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Writing Tutor: Fallacies. Think More ... Write More Dr. Otto.

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Writing Tutor: Fallacies

Think More ... Write MoreDr. Otto

In the Tutorial on Persuasion, I cautioned you about arguments that seem to be sound when, in fact, they are not. I pointed out that whenever readers detect that a writer has used this kind of argument, which is called a fallacy, they become wary. They may be concerned that the writer did not know that the argument as presented was false or, worse, suspect that the writer tried to convince readers by using an unsuspected false argument.

The following fallacies are some of the more commonly used fallacies:

  • Crooked Thinking # 1 - Composition: what is true of the part is true of the whole

  • Example - I need no evidence to convince me that your dog has been annoying my cat. For it is well known that dogs bother cats.

  • Example - Sometimes a person makes a statement about a class of people, animals or things based on the behaviour or features of one or a few in that class. This suggests that what is true of the part is also true of the whole.

  • Test - Identify an exception to the class or generalization.

  • Crooked Thinking # 2 - Argument Leap: jumping to a conclusion that does not follow from the premises

  • Example – Since Mary and Jim want to visit their friend in Kelowna, they are going to Kelowna.

  • Test – Point out that the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

  • Crooked Thinking # 3 - Equivocation: deliberate use of words in more than one sense

  • Example – In Kelowna, Jim received a parking fine. As he looked for a place where he could pay the fine, Mary spotted a sign which said ‘fine for parking here’, and since it was fine, Jim parked there overnight.

  • Test – Give accurate definitions of the terms, and show how they are used in two different ways.

  • Crooked Thinking # in more than one sense4 - Slogan: use of catch words, slogans and proverbs

  • Example - “Think outside the box”, said Mary to Jim as they were trying to find a way to visit their friend in Kelowna. “Don’t just think about the cost ... think about how we can do the visit without spending a lot of money!”

  • Test – Are you thinking about solutions that do not involve spending money?

  • Crooked Thinking # 5 - Ad Hominem: argue the person and not what he says

  • Example – Jim apologized to Mary after he retorted, “If you weren’t so stupid you would have no problem seeing my point of view.” Jim was truly sorry for his personal attack on her and not focusing on what Mary said.

  • Test – Check to determine whether your comments are focused on the issue under discussion or a personal attack.

  • Crooked Thinking # 6 - Emotional Appeal: appeal to pity, prejudice, vanity, ridicule or force

  • Example - “Please, do me a favour, Jim, and take the detour to Kelowna on our trip to Calgary. I have not seen my friend in YEARS!!!” exclaimed Mary.

  • Test – Determine whether the appeal is based on facts or on emotions.

  • In conclusion, let me emphasize that people use many different fallacies. The six which I have illustrated represent the most commonly used fallacies.

Try this … prejudice, vanity, ridicule or force

Write an essay ... avoid the use of fallacies. After you are pleased with your essay, edit it for grammar to create a reader’s draft.

If you have any questions about the writing process, send them to Ask Dr. Otto  at  www.sponsoravillage.ca.

Enjoy your writing experience.