Logical Fallacies
Alphabetical list of Handouts & Guides

Words of Wisdom

As a vessel is known by the sound, whether it be cracked or not; so men are proved, by their speeches, whether they be wise or foolish.

— Demosthenes



In academic writing, we use logic to present our arguments in a convincing manner. When there is an error in logic, it’s called a logical fallacy. In the words of author Dorothy Seyler, these are “arguments that don’t work.” They can sound convincing, but upon further inspection, the evidence doesn’t hold up. Even if the claim is true, the evidence must support the claim for the argument to be effective. Here are the five fallacies we’ll go over today. Understanding fallacies is crucial to avoiding them in your own arguments, and recognizing them in others; even when they are hidden behind a façade of confidence and colorful words. First is hasty generalization. This is when you make a conclusion on an entire group based on a small, arbitrary example. Consider a trip to Austin, “Based on the folks I met on my trip to UT, I can tell you that all of their students hate the Aggies.” As much as I may feel this is true, this argument uses faulty logic. You can’t generalize a population based on the impressions of a few people, whether they were good or bad. The claim that all UT students hate Aggies is not sufficiently supported by the evidence presented, making this argument a logical fallacy. The non sequitur is another fallacy, Latin for “it does not follow”. This is essentially a conclusion with no clear connection to the evidence used to support it. Consider this: “Valerie is a doctor, so she must be able to cure my sore throat.” Not every doctor is a doctor of medicine. Dr. Valerie’s PhD is in English and Rhetoric, which is a major accomplishment in its own right; but no English program has “curing the common cold” as an elective. The evidence then has no real connection to the claim, and the argument fails. The slippery slope argument claims that extreme consequences will result from a particular action, without any real evidence to show for it. For example, “If I don’t go to this party, my best friend won’t like me anymore, and I’ll never have any friends!” While missing out on one party might make your friend mad, it’s a slippery slope to assume you won’t have any friends. This claim has no evidence to support it, making the argument a logical fallacy The bandwagon argues that if everyone else is doing it, so should you. For example: “I can’t afford the new PiPhone, but everyone has one, so I’ll use all my savings to buy it.” As tempting as it is, you shouldn’t jump on every trend that passes by. The argument is supported purely by social pressure, making it a logical fallacy. The red herring is another common fallacy often used in the media. This is when an irrelevant topic is introduced for the sake of drawing attention away from the true issue in an argument. Consider a school board meeting on teaching styles. The teachers are debating what style of teaching is most effective, until one teacher changes the subject: “We can’t begin to improve our teaching until the budget is balanced.” While funding in education is a growing concern, an institution cannot grind to a halt anytime there are complications. The off-topic comment of the budget draws attention away from the purpose of the debate, making it more difficult to find a solution to the central issue of teaching. Any constructive debate can stop on a dime at the sight of a red herring, so you need to be prepared to spot it. Well, there you have it, five of the most common logical fallacies. Fallacies like these are present in pop culture, news stories and everyday conversation; the more informed you are about them, the easier they will be to identify.
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