Logical fallacies. They occur much more frequently than you may realize. One only needs to listen closely to the reasons why people believe the things they believe to see the truth in this. What’s even more troubling is that logical fallacies often slip by our radar when being used by other people during trivial conversations, causing unnecessary quarrels which can destroy healthy relationships and distort beliefs.
If you’re unsure what a fallacy is, it’s simply a failure in reasoning which renders an argument invalid. Fallacies themselves do not disprove people’s beliefs, but rather they simply show that the methods with which they used to conform their beliefs were based on faulty reasoning. I will talk more about the pernicious nature of logical fallacies in a future article.
For now, I’ll talk about the 10 most common logical fallacies that exist, what they are, and how to identify them in everyday conversations.
1) Straw Man Fallacy
This is one of the most common fallacies that exists. The straw man fallacy works by having someone attempt to defeat an argument that you are not making, but that may be somewhat related to your actual argument. Instead of having them directly refute the premise of your argument, they are instead arguing against a “straw man” with a premise that you have not argued for.
Sam: I don’t like lab created diamonds. I only buy the real diamonds that have been excavated. I don’t mess with those fake ones.
Julian: Oh, so you’re okay with children being forced to excavate real diamonds in 3rd world countries just so you can show them off?
2) Argumentum ad populum (Bandwagon Fallacy)
The bandwagon fallacy works by having someone conform beliefs that are based on the popularity of their position. People who use this fallacy will attribute the popularity of their belief to also be validation to its truthfulness. Instead of conforming their belief based on evidence, they will instead be convinced that if the majority of people believe something to be true, then it must therefore be true.
Sam: Why are you a Christian?
Julian: Well, there are over 2 billion Christians in the world. How can all those people be wrong? I’d rather side with the majority than with a fringe group of nonbelievers.
3) Red Herring
With the red herring fallacy, someone will introduce an irrelevant topic into the argument in an attempt to redirect the attention of their interlocutor or of nearby listeners. Someone may use this fallacy when they do not want to directly answer someone’s question or when they are simply unable to adeptly refute an argument. So, instead of defending their position, they will instead bring up a separate topic into the debate to change the conversation onto something that is more comfortable to the person using the fallacy.
Sam: Why didn’t you give me that big promotion I asked you for 6 weeks ago? I saw that you gave it to Bob instead.
Julian: I’m glad you brought that up because there is a special project that I know only you can finish. To be honest, it would be too much for Bob to handle. It may also include an early pay raise. Would you be interested?
4) Argument from Ignorance
This fallacy works by having someone saying that something is true because it has not yet been proven false. This may be one of the all-time most used fallacies in everyday conversations. This fallacy requires presuppositions and a lack of imagination. It is often implemented when the person using it doesn’t want to explore the many different possible explanations why something is the way it is.
Sam: I saw that Sarah got in a minor wreck last weekend. She was definitely texting while driving.
Julian: Really? Did she tell you she was texting someone when it happened?
Sam: No, but what else could the reason be? You know how she is with that phone.
5) False Dichotomy (False Dilemma)
A false dichotomy is a fallacy where something is falsely claimed to be an “either/or” situation, when there are in fact several other options, even if only one more. As is the case with the argument from ignorance fallacy, someone putting forth a false dichotomy is not taking into consideration all of the possible options available to them.
Sam: I can’t get off of work Friday night. This means I can’t go to the party with you guys.
Julian: Why don’t you just swing by after work for a little while?
6) Slippery Slope
With this fallacy it is believed that a relatively small first step will lead to a chain reaction of events that will culminate into something ultimately catastrophic, dangerous, or socially unacceptable. Although it is possible that things may get out of hand if a small first step is taken, regardless of what that first step is, there is no way to truly know what the outcome will be based solely on whatever consequences that will arise due to the initial first step.
Sam: Have you heard that gay marriage is legal now? What are your thoughts?
Julian: I can’t believe it. Before you know it people will be marrying their cars.
7) Appeal to Authority Fallacy
With this fallacy, someone may reference an expert in a given field to help back up their claims. Although this expert may in fact be extremely intelligent and may know a lot about a particular subject, merely citing an instance where this expert agrees with you does not mean that the conclusion of your argument is now completely veridical. This fallacy can also be used when an expert in a given field claims that his or her position is true by virtue of their education or achievements.
Sam: I’ve noticed a couple discolored spots on my shoulders and neck that used to not be there. I’m always outside in the sun and I know that cancer runs in my family. I’m really worried and I think I should get some kind of tests done. What do you think?
Julian: No, I don’t think it is much to worry about. It looks fine to me. Trust me. I’m a doctor.
8) Ad Hominem
This is a very common fallacy and it involves someone attacking the character of an individual in an attempt to make their claims look less plausible. Instead of refuting the other person’s arguments, they will instead insult them in ways that have nothing to do with their positions. Ad hominem fallacies are often used when someone feels threatened by another person’s opinions.
Sam: I don’t think the wall that president Trump wanted to build was a good idea. It seems like it’d be a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, especially when you realize that anyone can simply go around, over, or under the wall.
Julian: Well that’s because you’re a snowflake libtard.
9) Anecdotal Fallacy
This fallacy is when someone bases an argument on anecdotal evidence. They will use personal experiences as evidence to back up their claims. Besides first-person experiences, anecdotal fallacies can also exist with large groups of people as well insofar as multiple people all claim to have had the same or similar experiences. The obvious problem with anecdotes is that they’re based on memory, which is often not very reliable. In addition, we’re also oftentimes fooled by our own senses. One needs only to watch a professional magician to understand this.
Sam: Dude, I was abducted by aliens last night. It was the most profound and terrifying moment of my life. It lasted for about 5 hours and they ran a bunch of tests on me. I’m completely in awe at what happened.
Julian: Wait, what? How do you know you weren’t just dreaming?
Sam: Because I was there! I know it happened to me.
10) No True Scotsman Fallacy
Also known as an appeal to purity, this is a fallacy where someone attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by slightly changing the definition to exclude said counterexamples. This fallacy is often used when people try to dodge criticism for a group they belong in. It may also be used when someone in their group behaves in a way they do not see fit, regardless of if the behavior is explicitly taught and encouraged by others in the group behind closed doors.
Sam: Did you hear that Shawn and Kameron got a divorce. I can’t believe Shawn went through with it now that he’s devoted his life to the faith.
Julian: Well, he’s not a true Christian.
Regardless of how knowledgeable you are about logical fallacies; it is only a matter of time until you slip up and accidentally or intentionally use one in an argument. Again, merely using a logical fallacy does not necessarily mean that you are wrong, but rather it means that the way with which you reached the conclusion of your premise was based in faulty reasoning. This means that your premise has a higher chance of it being wrong or irrational.
There are dozens of more logical fallacies that exist, and you can rest assure that you have used some of them throughout the course of your life. Think about the 10 common logical fallacies described throughout this article and try to notice when you or anyone you conversate with happen to use them. By becoming more aware of this, you may be surprised to find how irrational most of our beliefs are.
Thomas is the founder and CEO of PsychTimes.com. He deeply enjoys writing about psychology, mental health, well-being, and ethics. Besides writing, he’s also deeply interested in the many different aspects of digital marketing, specifically search engine optimization. It is due to his love of both psychology and digital marketing, as well as his deep desire to help people who are suffering from mental illness which has inspired him to create this very site.