Understanding Fallacy: Common Fallacies

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  • 0:01 Logical Fallacies
  • 0:57 Distracting Fallacies
  • 3:17 Conditional Fallacies
  • 6:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects, including communications, mathematics, and technology. Cat has a master's degree in education and is currently working on her Ph.D.

There are hundreds of logical fallacies. Some are mathematical and complex, and some are deep and philosophical. In this lesson, you will learn about some of the most common types of fallacies you will come across in public speaking.

Logical Fallacies

Travis is preparing a speech for his debate class. His topic is over different types of logical fallacies in famous speeches. You may remember Travis from a previous lesson, Understanding Fallacies: Impact on Reasoning. If you need a review of logical fallacies and their impact on reasoning, check out that lesson!

You probably already know that you can't believe everything that you hear, right? But sometimes arguments are so convincing in public speaking that it's hard to separate what's true and false. This is exactly what Travis wants to share with his debate class in his speech. A logical fallacy is a misconception or false assumption made in reasoning.

There are literally hundreds of different types of fallacies. Let's discuss some common fallacies that you will find in public speaking, as well as other academic arguments. To help you remember some of the different fallacies, I've grouped the most common ones into two categories: distracting and conditional.

Distracting Fallacies

Some fallacies will simply use another argument or form of reasoning to simply distract the audience from the truth. Some of these fallacies are:

  • Red herring
  • Ad hominem
  • Appeal to tradition
  • Straw man

A red herring fallacy is an argument that is used as a distraction to the main issue. Many believe this terminology comes from the 1800s when hunters would use the scent of a fish to distract and train dogs to follow the scent of game. An example of this fallacy would be: 'My opponent believes that the tax cut would hurt education, but what we really need to focus on is what it would do to our national defense.' In this argument, the red herring fallacy is using national defense as a way to distract from the issue at hand.

An ad hominem fallacy is attacking the speaker or organization, rather than the argument itself. This comes from the Latin origin meaning 'to the man.' Ad hominem is often seen when a person says an argument is stupid or the person is an idiot. Name-calling and slander are both ad hominem attacks. You can remember this by thinking of 'Ad Hominem, At Him.'

An appeal to tradition fallacy is an argument that is used because the solution or action has occurred previously and is expected to continue. You've probably heard people say, 'Well that's just the way we've always done it,' without any sort of rhyme or reason as to why they've always done something in a certain way. This is a classical appeal to tradition fallacy. Often the reasoning for maintaining long-held traditions and procedures is not for efficiency or logical purposes, but simply the result of habit or unwillingness to change.

The straw man fallacy is a popular fallacy where the arguer manipulates an opponent's argument in order to make the argument look as if it is weak and easy to beat. This is so named because to physically fight a straw man would be easy. This fallacy is often used to make the arguer look more skilled than their opponent.

Now that you know more about fallacies that will detract or manipulate the main argument, let's discuss common fallacies that often place certain conditions on the arguments.

Conditional Fallacies

Sometimes fallacies have certain conditions or are the result of certain conditions in the argument. These conditions are flawed in reasoning and make the argument faulty. Some of these fallacies are:

  • Band wagon
  • False dilemma
  • Slippery slope
  • Burden of proof

A bandwagon fallacy is a fallacy where the popularity of an action is the basis for the argument. Your parents probably told you at some point: 'If everyone went and jumped off a cliff, would you?' This is because they felt as if you were using a band wagon argument. It comes from the phrase 'jump on the bandwagon.'

A false dilemma fallacy is a fallacy where two solutions are pitted against one another, forcing the listener to choose between two options. The fallacy is that there are usually more options than just two and that by rejecting one option, you must accept the second option. A false dilemma is also known as a false dichotomy. Often politicians will focus on one opponent, even though there may be several running. Sometimes political candidates will make connections between certain opponents, such as, 'My opponent is in favor of tax cuts, which will hurt education; by supporting tax cuts and my opponent, you are also hurting education.'

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