English 122: Composition II Ancillary Materials
Avoiding Fallacies in Argument A logical fallacy is a mistake in reasoning that invalidates the claims that someone else is making. Fallacious reasoning is false or faulty reasoning. It often mimics logical argumentation in subtle ways. Certain varieties of fallacious reasoning are so prevalent that they have been given names. Many of the informal logical fallacies have Latin names because many of them were identified during the medieval period. Learning these names is merely the beginning of understanding how to recognize them and combat them in one’s own writing and thinking. Please review the list of common fallacies below. As you read the descriptions, make some notes in the margins about any that you have recently encountered. 1. Scapegoating In the Old Testament (Leviticus 16), the high priest of Israel would symbolically lay the sins of the whole nation of Israel on the head of a goat and this goat would then be cast off into the wilderness. This goat would carry the sins of the people of Israel off to a place far away from those who actually committed the sins. Scapegoating is laying blame for a problem in society on the heads of a specific group of people. The scapegoater blames everything on a specific group for no logical reason. This group often has few connections to those problems. However, those who scapegoat care little for logical thinking in relation to problems. Groups that have been scapegoated in the United States include ethnic minorities, women, illegal immigrants, gay people, Christians, Muslims, political leaders,…(insert group here). It is easy to blame a group of people for the problems in a society. However, unless there are sound reasons to believe that those problems are caused by that group, then one is merely scapegoating. Here are some examples of scapegoating… “The reason why our society is so bad right now is because they are actually allowing gay marriage in some states.” “The reason why there aren’t any jobs is because of all the illegal immigrants who are coming here and stealing our jobs.” “The reason why our team is not successful is Steven. He is bringing us all down.”
English 122: Composition II Ancillary Materials 2. Argumentum ad Baculum (Scare Tactics) Scare tactics involve playing on another’s fear in order to get that person to do something or believe something to be true. This form of “argument” often occurs when someone threatens another person in order to get that person to agree with one’s position or idea. Man with Gun: It would be a good idea for you to give me the money in the register (points the gun at the worker’s face). Woman: I think you are right (as she hands over the money). It is evident in this example that the woman must give over the money and agree with the proposition that she should give the thief the money. It is also obvious that this form of argument is illogical. However, this fallacious form can occur in a more subtle manner. For example, suppose that some students are questioning the teaching style of a professor. The professor gets upset and says something like, “I don’t care what you all say. Remember who gives the grades around here.” This threat is likely to get the students to backtrack in relation to their original arguments. However, it relates in no way to the initial claims of the students. Those in authority often use appeal to force in order to get what they desire. Imagine walking in on your married boss engaging in inappropriate sexual acts with another employee. This boss might swing by your desk at the end of the day and say something like, “I would keep my lips closed about what you saw if I were you…that is, if you care about your job.” People placed in this situation would probably not report the infidelity due to the fear that they would lose their jobs. However, your boss has presented no logical reason why you should keep your mouth shut. It is important to remember that...
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