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Philosophical Fallacies & Argumentation

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  • 0:01 What Is a Fallacy?
  • 1:20 Examples of Fallacies
  • 3:10 In Error or on Purpose?
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, learn how fallacies are sometimes used when arguing one's case and why they are problematic. Consider examples of fallacies in everyday life and relate them to fallacies in philosophy.

What is a Fallacy?

A philosophical fallacy can be described as a faulty argument, one that is not based on sound reasoning or logic. You might be able to convince some people of your argument using a fallacy, but it's not considered a good argument and can be misleading to those you are trying to persuade. You also risk that your audience may recognize the flaw. This will weaken your overall argument.

Often fallacies look and sound like they are logical. Yet when you look more closely at how a person arrives at a conclusion, you can catch the problem. In this lesson, we will use examples of fallacies made by Reggie as he teaches Clair about her new job.

Reggie is a manager at a car dealership. He's responsible for training the new hires. One day, he hires a recent graduate with a degree in philosophy. Her name is Clair. Clair has honed her skills of argument during her schooling. She can't help but question many of the assertions made by Reggie as he trains her.

In Clair's case, she is well-trained to spot fallacies. Let's see what happens when Reggie uses fallacies to teach Clair how to do her job.

Examples of Fallacies

Reggie starts off by explaining how sales associates welcome a customer and orient them to the car lot. He explains that it's important to take a photocopy of the person's driver's license before they go out on the lot to look around at the vehicles. Clair asks him why.

Reggie thinks about it, then says, 'We take the photocopy because we've always done it this way. That's just what we do.' Clair can't help but notice that this isn't a very good argument. In fact, this is an example of one type of fallacy. The conclusion Reggie makes is based solely on how things have always been done, not really answering her question as to why they are done this way.

Reggie thinks about it some more and comes up with a better argument for why they do this. 'This helps us to be all ready for the test drive when the customer gets excited about a vehicle. If we do this upfront, they don't spend time waiting out on the lot for us to come back inside to make our photocopy.' This makes sense to Clair and is a much more effective argument.

Reggie goes on to say that they have to pay attention for the customers who are dressed very nicely because they never have good credit. They are trying to look good but won't meet the requirements for a car loan.

Clair thinks about this more deeply. Reggie has found that this tendency can sometimes be the case, but this can't always be the case. He's stereotyping and making a generalization that is not a logical argument. This is an example of another fallacy.

It would be better for Reggie to say that some customers who look particularly dressed up may turn out to have less-than-ideal credit in his experience, but not that they all have credit problems simply because they are dressed well.

In Error or On Purpose?

So far, Reggie hasn't intended to use flawed arguments. But fallacies can also be used on purpose to be convincing.

Reggie tells Clair to make sure the customers know which car is the top-selling vehicle. He emphasizes to tell customers they should want that particular car because they're selling them like hot-cakes. He admits that the top-selling car isn't the best fit for most of their customers, but knows that the car's popularity can be very persuasive to make people want to buy it.

This time Clair sees that Reggie's fallacy is used on purpose. He's encouraging using a false argument in order to be persuasive because he believes that saying a particular vehicle is 'top-selling' encourages customers to buy it, even though it may not be the best car for them. In reality, Reggie can't logically argue that every customer should be sold the top seller simply because it happens to be popular.

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