Welcome back to the 2nd article in this 3-post series all about raising the level of online discussion and dealing with Internet trolls. By using this toolkit, you’ll learn to detect when someone is trying to fool you with bad logic, show them what they are doing, and improve the conversation. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, read it here.
In Part 2, I’ll be showing you a number of logical fallacies that are based on emotions or intuition – arguments that may seem airtight on the surface but, in actuality, are unreasonable and unsound. Let the other person know when they’re using one of these fallacies, and if they don’t see the errors of their way, feel free to ignore them and move on.
Using The Section Links
- You can link a particular section using the “link to this section” links in the header of each section:
- Right click on “link to this section.”
- Select “Copy Link Address.” Some browsers may call it “Copy Link Location,” or something similar.
- Send the copied URL to the other person.
Begging The Question (link to this section)
When it comes to logic and argumentation, Begging the Question refers to a fallacy in which a proposition is made in such a way that it uses its own premise as evidence for its validity. When someone begs the question, he is appealing to his own assertion to prove the assertion. You may know this as “circular reasoning.”
In logic, this applies to a proposition that requires proof but is accepted without proof.
- “That painting sucks because it’s obviously worthless” is an example of begging the question. Here the speaker is basically saying that the painting is bad because it is bad. He doesn’t provide any proof of the painting being bad. The reasoning is circular and the assertion has the premise built into it.
Loaded Question (link to this section)
A Loaded Question is a question that has a built-in assumption that is not justified. In other words, a loaded question clearly directs the answer in such a way that an alternative answer cannot be given. You may have seen this fallacy used a lot in courtroom dramas and law-related shows.
Examples of loaded questions:
- “Do you still want this candy?” This question is phrased in such a way that automatically implies the receiver wanted candy. Even if the receiver never wanted candy in the first place, this question cannot be answered in the negative without explicitly stating otherwise.
- “How does it feel to be a party pooper?” This question is loaded with the assumption that the receiver is a party pooper. No matter how he answers the question, that assumption will come off as fact.
Correlation Proves Causation (link to this section)
Correlation Proves Causation occurs when someone takes two correlating sets of data–or two correlating events–and automatically assumes that there is a direct causal relationship between the two. In other words, the claim is that because the two events occur together, one must be the cause of the other.
Consider the following:
- Over the course of a year, whenever ice cream sales increase, the rate of drowning also increases.
- Therefore, ice cream consumption causes drowning.
As you can see, there is a correlation between the two events. However, just because the two events correlate does not mean that one necessarily acts as a cause for the other. Instead, it’s more reasonable to say that during the summer time, both ice cream sales and the rate of drowning increase.
It might also be that the two are entirely unrelated – and that’s the point. Just because two things show a correlation does not in any way imply causation.
Anecdotal Fallacy (link to this section)
The Anecdotal Fallacy is when someone attempts to prove a point by using an isolated example or experience–anecdotes, if you will. Usually they’ll tell a story about how their uncle’s best friend’s mother-in-law’s dog managed to survive cancer because of something it did or didn’t do.
Sometimes a person will use an anecdote to disprove a statistic or trend, claiming that it wasn’t true for them, thus the claim must be false. A lot of the evidence you’ll see in an Internet argument – if it isn’t cited properly – will be anecdotal. Spot it, consider it, then realize that a single isolated incident doesn’t prove or disprove anything.
Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy (link to this section)
The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is a fallacy where pieces of data that have no relationship with one another are brought together in order to prove the existence of a pattern. It is related to a psychological phenomenon called the “clustering illusion,” in which the human brain has a tendency to recognize patterns in otherwise random data sets.
This fallacy often arises when a person has access to a large amount of data but chooses to cherry-pick a smaller subset of that data in order to fit a hypothesis. It typically occurs when the hypothesis is formed after the data has been collected, rather than collecting data to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Consider the following:
- Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were elected to the presidency exactly 100 years apart.
- Both of them were shot and killed by assassins who had 3 names with a total of 15 letters: John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald. Neither would be tried.
- Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln.
- Lincoln was killed in the Ford Theater while Kennedy was killed riding a Lincoln made by Ford. Both were killed on a Friday.
- Lincoln was succeeded by Andrew Johnson and Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson. Both Johnsons were born exactly 100 years apart.
Does this look like an amazing coincidence to you? It might, until you consider the fact that there are so many other tidbits that you’re neglecting. Lincoln was Baptist while Kennedy was Catholic. Lincoln died to a pistol while Kennedy died to a rifle. There are more differences than there are similarities. It only seems impressive when you cherry-pick certain points of data.
And there you have it. Part 2 out of 3 complete, and you’re now equipped to identify ten different logical fallacies that people often use when arguing online. Don’t fall for the clever tongues that deliver convincing but fallacious arguments!
Look out for Part 3 in this series, which will be published in the coming days. I’ll finish up with five final logical fallacies that you need to be aware of. Then you’ll have nearly every logical argument under your belt to raise the level of online discussions!