepted, they must be subjected to the same proof as the theories of non-scientists.
But the question is, what to do when we must rely on the word of experts or specialists? We must act in a practical situation and there is no time for us to investigate and acquire knowledge by ourselves. You go to a lawyer and he says you have to do such and such a thing. You haven’t got time to become a lawyer. You have to accept what he says. You have to do what the specialists tell you. Isn’t this VERECUNDIAM necessary? There are two ways of dealing with specialists.
- In this way you do not commit VERECUNDIAM. It starts with the fact that an expert says something. By itself it does not prove the truth of anything. Nothing is true just because someone says it. So if you are relying on an expert you assume that he has got good reasons for his statements.You must have evidence that the expert has good reasons to do what he is doing. This evidence is available to you even if you are not an expert yourself in a given field. You study the logic of what he says. The expert should be able to make intelligible to you the reasoning behind his conclusion. He can’t give you a full proof, because you are not an expert. But he should be able to give you enough reasoning to enable you to relate it to what you know as a layman. If he can do this you have evidence of his reliability.
- But if you have pain in your back and the doctor gives you a box of cards with names of medicines and asks you to pull out a card and see what medicine is written on the card and asks you to take this medicine, then you can believe that he is not a doctor you can have faith in.
When you rely on experts, you cannot yourself claim to be certain that what he is saying is true, because you are not an expert. But you can attain a high degree of probability that the expert is rational. You can say, „On the basis of the evidence available to me, it is highly probable that this man is correct and this is what I am going to do.“
A specialist whom you know is reliable is still a specialist in his own field. When a scientist talks about philosophy or an engineer on metaphysics or a Physics Nobel-Prize-winner on politics or esoteric mysticism he loses his status as an authority, and his statements have to be judged by the usual means of logic.
There is one way which a person uses language to gain acceptance. This is the use of ‘prestige jargon’. Instead of writing clearly, he uses excessively complicated language to make his readers accept him as an authority. The only way to judge this writing is to have it translated into simple language. This may not be possible if it is a technical subject. But it is always possible to speak plainly on subjects like philosophy, politics and religion.
Those who use complicated language, says Nietzsche, are muddying the waters to make them appear deep. When you clear the mud you see the water is only ten centimeters deep!
ARGUMENTUM AD BACULUM
„What I say is true. If you don’t believe it, I’ll beat you.“ BACULUM is a stick. It is the use of force or threat in order to induce acceptance of an idea. That is „might is right“.
The use of physical force instead of logic is a fallacy. Reason and force are opposites. Force and threats prove nothing whatever. They represent an abdication of logic, weak intellect and animal-like behaviour.
Dictatorships use torture to make the victims change their opinions. Religions say you will go to hell if you don’t follow the religion. These are all examples of BACULUM.
ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM
It means an argument to the man.
In this fallacy, you attempt to disprove some idea not by using arguments against the idea, but by attacking the man who originated the idea. The truth or falsehood of an idea depends on facts of logic, not on the personality of the originator of the idea.
- You are too young to know.
- You are not highly educated and could not have written „Hamlet“.
- Instead of asking, „Is this view correct?“ you ask, „what could have motivated him to have this view?“ You must first establish by logical means whether a given idea is true or false. If it is false, then you may psychologise and ask what motivated him to produce this idea.
- He is a bad man. He is a liar. He is uneducated. All these are ad HOMINEM fallacies. If you do dismiss a liar’s statement, it is not because he is a liar, but because he didn’t have evidence to support his statement.
You may also commit a fallacy by saying, „I feel that this idea is true or that it is false. Therefore it is so.“
You say your feelings alone prove or disprove an idea. So your emotion is the standard. But emotions are not instruments of knowledge. Your feelings only show that you gave certain values or ideas, but they don’t prove that those ideas correspond to reality.
Emotions of course may accompany your arguments. That is all right. It is wrong only when you use emotions instead of arguments.
Sometimes words like „public good“ or „for the good of the public“ are used. It is filled with emotions and most people who use it don’t give a definition of the phrase. It is used to gain automatic approval and to prevent criticism.
A form of this fallacy is the emphasis, not on justice, but on pity. They say criminals should not be punished, not because they are innocent, but because they are underprivileged, their parents were drunkards and they are victims of society.
ARGUMENTUM AD IGNORANTIAM
appeal to ignorance. You say a person robbed a bank, and he is guilty because he does not know how to disprove it. His inability to disprove it is taken as proof that he robbed a bank. This is a fallacy.
Why is it a fallacy? It is not possible to disprove that something exists. The statement that says that something exists is called a positive statement. The statement that something does not exist is a negative statement.
Now it is not possible to disprove an arbitrary positive statement.
The one who asserts a positive statement must give the proof of his assertion.
For example if you say „He is guilty“, it means he did something wrong. So it is a positive statement. The one who says „He is guilty“ must prove the guilt.
It is not the duty of the accused to prove that he is innocent.
IGNORANTIAM is a fallacy that says if you can’t prove you are innocent then you must be guilty.
Another example is: How do you know that this is not the case? How do you know, said Descartes, you are not dreaming?
We must remember that the responsibility of proof is on him who asserts the positive. We ask him, „why do you think it is so?“ It is not our responsibility to prove that it isn’t so.
is a common fallacy. It is the fallacy of using the point you are trying to prove as part of your proof. PETITIO has many forms.
You restate the idea that you are trying to prove. You use different language.
- „Capital punishment for murderers is justified.“ He proves it by saying it is justified because there are good reasons to execute people who have committed murder. He is saying „Capital punishment is justified because it is justified.“
- “The young will necessarily abstain from vice if the consequences are pointed out to them.“ – Why? „Because a knowledge of those consequences cannot fail to deter them from committing vicious acts.“ He is saying, „Knowledge of those consequences will deter them because the knowledge will deter them.
- „Vivisection is wrong because the cutting up of animals for experimental purposes is wicked.“ He is saying vivisection is wrong because it is wrong.
PETITIO by arbitrary definition
- Somebody says, „All Christians are virtuous.“ You say, „What about Mr. Smith. He sells marijuana. He is a Christian but he isn’t virtuous.“ He says, „That does not refute my statement that all Christians are virtuous. Mr. Smith is not a Christian, because he is not virtuous.“ When he first used the word „Christian“, you thought he meant a member of a religious group. Now to defend his statement, he redefines Christian as one who is virtuous.
- „All students in my class are intelligent“. „What about Mr. Jim? He is not intelligent.“ „He is not a true student of mine.“ „Why?“ „Because if he were my true student he would be intelligent. All my students are intelligent.“ – Here „true student“ is redefined.
Of course if the definition is not arbitrary there is nothing wrong with appealing to definitions to validate your view, if your definition is justified.
For example, I say „All triangles are three-sided“. You say, „what about that rectangle, it has four sides.“ I can say, „Of course not, because all triangles are three-sided.“
This is not PETITIO, because the original definition of a triangle was not arbitrary. It is PETITIO when you start with a normal definition (as „Christian“) and then arbitrarily change it because you are assuming without proof, your original statement.
All bad or arbitrary definitions are not all PETITIO. It is PETITIO when the cause of the arbitrary definition is assuming the very point you have to prove.
In the third version of PETITIO
you have a series of statements. You use „a“ to prove „b“; „b“ to prove „c“; and then you say „a“. So by a number of intermediate links you use „a“ to prove „a“.
One person goes to a bank with his friend for a loan. The banker says to the one seeking the loan, „I can’t give you the loan, because I don’t know you. I don’t know if you are reliable.“ The man says, „I brought along my friend who knows me for a long time and who will vouch for me!“ The banker says, „No problem. I know him for many years and I will vouch for him.“ This is an example of circular reasoning. It goes like this:
I am reliable. Therefore he is reliable. Therefore I am reliable.
He uses his reliability to prove his reliability through one intermediate link.
4 In the fourth version of PETITIO
you don’t give a complete argument. You use an expression in advance of a proof which assumes that you have proven the point at issue when you haven’t.
- „I will prove that this thief entered the house yesterday.“ You call a man a thief before proving that he is a thief.
- „I will prove that this foolish idea is wrong.“ You call an idea foolish before proving it is foolish. Only after proving it wrong you may call it foolish.
In this fallacy you assume some fact without proof. Then you ask a question. It is a complex question because there are two issues involved which you have combined together into one.
- „Have you stopped abusing your neighbour?“ If you say yes, the implication is you were abusing your neighbour, but you stopped. If you say no, the implication is you are still abusing your neighbour. You can’t answer this question because it is based on the assumption that you were abusing your neighbour.
- „How does TV violence make children aggressive?“ You don’t ask if TV violence makes children aggressive. You assume that TV violence makes children aggressive. You only want to know how it happens.
- „Are you for progress and the X-Party?“ Here you ask two questions together and demand a single answer. You assume that the answer to both questions is the same. So the answer could be, „Yes, I am for progress. No, I am not for the X-Party.“ A mother says to her daughter, „Do you want to be a good girl and eat all this vegetable?“
What is the difference between a paradox and a contradiction?
A paradox is an apparent contradiction, not a real one.
A paradox seems to be a contradiction, but when you resolve the paradox, you find that there is not contradiction.
What if I am not sure if my perceptions of the universe are correct?
If you are not sure that your perceptions are correct, it would make no difference to you if the facts of the universe exist independent of mind or not. Nothing would make a difference to you, because if you are not sure of your perceptions, you are not conscious. You have no consciousness. Consciousness is to be conscious of something, which is existence.
People are conscious of existence through their senses. If you say you are not sure if the senses are valid, you are saying that your consciousness does not make you aware of existence. That means you do not know that you are aware of existence. But besides existence there is nothing else for the senses to be aware of.
If your senses are not valid, you have no reason to say you are conscious of existence or anything else.
The higher concepts are built on the evidence of the senses. If the senses are not valid, you have no faculty for perceiving reality. That means you are unconscious.
By evidence of the senses we mean what is directly fed to you by the physical mechanism of your consciousness; not the interpretation you make. You can make mistakes in interpreting your sensory data. But then cannot be a mistake in your raw data.
If you see the rails meeting when you look in the distance, the eyes give you the effect of certain causes. Then we must interpret the results. There is no distortion.
Anybody who argues for a subjectivist view is engaging in the stolen concept fallacy.
An argument presupposes logic and the law of identity. A subjectivist attacks logic, but he is counting on logic to form the concept of argument in order to attack the root on which it depends.
Any attack on reality is a stolen concept because the concept of existence is pre-condition of all other concepts. Until you know that something exists, you cannot reach the conceptual level. You cannot say what something is until you know that there is something there.
A subjectivist attacks existence by denying the law of identity. Existence means identity. To be is to be something. The person who denies identity is denying existence. He is not entitled to any concepts once the concept of existence has been denied.
How do you know you didn’t make an error in logic when attempting to find a true statement?
Assuming you have defined the terms within the knowledge available to you, stated the facts it is based on, explained the steps of the reasoning and so on, and the opponent says, „How do you know you didn’t make an error?“.
This is the „AD IGNORANTIAM“ fallacy.
The responsibility of proof is on the one who says you made an error.
If all the evidence leads you to a conclusion which is valid, then if somebody says an error is possible, he has to prove the error.
What is the difference between fact and opinion?
An opinion is a belief which you cannot prove. A fact is an aspect of existence which is there independent of anybody’s belief.
A conviction is an idea that you think you can give reasons for.
Equivocation is a fallacy that is made possible by ambiguity.
A word or sentence is ambiguous if it is capable of having two or more meanings. Its meaning is not clear.
A word out of context has many meanings. The word „trunk“ has many meanings. It can mean a suit-case, an elephant’s nose, etc.
Equivocation arises from ambiguity.
Whenever the meaning of an expression is switched within the course of an argument, so that the same expression is used in two different senses in the argument, and if the switch makes the conclusion possible, then the conclusion does not follow.
It’s the fallacy of justifying a conclusion on the basis of premises containing terms used in two different senses and consequently resting your conclusion on a linguistic switch.
- Where there are laws, there must be a law-giver.
- There are laws of Nature.
- Therefore there must be a law-giver to Nature
- Voting is right
- The state should enforce rights.
- Therefore the state should enforce voting
Here is an equivocation on the word „right“ In the first sentence, you are using „right“ as a synonym for „correct“. In the second sentence, „right“ does not mean the state should force you to do moral good.
- The management of an industry has the sole responsibility for keeping its plant and means of production in repair.
- The health of the workers is an indispensable means of production.
- Therefore the management has the sole responsibility for preserving the health of the workers.
The expression „means of production“ is used in equivocation. In the first sentence, „means of production“ means the actual physical tools, equipment and machines. In the second sentence, the health of the workers is not part of the physical equipment. Here „means of production“ means any factor which is required for the factory to be able to run successfully. In this sense of the expression, there are so many factors required for the factory to be run successfully, e.g. a sound currency, a stable government, etc. You could not say that is the sole responsibility of the management.
- What happens every day is a usual event.
- Unusual events happen every day.
- Therefore unusual events are usual events.
Another kind of ambiguity arises from the way the words are put together in the sentence. This is called Amphiboly.
Amphiboly is ambiguity arising from the grammatical construction of the sentence or paragraph.
- a) „Employees only may use the service elevators.“
The sentence is capable of two meanings depending on where you connect the word „only“. It means, „only the employees may use the service elevators, but no other people can use it.“ Or it may mean, „employees may use only the service elevators. They cannot use the regular ones.“
- b) „The author warns against a number of logical errors in his book“
Does he warn against the errors? Or does he commit the errors?
- c) „All that glitters is not gold.“
Does it mean, „Nothing that glitters is gold“. No. It means, „Some things that glitter are not gold and some are.“
- d) „All the invited guests are not going to the party.“
What does it mean? – All of them are not going? – Some of them are going? – None of them is going?- There is no way to tell. You have to recognize this form, „All something … is not something“ and rewrite it clearly.
In this fallacy you quote the words of some previous speaker, but you omit part of what he said and replace it by the ellipsis or three dots. It is legitimate to do this, as you are not required to quote everything a man says. But if you put the three dots in the wrong places you can get a speaker or writer to say anything.
- For example, some people say, „Even the Bible advocates atheism because the Bible says, „… there is no God!“ The Bible says in Psalms 14,1, „The fool has said in his heart, „There is no God“.
- A reporter writes, „This play has no impact whatever; it is a fantastic waste of time and money. I felt a sense of exultation when this monstrosity was finally over.“ – The ad in the paper said, „Reporter X said, „… impact …; … fantastic …. I felt a sense of exultation …!“
This completely changes the meaning of the original statement.
FALLACY OF FALSE ALTERNATIVE
There is a need to define the alternative possibility on the question under discussion. How many choices do we have in looking for the answer.
Let’s say you have two choices. You may choose one and give your reasons why your choice must be correct. You do that although there are one or more other possibilities you overlooked.
It is called the fallacy of false alternative because the alternative you are offering is false. The choice is not between the two you are offering, but between more possibilities which you have ignored.
A student gets low grade. The teacher says, „Either you are lazy or you are stupid. You are not stupid judging from your answers in the class. So I conclude you are lazy.“
If there are no other possibilities, it’s all right. But it is possible that the student was ill or the test was very difficult.
You are made to choose between two alternatives when in fact there are more. This does not mean that every alternative of the form ‘either … or’ is a fallacy. An alternative is false only when it is false. What is then the test of a true alternative?
The sure test is, „Can you show that it is an example of the Law of Excluded Middle?“
If you give your alternative as A or non-A, your alternative is true.
You can say, „Either a country is laissez-faire-faire or it is not.“ This is a true alternative.
If you say, „Either a country is laissez-faire or it is socialist“, it is a false alternative, for it may be communist.
To show that an alternative is false you must point out another possibility that makes sense in the case under discussion.
Here is an example of a false alternative where two people have the same false premise in some question. This premise restricts the choices they can think of. Then they take two different sides of the same false premise.
Heraclitus and Parmenides both agreed that the process of change requires the existence of a contradiction. Parmenides said, „Contradictions are impossible. And since change implies a contradiction, we have to deny change, which is only an illusion. The world is only a split, motionless ball without any change at all. Our senses are unreliable.“
Heraclitus said, „Obviously there is change. Change requires a contradiction. That shows the world is full of contradictions.“
All subsequent philosophers accepted this false alternative:
- a) Either you accept change and reject logic, or
- b) you accept logic and reject change.
Take your choice!
That is a false alternative produced by taking two opposite sides of the same mistaken premise.
An example from free will: Some people believe that free will and causality don’t go together. They say free will means to act without having a cause, without having any explanation.
With that false premise you make a lot of errors. For example they say, „If free will is causeless action, how can you hold a person morally responsible for his free actions? If he is walking down the street and his hand, without cause and without any explanation, moves and hits somebody, you can’t hold him responsible for this causeless action.
So they say if there is free will it means no moral responsibility.
At the same time they say, „If determinism is true, and everything you do is determined by factors outside your control, you can’t be responsible for your actions. And because it is either free will or determinism, therefore you can’t be held responsible in any case. So moral responsibility is non-existing. Your choice is: either your actions are causeless or helpless.“
That is a false alternative: free will as a violation of causality or determinism. These are your only two possibilities. But free will properly defined is perfectly compatible with causality.
Another false alternative: One side says, „We must give full power to the unions government.“ The other side says, „No, we must give full power to the states. We are advocates of states rights.“
They argue as to who should be the dictator, the Union Government or the Individual States. Both agree with the false premise that a dictator is required. The question only is who should be the dictator.
This is all a case of false alternative as it omits the possibility of a state where the individual rights of the citizens are defended.
- Either you live by reason – in which case you are cold, and unable to experience emotions, or you experience emotions in which case you are irrational, orgiastic, whimsical, maniacal. These two alternatives are given by Plato and Nietzsche.
- Either you are moral or you are practical.
- Either you cultivate the mind and condemn the body or you cultivate the body and condemn the mind.
- Either you are a Socialist or a Democrat.
- Marxists say any state must be an agent of exploitation in the hands of one particular class for the purpose of exploiting another: Either the state will be run by the rich exploiting the poor or it will be run by the poor exploiting the former rulers. This is a false alternative which omits the possibility of a state which defends individual rights and not a representative of the interests of a class.
- Either you are selfless and sacrifice yourself to others or you are selfish and sacrificing them to yourself. This is a false alternative. You can live by trading without sacrificing yourself or others.
The reason for using false alternatives is taking the premises of the day as true. A person sees two alternatives offered. He doesn’t think. He takes one alternative or the other of the controversy that is going on. There is a better way of dealing with the controversy. Before you join one side or the other, find out if the two sides both share a basic false premise, so that the alternative they offer is a false alternative. You must be critical of the premises.
THE FALLACY OF THE STOLEN CONCEPT
It is the fallacy of using a concept while denying or contradicting one of the antecedent concepts upon which it itself depends and without which it could neither be formed nor defined.
You use a concept while denying one of the earlier concepts on which your concept depends and without which you could not have your concept.
„You can’t prove the laws of logic. Therefore they are unreliable.“
The person is using the concept of proof while attacking the laws of logic. The laws of logic are the pre-condition of proof and must be known and validated first before you can form the concept of ‘proof’.
The stolen concept is the fallacy of destroying the concept that makes possible the concept you are using. You have no right to use the concept you are using if you deny the concept that makes it possible.
In PETITIO you use the thing you are trying to prove. In ‘stolen concept’ you use what you are trying to disprove. You use it indirectly, by counting on a concept while simultaneously trying to attack it.
Many are false.
- The love of money is the root of all evil.
- There are two sides to every story: my side is true for me and your side is true for you.
- The heart is superior to the head.
- Laissez-faire is outdated in our complex modern world.
- Don’t push the river.
- Capitalism causes depression, monopolies.
Cliché-thinking is a form of VERECUNDIAM. The average person uses clichés because he hears everybody saying it and he believes, they must be knowing what they are talking about.
Misuse of the mean (cliché): In many situations, it seems there are three possible viewpoints. On one side there is extreme, on the other side there is extreme in the opposite direction. And then there appears to be a mean between these two extremes. You then argue that the mean – whatever it is – is valid simply because it is in the middle.
The extreme positions are invalid because they are extreme. The nature of the extreme is not taken into consideration, only the fact that it is extreme.
The fact that a viewpoint is middle or extreme is irrelevant to the truth of the viewpoint.
If you go by logic you have to have reasons, proof, that pertain to your viewpoint, whether middle or extreme.
The concept of the mean or middle is inherently vague. It doesn’t tell you anything, several different viewpoints can be called middle. If the middle merely means that which is between two extremes, you can manipulate the extremes and invent anything suitable for your purposes as the mean.
At what speed should you drive near a school? One says 7 miles per hour is the right speed. Another says 30 miles per hour is the right speed. Another says 30 miles per hour is right.
So you say you will drive 15 miles an hour. This sounds like a valid reasoning. But another person could choose different extremes, say 7 miles per hour and 100 miles per hour and decide to drive 50 miles per hour through the school place.
Both of these figures are means. They are different because the extremes selected are different. So being in the middle doesn’t tell you anything except that it is between two other viewpoints.
A viewpoint is rational not due to its position in the middle or at the end, but due to logical arguments.
There are many, many positions that can be called as the middle position, e.g.
- In the one hand there is extreme freedom. On the other hand there is extreme slavery. We don’t want to be extremists. So let us be in the middle and make only some people slaves and control the people half-way.
- A judge can say, „One extreme is to let all innocent men go free and punish all guilty men. The other extreme is to punish all innocent men and to acquit all guilty men. I’ll take the middle road. I’ll put a few innocent men in jail and I’ll acquit a few bandits.“
The Greeks including Aristotle committed this fallacy, that the mean is valid in ethics because it is the mean.
Aristotle said, „At one extreme there is the person who has too low an opinion of himself and who says, ‘I am worthless, good-for-nothing’. At the other extreme there is the naughty person who thinks no end of himself, who has too high an opinion of himself. The person in the middle, said Aristotle, is the person with the right attitude or the golden mean.“
The concept of the golden mean appears to be reasonable. No wonder the Greeks thought there was something good in moderation. Their mistake was to classify the same attitude into three degrees of intensity and then conclude falsely that the extreme attitudes were irrational. They said we must be moderate if we are to be reasonable. Then they make the mistake of defining moderation as making compromises on every problem, accepting contradictions and rejecting logic. The sole aim is to be in the middle, all in the name of reason. They use reason to deny reason.
Extremism normally means ruthless consistency. If the person’s basic premise is wrong, then extremism is irrational. But if the person’s basic premise is correct, then extremism is a virtue.
The reason the Greeks preferred moderation was that they wanted to be friends with both the extreme sides. They wanted to be liked by both sides. They did not want to take responsibility and so they decided to appease both parties. They gave up thinking and desired to take parts of each extreme view and called it the golden mean. This means they don’t have the responsibility of saying, „This is the stand I take.“
Somebody said there are two sides to every question – one right and the other wrong. But the middle is always evil.
This view of moderation is impractical. In the United States there were on one side extremists who wanted no taxes. The extremists on the other side wanted an income-tax of four percent. The middle people said, „Let’s take the moderate view and have an income-tax of one percent.“
The 4% extremists agreed. And after a while wanted a tax of 10%. The moderate people asked for 5% tax and so on it went till now the moderate people are asking for 40% tax!
If a thief came to steal all your property and your children don’t want to give him anything, you might take the moderate position and give him half of what he demands!
The right view is to judge a fact by its merits, not whether it is in the middle.
You give an argument which suggests a plausible conclusion. But you have omitted some fact or aspect of the case which would destroy your conclusion.
The logical thing to do is to integrate all of the relevant evidence before coming to a conclusion, and not to select a part of the evidence. You have to tell the whole truth because a partial truth can be misleading.
For example you might say that children who use a certain toothpowder have 20% fewer caries. That sounds good until you learn that the children had 20% fewer teeth.
Sometimes you give only the facts that lead to the conclusion you want and leave out the facts that will contradict your conclusion.
You may ask, „Look at the slums and migrant workers in America. You can’t say that capitalism has produced the highest standard of living in the world. There is unemployment in America.“
Two facts have been omitted. First America has a mixed economy, not full capitalism. Secondly the poverty in America is superior to the standard of living in third world countries.
NON-SEQUITUR (IRRELEVANT CONCLUSION)
You start proving something different from what you are supposed to be proving. You start on one subject and prove something else that is irrelevant.
- Vegetarianism is recommendable because people speak so many different languages. The conclusion is NON-SEQUITUR: it does not follow.
- This medicine is good because it is sold in a sterilized bottle.
- My opinion is correct because this is a free country and I have a right to my opinion.
REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM
means reducing the argument to the absurd: It is a valid technique of refuting an argument. It goes like this:
If you accept one thing then you must accept another thing, which is an absurd conclusion.
Therefore the original position which led to it must be false.
Suppose someone says to you that it is possible that you were at times irrational and corrupt, and therefore good for nothing. Prove that you were not. If you can’t prove it then it is possible that you were irrational and you are good for nothing.
This is IGNORANTIAM.
This fallacy is to be corrected by the principle, „A man is innocent until proved guilty.“
Many people have self-doubt, not because they can name any concrete faults, but simply because they cannot prove that they are not good-for-nothing.
But suppose you failed in business or lost all sports competitions? Isn’t that a reason for having self-doubt?
There is nothing to justify your judgment that you are good-for-nothing if you at least tried to be successful.
You may also not be successful because you set yourself unsuitable goals. For example, you say, „I must have a better house than my neighbour. I must cook better than A. I must learn Portuguese as fast as B. I must stop my husband from smoking. I must be as thin as the TV-star.“ If you don’t attain your goals, it means you have set unsuitable goals; and it does not justify your saying that you are good-for-nothing.
- „Men with beards are happier than men without beards, according to the philosophers. Who are philosophers? Men with beards are philosophers.“Here philosopher is redefined as one having a beard. In trying to establish the authority of philosophers, a PETITIO is committed.
- „All men need happiness, because the need for happiness is universal.“The need for „happiness is universal“ is given as proof that all men want happiness. But a universal need simply means that all men need it. It is a restatement.
- „You have read the Bible? I am open-minded. Now tell me your stupid comments on the Bible, and I’ll tell you whether they are correct or not.“You can’t call the comments stupid before you have heard them and before knowing whether they are correct or not.
- „You cannot know the objective truth because societies disagree with one another.“Because indirectly it is presupposed that you can only know the truth by consulting society; and since society doesn’t give us the right answer, we can’t know.
To say we can know the truth only through society is to appeal to authority. So this fallacy is a VERECUNDIAM.
- Mill said, „The only proof that something is audible is that people actually hear it. The only proof that something is visible is that people actually see it. So the only proof that something is desirable must be that people actually desire it. People desire pleasure. So pleasure is desirable.“What is the fallacy? Audible means „Capable of being heard“. Visible means „Capable of being seen“. We can establish this fact by determining that somebody does see or hear something. But desirable doesn’t mean „capable of being desired“, but rather „it is to be desired, it is right to desire, it should be desired“.
J. S. Mill committed the error of VERECUNDIAM. To establish what was desirable, he looked to what people actually desired.
- „You come from a democratic economic system. Therefore your arguments are wrong.“This is AD HOMINEM, abusing the person, instead of finding fault with the argument.
- “You say that enlightenment is possible for everyone. You are too young to know. So you are wrong.“AD HOMINEM. It doesn’t matter how old you are, when someone judges your argument. You must judge the argument itself.
- „Aristotle’s Logic is wrong because times have changed.“AD HOMINEM. The changing times is no proof that Aristotle is wrong.
APPEAL TO EMOTIONS
„This book is wonderful. I like it.“
That you like the book is no proof that the book is wonderful.
„You must ask for my permission before you do anything. Why? Because if you don’t, I won’t talk to you.“
BACULUM. This is a threat, not a proof.
DEDUCTIVE AND INDUCTIVE LOGIC
In inductive reasoning you go from a number of particular observations to a general or universal conclusion embracing the entire class.
In deductive reasoning you start with a general or universal premise and apply it to a particular case, and come up with a particular conclusion.
- The process of reasoning to a general or universal conclusion on the basis of a number of particular observations is inductiveYou can for example point to one nightingale and say, „this nightingale sings beautifully.“ Then you hear another nightingale, then another, and so on. And after some time you get the insight and generalize. „All nightingales sing beautifully.“ This is an example of induction, which will be valid or invalid depending on how you choose the sample.
- Deduction is the reverse of induction. For example, we start with „All nightingales sing beautifully.“ Then you point out to a bird and say, „This is a nightingale.“ Then you conclude, „This nightingale sings beautifully.“
TRUE OR VALID
We have to distinguish between the question of truth and the question of validity.
The question of truth is, „Are the premises of the argument true? Do they state facts? Do they correspond to reality?“
The question of validity is, „Is the inference valid?“
Inference is the process of passing from the premise to the conclusion. The question, „Is the inference valid?“ is distinct from the question, „Are the premises true?“
The question, „Is the inference valid?“ means „Does the conclusion follow from the premises? Is it so that, given these premises, you must accept the conclusion? Do the premises necessitate the conclusion?“
- No ostrich can fly.
- All ostriches have wings.
- Therefore some winged animals cannot fly.
In this case the premises are true and the inference in this case is valid. The conclusion that some winged animals cannot fly does follow from the premises.
But if you say
- All birds can fly.
- All ostriches are birds.
- Therefore ostriches can fly,
the premises are true, but the inference is invalid. The conclusion does not follow.
We apply the term true or false to the premises or to the conclusion. We say that a premise is true or that it is false. We may also say that a conclusion is true or that it is false.
The term validity is applied to the reasoning itself. We say that the reasoning or inference is valid or invalid. It only means that the conclusion follows from the premises.
Truth and validity are two separate factors.
You can have
- a) true premises and a valid inference,
- b) true premises and an invalid inference,
- c) false premises and a valid inference,
- d) false premises and an invalid inference.
How can you know whether your conclusion is true? Only if you can answer yes to these two questions:
1.) Are my premises true?
2.) Is my inference valid?
If you can say yes to each of these two questions, then you know that your conclusion is true.
We will discuss the truth of the premises when we talk about definitions and induction.
For the time being we will imagine that the premises are true, even though some of them are false and even though the consequences are false. We will restrict ourselves to discussing only the validity of the inference.
A conclusion may be valid even though the conclusion and the premises are completely absurd.
When we say the conclusion is valid, it means only that if the premises are true, then a certain conclusion must follow. But are the premises true? We will ignore this aspect of the argument now and we will concentrate on how to make valid inferences.
There are three basic types of statements used in arguments. Different combination of these statements will produce different types of arguments.
- categorical statements: These are plain statements like „Mozart is a Wunderkind“ or „It is cold in Winter“ or „I am a child of God“.
- hypothetical statements: These are statements of the form, „If … then“. „If you have faith in God, then you will be happy.“ „If you have a problem, then speak to God about it.“
- alternative statements: These are of the form, „either … or“. „Either you are full of love or you are full of fear.“ „Either you love Beethoven or you hate him.“