Debate and argumentation is an integral part of our lives.
Formal competitions in school, open-ended class discussions in college, team meetings at work, bantering with friends, family dinner table discussions—all of these involve an element of putting your point across in the face of challenges and opposition.
Arguments are a crucial part of arriving at decisions. Often, they can be misleading as well. A weak argument based on flawed reasoning is known as a fallacy.
What is a fallacy?
A fallacy is a logical error that weakens your arguments. You are bound to have come across fallacies in someone else’s arguments, whether in college or at work. By learning the meaning of fallacy, you can strengthen your ability to evaluate your own and others’ arguments.
Two things you need to know about fallacies:
1. Fallacious arguments are common and can be quite persuasive. At least, when you’re reading or listening to arguments casually. Have you ever advised someone or been advised not to listen to a particular person? Just because he or she is ‘not the brightest bulb in the room’? That’s a common example of what is a fallacy we often come across. That’s because you judge the idea based purely on the person who’s presenting it. You’re not engaging with the merits of the idea.
2. It’s not always easy to determine whether an argument is fallacious. Simply because fallacies are very common—if you don’t think critically and analyze closely, it is easy to miss a fallacy. You have to decide whether an argument is weak or strong or somewhat weak or somewhat strong. To do that, you have to be able to identify common fallacies. Ask yourself: Is the person generalizing? Has the person identified the right issue? Is an idea being judged by the person making it or is it being evaluated on its own merits?
What mistakes qualify as fallacies?
Can factual errors stand as fallacies? No, fallacies are mistakes in reasoning.
Let’s take a coffee break. You go to the kitchen and think of making coffee for everyone in the house. So you count four people in the house, but you forget to count yourself. So you make coffee for four people instead of five. That’s a factual mistake.
On the other hand, you could believe in something without a strong reason to back it up. Say, you start eating oatmeal every day because you believe that it is good for the heart, then it might be a fallacy.
Do fallacies only occur during arguments?
Sometimes, you might point out a fallacy even though no argument is being advanced. For example, a contradictory claim can be a fallacy. But the claim is not an argument. Someone could ask you a question with an inappropriate assumption. It is not an argument, but there could still be a logical fallacy in the assumption.
Say, you can’t locate the newspaper one morning. Like every day, you opened the front door to collect your newspaper from near the shoe-rack but it wasn’t there. In irritation, you ask “Who stole my newspaper?”
This situation seems normal. Where’s the fallacy in it? Well, you assumed that someone stole your newspaper. But what if it was a public holiday and you forgot? Or maybe the boy delivering the newspaper was running late.
So, fallacies can be found in places other than arguments. Broadly speaking, a fallacy is a mistake in reasoning that leads you away from critical thinking.
So how can you move away from fallacy and towards correct logical reasoning?
Learning to identify fallacies is the first step towards correct logical reasoning. But how would you do that? By learning the ABCD Framework through Harappa’s Thinking Critically course. The framework helps you evaluate arguments on four parameters: Accuracy, Believability, Clarity, and Deficiency. This framework strengthens your logical reasoning and reduces the possibility of falling for a fallacy.
Harappa’s expert mentors will guide you to use this framework to improve your logical reasoning and decision-making process. Join the course today and start making convincing arguments that are fallacy-free!
Explore topics such as What is an Argument, Types of Arguments, Types of Fallacies & the Strawman Fallacy from our Harappa Diaries blog section and hone this skill of strategically thinking in business.
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