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Informal Fallacies - by Mike Moum  


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15/07/2018 10:54 pm  

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An informal fallacy occurs when the premises fail to support the conclusion. In other words, the mistake is not in the form of the argument, but rather in the content of the argument itself.

A special type of informal fallacy, often seen on the Internet and in Facebook, is the group of "inductive fallacies", where conclusions are drawn on the basis of insufficient evidence. For instance, the argument that "I got a flu shot, and I got sick. Therefore anyone who gets a flu shot will get sick." Here a conclusion is reached on insufficient evidence.

One of the difficulties in discussing informal fallacies is that the list is so long. Here are the names of some of the most common ones:

  • Ad hominem (particularly pernicious, has subtypes)
  • Appeal to authority (asserting that an argument is true because of the person making it)
  • Appeal to consequences (the consequences of the argument are undesirable, therefore the argument must be false)
  • Appeal to emotion (manipulating emotions rather than addressing the argument)
  • Appeal to nature (judging something to be good or bad because it is "natural" or "unnatural")
  • Appeal to novelty (a proposal is superior because it is new or modern)
  • Appeal to the stone (dismissing a claim as absurd without demonstrating that it actually is absurd)
  • Appeal to tradition
  • Argument from ignorance (x is true because you can't prove it false, or false because you can't prove it true)
  • Argument from incredulity (appeal to "common sense")
  • Argument from repetition (ad nauseum)
  • Argument to moderation (false compromise)
  • Argumentum ad baculum (appeal to force)
  • Argumentum ad populum (bandwagon argument)
  • Begging the question (using the conclusion as though it were a premise)
  • Bulverism (asserting that an argument has a psychological reason, it must be false)
  • Shifting the burden of proof (I don't have to prove my claim, you have to prove it false)
  • Cherry picking (pointing to data that seem to support a position while ignoring all the data that refute it)
  • Circular reasoning (beginning an argument with what one is trying to prove)
  • Correlation proves causation (because A and B happened together, A caused B, or B caused A)
  • Equivocation (using a term which has more than one meaning without stating which meaning is being used)
  • Fallacy of composition (assuming that if something is true of a part of the whole, it must be true of the whole)
  • Fallacy of division (assuming that something true of a whole must be true of its parts)
  • False authority (basing an argument on someone being an expert without providing evidence of expertise)
  • False dilemma (false dichotomy)
  • False equivalence (describing two situations as equivalent, when in fact they aren't)
  • Fallacy of the single clause (oversimplification)
  • Furtive fallacy (outcomes are the result of malfeasance by those making the argument)
  • Hasty generalization
  • Irrelevant conclusion (missing the point,Latin: ignoratio elenchi)
  • Moralistic fallacy (something "should" be, therefore it "is")
  • Moving the goalposts (existing evidence is discounted without being addressed by insisting on a higher level of evidence)
  • Naturalistic fallacy (something "is", therefore it "ought" to be)
  • Nirvana fallacy (rejecting solutions because they are not perfect)
  • Shifting the burden of proof (Latin: Onus probandi)
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc ("after this, therefore because of this")
  • Proof by assertion (restating a proposition over and over regardless of contradiction)
  • Proof by verbosity (submitting an argument so complex and verbose that all of the details can't be addressed)
  • Red Herring (an irrelevant argument that draws attention away from the actual argument being considered)
  • Regression fallacy (ascribes cause where none exists, fails to account for natural fluctuations)
  • Reificiation (a fallacy of ambiguity where an abstraction is treated as though it were a real thing)
  • Retrospective determinism (argument that because something happened under some circumstance, the circumstance caused the thing to happen)
  • Slippery slope (arguing that allowing a small initial step inevitably leads to subsequent steps, ending in disaster)
  • Special pleading (arguing that something should be exempt from an accepted general rule without justifying the exemptions)
  • Straw man (misrepresenting someone's position in an attempt to undermine the person's credibility)
  • Thought-terminating cliche
  • Tu quoque (arguing that a position is false because the person asserting it doesn't always act in accordance with the position)
  • Vacuous truth (a claim that is technically true but is meaningless)

As you can see, the list is long, frustratingly long. I intend to touch on some of the most prevalent, and a google search on each of these will bring up explanations and examples. The list was derived from this Wikipedia article:
There are many other sources discussing informal fallacies on the Internet. As always, Google is your friend: search on "informal fallacies".

The common thread running through all of these fallacies is the avoidance of the actual argument by focusing on something other than the argument. The hope is that this list will help readers to spot these kinds of arguments when they are encountered.

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