Although humans consider themselves rational beings as per our species’ name (Homo Sapiens), it is often the case that we are the opposite of rational. Whenever you’re in a debate or just a simple argument, it’s not enough to be passionate about a subject. You need to be able to present your point of view in an organised manner. People that have good critical thinking skills will be able to see past the speech embellishments. They will be able to successfully deconstruct your poorly built arguments. Therefore, here are five logical fallacies you should avoid.
The straw man fallacy
Using this fallacy, one sets up an imaginary enemy or target that is then easily confuted. It’s usually the case that someone uses this strategy when there’s nothing they can disprove in the main argument of their opponent. It’s easy to piggy-back off of a stray sentence to create a new argument. Whenever someone tries to put words in your mouth, make sure to call them out on it.
The false cause fallacy
This is a very common error in human line of thought. It happens when one attributes an event an incorrect cause. It’s a very dangerous fallacy to encounter when it comes to statistics and mass evaluations. For example, a caveman may light up a fire while other members of his tribe are dancing around as part of a ceremony. He can incorrectly assume that the fire lights up only when members of his tribe dance around him and the campfire base. Obviously, that is false.
Slippery slope fallacy
It’s usually used when someone wants to demonise or incorrectly portray something. It implies a previously assumed trajectory of events that culminates in an unexpected or bad event. Each assumed step is not evidence-based. This type of trajectory of events usually betrays heavy bias. If each step of the trajectory is based on evidence, including the final event, then this ceases to be a fallacy. A common example is one argument against LGBT people. It usually states that if LGBT people are given rights, they will somehow end up abusing children and dishonour society at large.
Ad hominem fallacy
This is short for argumentum ad hominem. One can use it as a rhetorical strategy to personally attack the opponent. The attack can involve defamatory statements about the character of your opponent, set-up accusatory questions or just plain inquiries about the person involved. It serves to distract from the main argument. It’s an unacceptable tactic. It shows that your argument has no substance. By that point, you can assume the one using this fallacy has already lost the debate. It betrays desperation to win.
Appeal to emotion fallacy
This fallacy is also called argumentum ad passiones. Politicians often use this “appeal to emotion” fallacy. Of course, people can use it as well, consciously or not. In the absence of factual evidence, one can attempt to manipulate the opponent’s emotions. Depending on how receptive the opponent is, it might be successful. Of course, there are many people that aren’t emotionally receptive. In this case, it will backfire horribly. Greta Thunberg’s speech at the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit heavily relies on this strategy. One can identify other logical fallacies in the speech. However, the appeal to emotion is strong in this one.
Hopefully this list is useful to anyone who might want to win a debate or an argument. These are only five logical fallacies you should avoid. There are many others that are not in this list. The fallacies here are the most common ones. I would encourage anyone to study this, as it’s a very interesting topic!