opencourseware on critical thinking, logic, and creativity
Here are some examples of common fallacies:
Inferring that P is true solely because Q is true and it is also true that if P is true, Q is true.
The problem with this type of reasoning is that it ignores the possibility that there are other conditions apart from P that might lead to Q. For example, if there is a traffic jam, a colleague may be late for work. But if we argue from his being late to there being a traffic jam, we are guilty of this fallacy - the colleague may be late due to a faulty alarm clock.
Of course, if we have evidence showing that P is the only or most likely condition that leads to Q, then we can infer that P is likely to be true without committing a fallacy.
A question is posed in such a way that a person, no matter what answer he/she gives to the question, will inevitably commit him/herself to some other claim, which should not be presupposed in the context in question.
A common tactic is to ask a yes-no question that tricks people to agree to something they never intended to say. For example, if you are asked "Are you still as self-centred as you used to be?", then no matter you answer "yes" or "no", you are bound to admit that you were self-centred in the past. Of course, the same question would not count as a fallacy if the presupposition of the question is indeed accepted in the conversational context.
Inferring that Q is false just because if P is true, Q is also true, but P is false.
This fallacy is similar to the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Again the problem is that some alternative explanation or cause might be overlooked. Although P is false, some other condition might be sufficient to make Q true.
Example: If there is a traffic jam, a colleague may be late for work. But it is not right to argue in the light of a smooth traffic that the colleague will not be late. Again, his alarm clock may have stopped working.
Inferring that X must be the cause of Y just because X is followed by Y.
For example, having visited a graveyard, I fell ill and infer that graveyards are spooky places that cause illnesses. Of course, this inference is not warranted since this might just be a coincidence. However, a lot of superstituous beliefs commit this fallacy.
Within an argument some irrelevant issue is raised which diverts attention from the main subject. The function of the red herring is sometimes to help express a strong, biased opinion. The red herring (the irrelevant issue) serves to increase the force of the argument in a very misleading manner.
For example, in a debate as to whether God exists, someone might argue that believing in God gives peace and meaning to many people's lives. This would be an example of a red herring since whether religions can have a positive effect on people is irrelevant to the question of the existence of God. The good psychological effect of a belief is not a reason for thinking that the belief is true.
Arguing that if an opponent were to accept some claim C1, then he or she has to accept some other closely related claim C2, which in turn commits the opponent to a still further claim C3, eventually leading to the conclusion that the opponent is committed to something absurd or obviously unacceptable.
This style of argumentation constitutes a fallacy only when it is inappropriate to think if one were to accept the initial claim, one must accept all the other claims.
An example: "The government should not prohibit drugs. Otherwise the government should also ban alcohol or cigarettes. And then fatty food and junk food would have to be regulated too. The next thing you know, the government would force us to brush our teeth and do exercises everyday."
Attacking an opponent by attributing to him/her an implausible position that is easily defeated when this is not actually the opponent's position.
Example: When many people argue for more democracy in Hong Kong, a typical reply is to say that this is not warranted because it is wrong to think that democracy is the solution to all of Hong Kong's problems, or to say that one should not blindly accept democracy. But those who support democracy never suggest that democracy can solve all problems (e.g. pollution), and they might also agree that blindly accepting something is rarely correct, whether it is democracy or not. Those criticisms attack implausible "strawman" positions and do not address the real arguments for democracy.
Where there is contradicting evidence, only confirming evidence is presented.
Linda Ray Pratt