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Reasoning Fallacies

Reasoning Fallacies



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 The effect of contextual factors on the judgement of informal reasoning fallacies
Yair Neuman, Michael P. Weinstock, and Amnon Glasner 
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel 
Informal reasoning fallacies are arguments that are psychologically persuasive but not valid. In order to judge the validity of these arguments one has to be sensitive to the context in which they appear.However, there is no empirical study that examines students’ sensitivity to contextual factors and whether contextual factors actually influence their ability to identify informal reasoning fallacies. We hypothesized that when explicitly presented with different argumentative contexts, students’performance would reflect their sensitivity to the contextual nature of informal reasoning fallacies. The two experiments that we conducted support this hypothesis and emphasize the mediating roleof perspective taking in students’ ability to identify fallacious arguments.
Informal reasoning may appear in a nonverbalform (e.g., through images). However, the obser- vation that daily reasoning is verbally mediatedmotivated researchers to identify informal reason-ing with “argumentation” (Baron, 1991; Kuhn,1991; Means & Voss, 1996; Perkins, 1989).According to this suggestion, when reasoninginformally an individual actually is involved in adeliberation process aimed at “increasing (ordecreasing) the acceptability of a controversialstandpoint
. . .
by putting forward a constellationof propositions intended to justify (or refute) thestandpoint before a rational judge” (Eemeren,Grootendorst, & Henkemans, 1996, p. 5). Forexample, when asked to argue whether the deathpenalty reduces the murder rate, a person shouldput forward a set of reasons (theoretical andempirical) supporting her or his claim concerningthis debated issue.A major subfield of argumentation is the study of informal reasoning fallacies (Eemeren Grootendorst, 1992; Eemeren et al., 1996; Walton, 1987, 1989): arguments that are “
 psycholo- gically 
persuasive but
incorrect; that
as amatter of fact persuade but, given certain argu-mentative standards,
” (Copi & Burgess- Jackson, 1996, p. 97). For instance, the ad ignor-antiam argument (the argument from ignorance)is an argument in which a conclusion about thetruth (or the existence) of a proposition “A” isderived from the fact that “Ais not knownto be false. For example, from the premise “Ithas never been proved that God does not exist”, we cannot conclude, “God exists. In thisexample, the conclusion (“God exists”) is notderived
from the premise (“It has neverbeen proved that God does not exist”), althoughmost students may find no problem with it
Correspondence should be addressed to Yair Neuman, Department of Education, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev,Beer-Sheva 84105, Israel. Email: yneuman@bgumail.bgu.ac.il The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
2006 The Experimental Psychology Society 
http://www.psypress.com/qjep DOI:10.1080/17470210500151436
(Neuman, 2003). We use the term “soundlyrather than deductively or inductively derived,because soundness is the criterion for judging the validity of arguments (Copi & Burgess-Jackson,1996). In contrast with formal-deductive reason-ing, there is no formal criterion for the “sound-nessof an argument. A formal fallacy indomains such as mathematics, logic, or statisticscan be detected by examining the
of the argu-ment. In contrast, an informal fallacy cannot bedetected by examining the form of an argument. Therefore, formal and informal fallacies aremutually exclusive. If a fallacy is formal, then itis not an informal fallacy and vice versa (Copi & Burgess-Jackson, 1996). Informal fallacies can bedetected by examining either the
of theargument (i.e., the pragmatics of the argument)or the
of the argument (e.g., the meaningor vagueness of words). The example above illus-trates the argument from ignorance fallacbecause, in the context of critical discussion, ourepistemological norm is that knowledge isusually derived from something, and it cannot bederived from ignorance.Recently it was argued by Oaksford and Hahn(2004) that the argument from ignorance can be viewed from a probabilistic-Bayesian perspectiveas a weak rather than unsound form of reasoning.Framing the argument from ignorance in aBayesian perspective is a novel approach to thisfallacy. It shifts the discussion from the pragmaticnorms of argumentation to psychological processesunderlying argumentation. In the current study, we suggest that people’s evaluations of thesoundness or strength of an argument defined asfallacious will be influenced not just by how thereason bears on the probability of a claim, butthe context in which the reason is given.
Informal reasoning fallacies andcontextual factors
Context is crucial for any process of meaningmaking, and recently there is an increasing interestin the definition of this construct and its role inactivities of meaning making. This interest incontext is evident even in fields that havetraditionally ignored it such as artificial intelli-gence (Akman & Surav, 1996; Iwanska Zadrozny, 1997; McCarthy, 1987). However, theterm “context” is too general and problematicand therefore might have a low informative value(Burke, 2002). This difficulty should motivateresearchers to define clearly what they mean by “context”.In argumentation, context may be operationally defined by using the dimensions suggested by  Walton (1989). Walton proposed three dimen-sions that differentiate between different types of dialogue
argumentative contexts. These dimen-sions are (a) the initial
that motivatedthe dialogue; (b) the
of dialoguing; and(c) the
of the dialogue. For example, a
is a type of dialogue, which is motivatedby an emotional disquiet (i.e., the initial situation). The goal of each participant in a quarrel is to strikeout at the other by using the method of personalattack. In this context, it is legitimate to use a per-sonal attack against your adversary (i.e., the adhominem argument) even though this argumenta-tive move might have no relevance for the pointone is trying to make. For example, during aquarrel one may describe one’s adversary as intel-lectually incompetent. Whereas this move mightbe irrelevant to determining the truth of theissue in debate, it is coherent with the context of the dialogue and, therefore, cannot be describedas a fallacy. Using an informal reasoning“fallacy”, such as an attack against the person,also may be legitimate in the context of a
, which is a different type of a dialogue. In thecontext of a debate, the initial situation is one of a forensic contest in which one is trying toimpress the audience by trying to achieve verbal victory over one’s adversary. In contrast, it is illegi-timate to use argumentative moves such as the adhominem argument, in the context of a criticaldiscussion, or
reasoned dialogue.
In a reasoneddialogue, the initial situation is of difference of opinion. In this context, the goal is to persuadethe other by bringing a set of reasons that may support one’s claim and refute your adversary’sclaim. Cases in which argumentative moves donot support the claim, however much they may 
have a rhetorical impact on the audience, may beconsidered as fallacies.In a series of studies, it was found that partici-pantsability to identify informal reasoningfallacies is influenced by several factors such asthe representation of the argument in the cognitivesystem (Neuman & Weizman, 2003), the truth value of the argument’s premises (Neuman,Glassner, & Weinstock, 2004), and students’ fam-iliarity with norms of argumentation (Weinstock,Neuman, & Tabak, 2004). Although “context”plays a critical role in the definition and theidentification of informal reasoning fallacies,there is no empirical study that investigates therole of context in studentsability to identifinformal reasoning fallacies. Therefore, it is notclear to what extent students are influenced by the argumentative context in their judgementof how relevant a reason is to a claim and how convincing they find a reason to be.An investigation into the argumentativecontext will add a social element missing fromthe body of research on informal reasoning falla-cies: the element of persuasion. Recall that a defin-ing characteristic of an informal reasoning fallacy is that it may be psychologically persuasivedespite violating standards of argumentation. Aninformal argument should be judged on thequality of the reason supporting a claim. Ideally,one would find an argument more convincingbased on its soundness and strength—that is,if the reason addressed the claim with pertinent,truthful, and meaningful information. However,the context of the argument might influence how convincing one finds an argument, either inaddition to or at the expense of an evaluation of the argument’s soundness. For example, accordingto language expectancy theory (LET), whether anattempt at persuasion conforms to cultural andsociological expectations about language beha- viours will affect how persuasive the communi-cation will be (Burgoon, Denning, & Roberts,2002).In addition, whether a fallacious argument isfound persuasive or is criticized might depend onone’s role in the context of the argument.According to the theory of motivated reasoning(see Klaczynski, 2000; Kunda, 1990), the direc-tional goal of an argument—that is, whether oneis supporting or opposing a claim—will influencethe application of systematic reasoning and infer-ential rules in evaluating reasons for the claim.From this, it might be predicted that people whocan recognize arguments as fallacious from adetached perspective will differ in their recog-nition of such arguments when asked to takesides. Thus, in addition to the context of theargument as reasoned dialogue or nonreasoneddialogue, we may include directional goals that would influence the acceptance of types of reasons. Moreover, reasoning might be motivatedby the degree of involvement in the argument(Johnson & Eagly, 1990).In motivated reasoning research, the factorgenerally considered to bias reasoning is priorbelief. Thus, in this line of research the directionalgoal of an argument was determined by one’s belief concerning a claim whether deeply held (e.g.,Klaczynski, 2000) or manipulated (e.g., Jain Maheswaran, 2000). The current study departsfrom this line of research in its focus on the argu-ment contexts rather than personal beliefs. Theexperiments in this study investigate the effect of argumentative context on participants’ ability toidentify informal reasoning fallacies and on theirevaluation of the persuasiveness of fallacious argu-ments. The general hypothesis is that students’ judgements about the fallaciousness and persua-siveness of informal reasoning fallacies will vary significantly according to the argumentativecontext. The first experiment examines students’abilities to identify fallacies in different contextsand to distinguish between the contexts. Thesecond experiment focuses on the convincingnessof fallacious argumentsin the context of areasoneddialogue and with the participants in differentroles—the proponent of a claim, and theadversary—in the argument context.
Our theoretical point of departure is that partici-pants’ difficulties in identifying informal reasoning

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