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Logical Fallacies

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"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Logic. Every story needs some of it, unless you just want a series of unconnected images and no plot to speak of.

The problem is that logic requires writers to think pretty hard about what they write, and not all writers have time or inclination to do so. So they take shortcuts, creating fallacies which at best can lead to plot holes or, at worst, undermine the entire story.

Fallacies are common errors in logic. By strict standards, fallacies don't address the truth of the premises or syllogism; they only address the validity of the logic, and as the Sound/Valid/True rule demonstrates, "truth" and "validity" are not the same thing when speaking of formal logic. There is a reason there are Critical Thinking classes.

Where deductive logic is valid, the conclusion must be true if the premises are true. "If it rains, then the sidewalk will be wet" is valid, so if you know that it rained, you know that the sidewalk will be wet. If you simply reverse the terms and say "if the sidewalk is wet, then it rained" this would not be valid; likewise, negating the terms, yielding "if it did not rain, then the sidewalk is not wet", is also invalid. To correct this, you need to construct a "contra-positive," where you reverse the terms as well as negating them to get "if the sidewalk is not wet, then it did not rain".

However, inductive logic involves reasonable inferences of what might be true, but not necessarily. A sidewalk could be wet due to a passing street sweeping vehicle or neighbours carelessly watering their lawns. Seeing a wet sidewalk and concluding that there was rain is fallacious—not deductively valid—but it is not necessarily false, nor is it necessarily an unreasonable inference to make.

Logical fallacies are faulty deductive reasoning. This doesn't mean that they aren't effective at persuading. Many of them are extremely effective tools of persuasion. The key is that there are two primary routes of persuasion: the central (logical) route and the peripheral (emotional) route. To persuade someone using the central route, you need logic; a logical fallacy will make your argument fall flat on its face. To persuade someone using the peripheral route, you don't need logic; you simply need to play on their emotions. Some people are impassive to emotional appeals, and so you must use logic to persuade them; others are confused by logic, and so must be persuaded through emotion.

However, one must keep in mind that—depending on the surrounding circumstances—a deductively fallacious argument may still, nonetheless, be a reasonable and (inductively) logical argument that has decent prospects of being true despite the deductive logic being invalid. A classic example is if someone were to examine a million swans and note that all of them were white. It would be a (deductively) logical fallacy to conclude that "all swans are white". You could not make that conclusion unless you know that you had examined all swans in the universe. That doesn't make it illogical, however. If no one had ever seen a black swan, it might be rather sensible. Plus, this whole type of analysis is complicated when you talk about statistical trends. For these kinds of special cases, see Fallacy Fallacy.

For examples of characters falling into these fallacies (intentionally on the writer's part), see Insane Troll Logic and Chewbacca Defense. Not to be confused with Logic Bomb.

Subtropes include:

  • Abilene Paradox: A group-think fallacy in which the individuals in a group don't want to hurt any of the others' feelings and act contrary to their own wishes, preferring to suffer some long-term indignity which will hurt even more once they can't take it anymore and let it be known rather than risk a short-term hurt from pointing out that they don't want to (or just plain can't) do something.
  • Ad Hoc: Mistaking an argument for an explanation.
  • Ad Hominem: Attacking the arguer or the argument's presentation instead of the actual argument.
  • Appeal to Hypocrisy / Tu Quoque ("You, also"): Claiming an argument is invalid because the opponent fails to act consistently in accordance with its conclusion(s), or arguing that since the opponent previously held the opposite position, their current position is untrue or untenable. Very popular in politics.
  • Anecdotal Fallacy: Using a personal example as empirical evidence.
  • Appeal to Authority: Assuming something is true because an authority or expert said it to be so (in cases where other experts may disagree, or if neither you nor the authority / expert are unable or willing to elaborate further) OR calling someone an expert (and therefore correct) when they are not an actual expert.
  • Appeal to Consequences: Assuming something is correct/incorrect because of the positive/negative effects that will arise if it is implemented.
  • Appeal to Definition: Also known as the dictionary fallacy, this is a type of appeal to authority where a dictionary definition is treated as prescriptive (i.e., the only thing a word means) rather than descriptive (a summary of what it is commonly held to mean). This is often used in an attempt to expand strict technical terms to include things they do not include, such as using the dictionary definition of theory to argue a scientific theory is just a guess. It is also commonly a component of the "if you believe commonsense thing X, you're part of group Y" argument, which usually uses the most expansive definition of group Y possible.
    • Note that "the dictionary" in question does not have to be the actual dictionary or even in a literal dictionary at all- this fallacy often crops up when a person is appealing to their own personal definitions of a given word, or the definitions provided by their politics, religion, social group etc (appeal to authority), in cases where those definitions implicitly or explicitly do not apply.
  • Appeal to Fear: Saying bad things will happen to anyone who disagrees with you, and therefore what you say is true. Another species of the Appeal to Consequences.
  • Appeal to Flattery: Claiming that a certain conclusion reflects well on anyone who agrees with it, or poorly on anyone who does not.
  • Appeal to Force: Threatening anyone who disagrees with you, and therefore claiming what you say is true: "changing your mind by altering your face." A species of the Appeal to Consequences.
  • Appeal to Ignorance: Claiming that something not proved true must be false (or vice-versa).
  • Appeal to Inherent Nature: Claiming something otherwise unacceptable is acceptable because it is within the nature of the doer to do it.
  • Appeal to Minority: Inverse of the Appeal to Popularity, the argument that something is correct because it is unpopular. Root of the "it's popular, now it sucks" mentality and the "they all laughed at..." argument where it is argued that something being mocked in the present means it is right.
  • Appeal to Morality: Claiming anything that is morally desirable is true/natural, and anything that is immoral is false/unnatural.
  • Appeal to Nature: Claiming anything that appears naturally is good, and anything that appears unnaturally is bad.
  • Appeal to Novelty: Claiming something is superior to something else because the first is newer.
  • Appeal to Obscurity: Attributing an argument to someone the other party doesn't know and using the fact that they aren't known as evidence.
  • Appeal to Pity: Claiming an argument is valid because either the arguer or an involved party deserves sympathy.
  • Appeal to Popularity: Claiming something is true because many or most people believe it.
  • Appeal to Possibility: Claiming that if something can't be shown to be completely impossible, it must be true. A type of False Dichotomy.
  • Appeal to Ridicule: Claiming an argument is false by presenting it in an absurd fashion.
  • Appeal to Tradition: Claiming something is superior to something else because the first is older.
  • Appeal to Wealth: Claiming something is good because the rich or famous support it.
  • Appeal to Worse Problems: Discarding an argument on the basis that it is unimportant because of a related thing that is perceived to be more important. A type of Red Herring.
  • Argument From Silence: Expressing a conclusion that is based on the absence of statements in historical documents, rather than their presence. Example: Finding no evidence that aliens were sighted in the USA in 1941 is pretty good proof that the US was visited by aliens in 1941 (and the government is keeping it under wraps).
  • Argument of Contradictions: An argument that consists of nothing more than a shouting match — each side loudly repeating their side in turn.
  • Argumentum Ad Communum: Similar to Hitler Ate Sugar, and another Association Fallacy. Comparing any sort of left-wing or pro-worker political position to Communism and Stalinism, regardless of any connection to Marxist-Leninist beliefs, e.g. "First they want to raise the minimum wage, tomorrow: GULAGS!"
  • Argumentum Ad Nauseam: Repeating an argument over and over until no one wants to dispute it anymore, then claiming it to be correct.
  • Argumentum Ad Lapidem: Dismissing an opposing argument as absurd without explaining why.
  • Association Fallacy: Claiming "X is a Y. X is also a Z. Therefore, Y is a Z." Incorporates Guilt / Honor by Association, where it is asserted that relation to a good or bad thing means the associated thing is also good or bad.
  • Bandwagon Fallacy: Accept or adopt something simply because the majorities have already done so, regardless of actual validity or desirability.
  • Begging the Question: Mistaking the argument for the evidence. "People who use X are in danger of Y, because X can Y."
  • Broken Window Fallacy: Thinking the costs for recovering from disaster are equal to the benefits.
  • Bulverism: Rather than proving a statement wrong, assuming that it is wrong and then explaining why your opponent holds it.
  • Cab Driver's Fallacy: Being so devoted to meeting a quota that one tries too hard when there is little reward to be gained or doesn't try hard enough when great rewards are available.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Using non-sequitur arguments to ”prove” a point, relying on distracting and confusing the opposition.
  • Circular Reasoning: Any argument in which the conclusion is used as a premise: for instance, "A is true because A is correct."
  • Confirmation Bias (also known as cherry-picking): Presenting or accepting only data that supports your predetermined position and ignoring data that damages your position.
  • Converse Error: Concluding that a certain set of results can only come from one set of circumstances. "If A, then B. B, therefore A."
  • Correlation Implies Causation: Believing that any two variables that happen together after another represent a cause and effect pairing. "When X occurs, Y goes up. Therefore, X causes Y to go up."
  • Divine Fallacy (also known as argument from incredulity): Someone claiming an argument must be wrong or irrelevant just because they personally can't understand it.
  • Enemy Mine: Assuming that two beliefs that share a dislike for a third one must be compatible, because the two are on the same "side".
  • Escape to the Future: The "you'll all see" argument, claiming that while there is no evidence of X now, there will be soon, and so X is correct.
  • Etymological Fallacy: Semantic red herring argument based on claiming that a word's present-day use must be influenced by its historical meaning or root words, as a way of avoiding what the opponent is actually trying to say. A method to twist Have A Gay Old Time into Mistaken For Racist.
  • Extended Analogy: A comparison between X and Y for purposes of demonstrating a specific point is taken as a statement that X and Y are analogous in additional ways.
  • Fallacy Fallacy: Because someone used a fallacy to argue a point, their premise must be incorrect.
  • Fallacy of Composition: The properties of the parts are applied to the whole. "A is made of B. B has property X, so A has property X."
  • Fallacy of Division: The properties of the whole are applied to the parts. "A is made of B. A has property X, so B has property X."
  • False Analogy: Someone applies facts from one situation to another situation, but the situations are substantially different and the same conclusions cannot logically be drawn. (Ex. "The Kobayashi Maru teaches us that there's no-win scenarios and we need to Face Death with Dignity" kind of hits a wall when the "no-win scenario" that teaches us this is not, say, running out of gas, but rather is an irreproducible fubar that cannot happen anywhere in the known universe and only exists because a computer determined to make you fail is willing to bend reality until you say "uncle"). The bane of the Space Whale Aesop.
  • False Cause: Assuming that because one event came after another, that the first event must have caused the second.
  • False Balance: Also known as the "balance" fallacy or "False Equivalence", this is the belief that if two opposing positions exist, they must be treated as equally credible, regardless of what the positions in question actually are.
  • False Dichotomy (Either/Or Reasoning): Offering a choice between two extremes, usually one desired and one not, and ignoring the possibility of other options.
  • Four Terms Fallacy (False Syllogism): "God is love. Love is blind. Stevie Wonder is blind. Therefore, Stevie Wonder is God."
  • Frozen Abstraction: An argument implicitly assumes that a subset of a wider class is the wider class. "Anarchism cannot be a political ideology because it denies the state."
  • Gambler's Fallacy: Thinking that previous random events will have an effect on future random events. "Odds of winning are 1:20, I've played 19 times, I'm due for some good luck."
  • Genetic Fallacy: Dismissing or accepting something entirely on the basis of its origin.
  • Gish Gallop: Overloading your opponent with so many arguments that they can't reasonably be expected to respond to all of them, and then claiming they "had no answer" if they couldn't respond to even one of them. Used a lot in formal debates when the debater can speak quickly and rattle things off in a short space of time. And also online when someone asks so many questions in text that answering all of them would take hours, and waste an enormous amount of the responder's time. Named for creationist Duane Gish, who made it famous.
  • Golden Mean Fallacy: Thinking that the "middle ground" between two extreme points is necessarily the best option, simply because they are extremes. "Hitler says to kill all the Jews, Rabbi Bernstein says to kill none of the Jews, therefore the correct answer is to kill half the Jews."
  • Hard Work Fallacy ("If I can do it, so can you."): The assumption that individual effort is the only thing needed to succeed, regardless of any other factors.
  • Historian's Fallacy / Hindsight Bias: When one assumes that a decision-maker had the same information and perspective as those analysing their decision(s) with the benefit of hindsight.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: A species of the Association Fallacy. Claiming something is bad because an evil person (like Hitler) liked it, or inversely claiming something is good because they were against it.
  • Hypocrisy Fallacy: Where a person or their argument is dismissed on the grounds of real or imagined hypocrisy, or the hypocrisy is otherwise treated as being more relevant than it actually is.
  • Hypostatization: Treating an abstract idea as a physical object. "Eating ice cream feels good. Therefore, we should give ice cream to criminals, so they become good."
  • Incriminating Indifference: "You are not acting as emotional as we think you should be. Therefore, you are guilty/untrustworthy/hiding something."
  • Insane Troll Logic: A conclusion drawn on irrelevant or nonsensical postulates.
  • Irrelevant Thesis: Not refuting the opposing position at all, but acting as though you did.
  • Just World Fallacy: A fallacy which assumes that good people or things are always rewarded or yield positive results, whether it be immediately, in the distant future, or even in the afterlife. Or, alternatively, even if the do-gooder gains no benefit at all, that something positive must have happened somewhere. The fallacy also works in the inverse, with the assumption that successful people must have earned that success fairly or that someone unsuccessful did something to deserve their failure.
  • Lets See You Do Better: Claiming that one must be able to perform something in order to be able to criticise it, regardless of their arguments. A type of ad hominem.
  • Loaded Words: Using words which appeal to emotions rather than to logic.
  • Made Out to Be a Jerkass: Acting in self-defense makes the actual victim considered to be the jerk, and the offender is sympathized with and defended.
  • Many Questions Fallacy: A question is asked that assumes the answer to one or more additional questions, and a demand is made that it be answered without qualifiers. "Yes or no: have you stopped beating your wife?"
  • Moving the Goalposts: Continually changing requirements for a goal so that it is never achieved.
  • No Hypotheticals Move: Refusing to consider a hypothetical situation purely because it is hypothetical, regardless of how relevant and plausible it might be.
  • No Limits Fallacy: Coined by, it is the illogical idea that a poorly understood phenomenon can be extrapolated to infinity or assumed to not have any maximum value or threshold (ex. a shield withstands a single bullet and it is immediately assumed that utilizing More Dakka on it is a complete waste of time, because it will just shrug them off forever). This is one of the fallacies that make an "accurate" Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny conversation very heated (because this same kind of "extrapolation" can make one side render the character they support as effectively invincible without taking into account other kinds of influential details in a fight such as Murphy's Law. So if the Flying Brick shrugs off a nuke once (although the way he survived is highly argumentative, the fact is that he did), and the Stock Shonen Hero can't (theoretically) hit as hard as a nuke, then the Shonen Hero is as good as dead).
  • Non Sequitur Fallacy: Coming to a conclusion which is not supported by the facts or even has no relationship to the facts.
  • No True Scotsman: Redefining a category to not include something that the speaker doesn't want it to include, even though it does in fact include that thing, or changing something's definition after it's already been defined.
    • This one is often misused, usually when the person accusing someone of this fallacy doesn't know the correct definition, but assumes it must include something it doesn't.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Assuming that advocating something is the same as benefitting from it. People advocating systems where the few benefit at the cost of the many often fall on this fallacy, as they usually have only their own interest in mind.
  • Oven Logic: Assuming that any one condition can still produce a valid result if a second condition is altered 'proportionately', such as by baking something for half the time at double the temperature.
  • Overwhelming Exception: A generalization with so many exceptions that what remains is less than impressive, if useful at all.
  • Perfect Solution Fallacy: Rejecting an idea because it doesn't solve all addressed issues. "If we can't fix it perfectly, we shouldn't try at all."
  • Poe's Law: Satire mistaken for fact, used by someone who states it as fact. Or, alternatively, sincere expression of a (seemingly ludicrous) belief mistaken for satire.
  • Presentism: Present-day ideas and perspectives being anachronistically introduced into depictions or interpretations of the past.
  • Proof By Assertion: Claiming something is true simply because you say it is.
  • Proof by Examples: Generalizing a category to match the properties of a non-exhaustive list of given examples. "3, 17, and 97 are prime numbers; all odd numbers are prime."
  • Prosecutor's Fallacy: Rejecting an explanation on the basis that it relies on exceptional circumstances in favor of an equally exceptional, but personally desired, explanation.
  • Red Herring: In logic, a fallacy of distraction where an irrelevant side-argument is introduced in an attempt to draw the opponent away from their main one. For example, Alice tells Bob it is immoral to cheat on his wife Claire because it is betraying her trust, and Bob replies, "what is morality, though?" intending to redirect a discussion of his affair into a discussion of abstract philosophy.
  • Retrospective Determinism: Assuming that because something happened it was inevitable.
  • Sharpshooter Fallacy: Claiming that a conclusion is inevitable after the specific results have already been witnessed: "Painting the target around the bullet hole."
  • Shifting the Burden of Proof: Arguing that the burden of proof lies with the side it does not normally lie with: "guilty until proven innocent."
  • Slippery Slope Fallacy: Claiming that an action will inevitably lead to another, very unacceptable action. "If X, then eventually Y."
  • Special Pleading: Demanding an exception be made to a general rule without justification or for a non-logical reason ("I can park in the handicapped spot because I'm a movie star!")
  • Spotlight Fallacy: "I've been hearing a lot about event X in the news lately, so event X must happen a lot..." when an event only appears in the news because it's unusual.
  • Spurious Similarity: It is suggested that some relatively superficial resemblance is proof of a relationship.
  • Stolen Concept: Making an argument that rests upon (and conveniently ignores) contradictory, intrinsically self-refuting concepts.
  • Strawman Fallacy: Deliberately misrepresenting an opponent's argument by constructing a distorted version of it (strawman), then proceeding to tear it down instead of dealing with the real argument.
  • Style Over Substance: Arguing the manner in which information is presented affects the truth of the information: "Bill was very polite in presenting his points and Bob said my wife was a bitch while he was presenting his, so Bill must be right." A type of ad hominem.
  • Subjectivist Fallacy ("Well that's just like, your opinion man"): Claiming that subjectivity means all conclusions are equally valid, regardless of their underlying logic.
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy ("Throwing good money after bad"): Assuming that because one has already invested time or money into something, it is worth continuing to do that thing even though it produces no gains.
  • Suppressed Correlative: Redefining two mutually exclusive options presented by an opponent so that one encompasses the other: "you say this isn't art, but I define art as this, which means it is." A specific subtype of strawman fallacy, since it is based around rebutting an argument framed in different terms to those originally used and thus a point the opponent never made.
  • Survivorship Bias: Overemphasizing a small number of successes of a given example, while ignoring a large number of failures.
  • Tautological Templar: Self-identifying as definitively good or right, then using it as a supposition for argument. "I'm a good guy so everything I do is good because I say so."
  • Two Negative Premises: Identifying what something isn't doesn't identify what it is. "No dogs are reptiles. No reptiles are magenta. Therefore, dogs are magenta."
  • Underdog Effect: a very powerful cognitive bias resulting mainly from fiction, this is the perception that a person, group or thing which is subject to high external disadvantages, but has, or has a creator with, a high degree of passion and determination, is automatically entitled to success (a fairytale "happy ending"), regardless of the relative merit of that thing or the concrete skills of the creator.
  • Undistributed Middle: When the middle term of a standard three-step syllogism is not distributed in either premise. "Penguins are black and white. Some old TV shows are black and white. Therefore some penguins are old TV shows."
  • Whataboutism: Deflecting criticism by citing examples of other things/people to whom the criticism also applies, without dealing with the criticism itself.
  • With Us or Against Us: A form of false dilemma. Assuming that not openly supporting one side means you oppose them (or vice-versa).

... The following are relevant argumentative concepts that are not fallacies:

  • Arkham's Razor: The inverse of Occam's Razor: namely, that the explanation that fits the evidence best does not need be the one that is more "sound" (ex. cows are disappearing and there's lights in the sky — the "sound" explanation may be thieves pulling a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax, but it's probably not a good idea to stop assuming it's aliens abducting cattle right off the bat).
  • Occam's Razor: The explanation that adds the least number of speculative assumptions while explaining all the evidence is most likely to be the correct one (ex. there's horse tracks in the middle of the Appalachian mountains, it's most probably horses, not zebras).
  • Hanlon's Razor: Don't assume malicious intent when stupidity could do.
  • Sound/Valid/True: "Truth" means factually accurate. "Valid" means logically constructed. "Sound" means both valid and true.

Alternative Title(s): Logical Fallacy, You Fail Logic Forever, Just World Fallacy, Appeal To Index