FALLACIES • Fallacies are pseudoarguments. • Although they look like genuine arguments, their premises do not in fact support the conclusion. • The premises do, however, cause many to accept the conclusion due to the presence of emotional appeals, factual irrelevancies, and other persuasive devices. • These cause many people to accept or reject claims when there are no rational grounds for doing so. • Kinds of fallacies follow.
THE “ARGUMENT” FROM OUTRAGE • The fallacy lies in the assumption that something is wrong because it makes us angry when, in fact, we should be angry when something is wrong. • This goes well with straw man and false dilemma, to set up the outrage. • The outrage way then be illogically transferred to unrelated issues posed by those persons or groups held responsible for the outrage. • Scapegoating–blaming a certain group of people or even an individual for all or most of the ills in the world-is a particularly dangerous version.
SCARE TACTICS I • Scare tactics =df. Saying something in connection with a claim that causes or is meant to cause a psychological response of some sort, such as a desire, fear, feeling, or emotion, which is meant to lead the person to whom the tactic is directed to accept the claim. • Using scare tactics is pseudoreasoning since “neither what is said nor the psychological response elicited is a reason for accepting the claim because neither is logically related to the claim.”
SCARE TACTICS II • For instance, Jones says to her interviewer for a job: “I think that you will find that my resume makes me perfectly qualified for the position I am applying for. And I think that my uncle, who, incidentally, is on your board of directors, would agree.” • A warning is different from a scare tactic. • For instance, if Bill says to Ted: “Watch out for that patch of ice up ahead, you hit that with your skis and you may break your neck.” • That may scare Ted, but it is a warning not a scare tactic. • Only when the scare is irrelevant to the issue do we get pseudoreasoning. • To avoid pseudoreasoning, you need to recognize which issues are relevant and which are not.
“ARGUMENT” FROM PITY • “Argument” from pity =df. Trying to make someone accept a claim through eliciting compassion or pity. • Appeal to pity is a form of pseudoreasoning since no reason is given for accepting the claim. Rather than reason, appeal to pity concerns playing on a person’s emotions. • Saying that Jane’s feelings will be hurt if she fails the course is not a reason for passing her, but is an appeal to pity.
APPLE POLISHING • Apple polishing =df. Compliments are used in place of reasons to get a person to do something or to accept a claim. • The use of complimentary language is not in itself apple polishing, but this form of pseudoreasoning occurs when “nice words are illegitimately used in connection with an issue to which they are irrelevant.” • An example: John says to his boss: “Sir I hope that you will support my request for a promotion. You are the best boss that I have ever had.” (That John’s boss is a good boss is irrelevant to John’s claim that he deserves a promotion.)
WISHFUL THINKING I • Wishful thinking =df. Believing that something is true because you want it to be true, or, alternatively, believing that something is false because you want it to be false. • For instance, thinking that the statement “Humans survive death” is true because not surviving seems too terrible to us. • Or thinking that “God does not exist” is false because then we find life meaningless and without moral foundation. • However, because desires do not themselves determine the truth values of statements to which the desires pertain, and do not by themselves give us reason for accepting or rejecting a claim, wishful thinking is a form of pseudoreasoning.
WISHFUL THINKING II • Not only do our concerns about a claim’s wonderful (or awful) consequences not provide reasons for accepting (or rejecting) it, but they also cannot make the claim the least bit more or less likely. • Perception of value does not determine truth; thinking that something is good does not make it true, and thinking that something is bad does not make it false. • Wishful-thinking pseudoreasoning underlies much of the empty rhetoric of ‘positive thinking’ – rhetoric that claims ‘you are what you want to be’ and other such slogans.”
PEER PRESSURE • Peer pressure = df. Pseudoreasoning which says “If I don’t do x or I don’t accept claim y I will be rejected by my peers, therefore I think that I should do x or accept y because I want the acceptance of my peers.” • In peer pressure, a person does something unreasonable or accepts an unreasonable claim because he or she wants the approval of others, even though the approval of others is irrelevant to the issue. • For instance, a person gets in a car with friends who have been drinking because she does not want to be left out, or someone accepts the claim that “smoking is not really a health hazard, the government just wants us to think that” because that is what his peers who smoke say.
GROUP THINK • Pride of membership in a group is substituted for reason and deliberation about an issue. • Nationalism is an example.
RATIONALIZING • The use of false pretexts to justify actions or beliefs that satisfy our own desires and interests.
“ARGUMENT” FROM POPULARITY • A kind of pseudoreasoning which says that a claim should be accepted because it is accepted by a number of others. That is, a person thinks that x must be true because the majority of people think that x is true. • However, the majority can be wrong. • Therefore, a claim’s acceptance by others all by itself does not generally warrant our accepting it. • The mere fact that most people believe a claim does not guarantee its truth.
COMMON PRACTICE • A variant of the “argument” from popularity is Common practice =df. Everyone does x, or most people do x, therefore doing x is acceptable. • For instance, “It is okay for me not to report all of my income since this is what everyone else does.” • This is a form of pseudoreasoning since, even if it is true that most people do x, it may still be wrong to do x. • When someone defends an action by saying that others do the same thing, this can be a request for fair play.” • However, saying that people should be treated equally is not the same as recognizing that, if an action is wrong, it is wrong no matter how many people are doing it, and no matter who gets away with it and who doesn’t. • Another variant is the “argument” from tradition.
MAJORITY THOUGHTS • Although appeal to popularity is a kind of pseudoreasoning, what the majority of people think sometimes actually determines what is true. • For instance, it is true that most people think that it is wrong to be boisterous and obscene in public, and it is their thinking that way that determines the truth of that assertion. • There are other cases where what people think is an indication of what is true, even if it cannot determine truth. • For instance, people might think that the weather in their area makes it too dangerous for you to attempt to travel there on a particular day. • When the people who think that x is true include experts on the subject, then that is a good reason to accept x.
RELATIVISM I • Relativism =df. All ‘truth’ is not absolute, but relative. Hence statements are taken to be true relative to individuals or groups for whom they are taken to be true. • For relativism, there is no truth apart from subjects. Individual relativism is subjectivism. • Historically, relativism goes back to Protagoras (c. 490-c. 420 BCE) who said that “man is the measure of all things.” • Relativism can either be a general assertion about all knowledge, or a particular assertion about views held within certain subjects, such as ethics and aesthetics.
RELATIVISM II • Relativism is opposed to the view that there can be objective truths the same for everyone, everywhere, everywhen, and that there are absolute values independently of views the thinking of groups and individuals. • Examples of objective truths are that a common, physical, external world exists independently of perception, that 2+2=4, and that water is H2O. • Examples of absolute values are that it is wrong to deliberately harm an innocent person, and that beauty is preferable to ugliness.
RELATIVISM III • Relativism is often said to be self-contradictory or self-stultifying (made by itself to appear foolish or ridiculous). • The statement “There are no absolute truths, everything is relative” is itself the assertion of an absolute truth and so contradicts itself. • On the other hand, to assert that “everything is relative to a system of beliefs” is itself relative to a system of beliefs, a system of beliefs of which that assertion forms part. • Accordingly, by the very nature of the assertion itself, there is no reason for anyone to accept it who does not share the beliefs of the system of which the assertion forms part. • Thus it is self-stultifying, or becomes absurd, futile, or ineffectual on its own principles.
RELATIVISM IV • Simon Blackburn: “Relativism is frequently rejected on the grounds that it is essential to the idea of belief or judgement that there are standards that it must meet, independently of anyone’s propensity to accept it. Inability to make sense of such standards eventually paralyzes all thought.” • The central problem of relativism is one of giving it a coherent formulation, making the doctrine more than the platitude that differently situated people may judge differently, and less than the falsehood that contradictory views may each be true.
RELATIVISM V • Most claims, certainly those about straightforward matters of fact (provided they are reasonably free of vagueness and ambiguity) are simply true or false independent of any particular person’s acceptance of them. • Those that accept the subjectivist fallacy – that truth is a subjective property of beliefs – want to put an end to argument. • It can hide fear of losing an argument, or represent intellectual indolence. • Again, one must distinguish between respect for person’s and the value of their opinions, which can and should be subjected to critical assessment.
THE SUBJECTIVIST FALLACY • The subjectivist fallacy =df. Thinking that truth is not objective but is relative to particular individuals. “X is true (false) for me even if it is false (true) for you or anyone else.” • What a subjectivist tacitly says is “I think or believe that x is true, therefore I take it to be true.” • The problem is that truth is often independent of a particular person’s beliefs. • Claims about factual matters are true if true regardless of what a person’s individual beliefs or preferences are. • For instance, water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen independently of what a person believes its chemical composition to be. • To say that “It’s true for me that water is helium and chloride” is to commit the subjectivist fallacy.
TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT I • Two wrongs make a right (two wrongs) = df. A form of pseudoreasoning in which it is thought that one wrong justifies another wrong, or when it is thought to be acceptable for a person x to harm another person y because it is thought that y would or might harm x. • Two wrongs reasoning “tries to justify illegitimate retaliation.” However, it is controversial whether retaliation is ever justified. • Retributivism =df. The view that “it is acceptable to do harm to someone in return for a similar harm he or she has done to you,” or that the punishment should fit the crime. • According to egalitarian retributivism, a society is justified morally in punishing a criminal by doing to him what he has done to the victim. • For instance, society is justified on such retributivist principles for putting a first degree murderer to death.
TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT II • The moral correctness of retributivism is a legitimate point of discussion in ethics, and to assess its correctness, arguments must be advanced for or against it. • Two wrongs and retributivism are different, since in the former the retaliation is illegitimate and in the latter the retaliation is at least supposed to be legitimate. • Two wrongs is pseudoreasoning when we “consider a wrong to be justification for any retaliatory action,” or “when the second ‘wrong’ is misdirected.”
TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT III • Examples of two wrongs make a right pseudoreasoning: • John stole my girlfriend, therefore I have a right to steal and burn his car. • Person x is robbed and beaten by person y, so x thinks it acceptable to beat and rob person z. • Sara thinks that she is justified in stealing Mary’s boyfriend because, “If she had the opportunity, she would have done the same thing to me.” • However, “It is not illogical or ‘pseudoreasoning’ to defend A’s doing X to B on the grounds that doing so is necessary to prevent B from doing X to A.” • For instance, Tom is justified in hurting Bill when it is clear that Bill intends to hurt Tom. • This is simple self-defense.
SMOKESCREEN/RED HERRING • Smokescreen/red herring =df. An irrelevant topic or consideration introduced into a discussion to divert attention from the original issue. • For example, in a debate about the wisdom of “Star Wars” a proponent “argues” that “we must not short-change the security of the United States.” • Piling on such irrelevant diversionary issues produces a smoke screen. • The point of any smokescreen or red herring is to distract the reader or listener from the issue at hand. • Bringing in irrelevant topics is not good argument, but is a kind of pseudoreasoning in which the subject is changed and the discussion is thrown off course.