Logical Fallacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Logical Fallacy?
  • 1:36 Examples of Common Fallacies
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

This lesson will introduce you to the logical fallacy and explain how it works in an argument. We'll also discuss examples of common fallacies and the importance of identifying and avoiding them in effective arguments. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is a Logical Fallacy?

You've probably heard of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and scientist, known as the father of logic. Among his vast contributions to the body of knowledge were in reasoning and fallacies: rhetoric, the study of argument and persuasive strategies, and logical fallacy refers to faulty reasoning or a breakdown in the logic of an argument. As writers, we try to avoid fallacies to prove our arguments; as readers, it's important to be able to identify fallacies to discover whether or not we are being misled or if we cannot trust the information we're receiving. While logical fallacies in arguments are often unintentional, writers can sometimes use them intentionally to mislead or manipulate an audience.

Aristotle, the father of logic

There are various classifications of fallacies. A structural fallacy refers to a fault in the structure of the premises of an argument. A verbal fallacy is a fault or problem in the way the arguer is speaking or writing; for instance, a politician who is a powerful and emotional public speaker has the ability to captivate an audience with his or her energy and distract the audience from focusing on the actual words and meaning of the argument. And a material fallacy is a fault in the argument itself; for instance, using the example of one broken iPhone to claim that all iPhones are manufactured poorly is known as a hasty generalization. The rest of this lesson will focus on examples of material fallacies.

Examples of Common Fallacies

The best way to avoid logical fallacies in your writing and to avoid being misguided by them in your reading is to learn how to spot them in an argument. Here are some common material fallacies. It can be helpful to try to spot them in TV advertisements and billboards, especially political campaign ads.

1. Hasty Generalization: A general conclusion that a certain condition is always true based on one instance or observation. For example, John's iPhone broke after two weeks, so there must be something faulty in the general manufacture of iPhones.

2. Ad Hominem (Latin for 'To the man'): Attacking perceived faults of the person rather than his or her argument, resorting to name-calling and labeling. People generally resort to this tactic when they don't have a logical counter-argument. For example, you can't believe that President Smith is going to lower taxes. He's a pathological liar!

3. Appeal to Ignorance: Supporting a claim merely because there is no proof that it's wrong. For example, there's no concrete evidence that pigs can't fly, so they must be able to fly.

4. Appeal to Faith Relying on faith without solid evidence to support a claim. For example, Narnia is a real place because I really believe it exists, even though I've never seen it. I just have faith that it's real!

5. Appeal to Tradition: Pointing to traditional practices or what's always been done in the past to support a claim. For example, pointing to American slavery to justify racial discrimination. (This is similar to the 'two wrongs make a right' fallacy, which we'll talk about shortly).

6. False Authority: Relying on the evidence of a so-called expert. This is a popular tactic in advertising with celebrity endorsements because we look up to and trust the judgment of celebrities, often assuming that because they're wealthy, they have the best of everything. For example, David Beckham signs autographs with Sharpies, so obviously Sharpie is the most reliable pen on the market.

7. Argumentum Ad Baculum: The appeal to fear or a threat. Think email chain letters here. For example, if you don't send this to ten people right now, aliens are going to rob your bank account!

8. Bandwagon Fallacy: The belief that an argument is valid because a majority of people accept it. For example, everyone I know is voting for John Smoot, so he's obviously the best choice for president.

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