Fallacy Cheatsheet for Debate Fallacy Bingo

Ad hominem – attack on or appeal to character, arguing “to the man” rather than to the merits of the argument. Tu quoque: “you too”; Hypocrisy: charging opponent with not practicing what they preach Inconsistency: charging opponent with preaching two or more things that are conflict with each other Personal: bringing up bad personal qualities of opponent Circumstantial: Pointing out the circumstances in which a person makes a claim, rather than addressing the claim. Affirming the consequent Fallacious conditional argument: If you are drinking beer, you must be over 21. You are over 21, therefore, you must be drinking beer (no one ever said that people over 21 MUST drink beer!) Ambiguity: using ill-defined words. Appeal to authority- Justifying a claim on the basis of someone else’s opinion, rather than giving reasons. Expert in the wrong domain: appeal to a doctor of philosophy for a medical opinion, e.g. Fake Expert: Obvious Appeal to character: Building trust with an audience through appeal to the supposedly fixed and immutable nature of one’s personality. Building biography: we trust those we know. Therefore, to gain trust, one must establish their background. Shared values: we trust those who champion those things we champion: mom and apple pie, e.g. Appeal to common practice – a form of irrelevance; saying that other people get away with the same bad thing you’re accused of, so you should be able to get away with it too. Appeal to emotion – Rather than convincing the audience to take an action through reason, an appeal to emotion seeks to put the audience in the emotional frame of mind where they are more likely to take the desired action. Anger: Pointing out how one’s opponent has belittled that which we hold dear. Calmness: the opposite of anger – shared experiences, values, ‘we’re all in this together’, etc. Confidence: the opposite of fear – the threat isn’t as strong as it is made out, is a long way off, or isn’t irrational. Emulation: the opposite of envy – a positive emotion that results from seeing that good things happen to good people. Envy: unpleasant emotion that arises when good things happen to people whom we consider our equals. Fear: self-explanatory emotion – usually involves making a threat out to be (a) strong (b) present and (c) irrational. Friendship: we feel friendly towards people who do nice things for people for the people’s sake, not the doer’s sake Guilt: regret for past actions Indignation: the opposite of pity: witnessing an evil that befalls someone who did deserve it. Pity: unpleasant emotion when witnessing an evil that befalls someone who does not deserve it. Kindness: doing things for people for their own sake, not for oneself (see friendship) Outrage: an extreme form of anger Shame: unpleasant emotion in regard to bad things, which will likely discredit oneself. Appeal to flattery: ‘Only smart people agree with me’ – therefore, if you agree, you’re smart! Appeal to ignorance – arguing that we don’t know that x is NOT true, so x must be true. Appeal to maxim – using folk sayings or proverbs. Everyone agrees with them, therefore a speaker can find common ground. Appeal to popularity X is widely accepted, therefore true. ‘Everyone knows that X’… also “team spirit” and


groupthink – ‘One of us’ – a kind of character appeal implicit in popularity. Usually used in opposition to what is characterized as the dominate ‘main stream’. i.e. Apple computer users. Appeal to tradition Saying that the mere fact that something is traditional is a reason to continue doing it. Attack on character: undermining trust via character: Not shared values: pointing out that the opponent has values different than the audiences. Not ‘one of us’: Joe Shmoe isn’t really as counter-cultural as he seems! Underling Biography: sewing seeds of doubt due to questionable background. Also known as ‘swiftboating’. Begging the question – circular argument -- assuming what you’re trying to prove. Confirmation bias – seeing what you believe; interpreting observations/data to match a conclusion you already have in mind. Confusing correlation with causation. (Buying gas is correlated with owning a car. Clearly, buying gas causes car ownership.) Denying the antecedent – a fallacious conditional argument: if you’re drinking beer, you must be over 21. You are not drinking beer, therefore you must not be over 21. (no one said that you MUST drink beer if you are over 21). Enthymeme - general term for an argument with a gap (missing premise) Equivocation – when an argument relies on an ambiguous word (a word with more than one possible meaning), shifting in meaning, to get its conclusion. False Analogy: arguing from an analogy (X is like Y, Y is good, therefore X is good, e.g.); but where the analogy (the ‘is like’ part) is false. False Dilemma -- A dilemma which begins by asserting that we must choose between only two extreme options, when really there are plenty of other options. A general name for black-and-white thinking that ignores shades of gray. Genetic fallacy Saying that some idea’s history or origin (genesis) means it is true/false. Guilt by Association: You are just the same as X, and X is terrible. Therefore, you’re terrible (usually implied) Hasty Generalization: Making a general or universal claim (all cats are black, e.g.) on less than adequate evidence Anecdotal: making a generalization on a single case, usually a personal story. Small Sample: making a generalization on small number of observations, usually regional – also called ‘provincialism’ Unrepresentative sample: making a generalization from a group that doesn’t match the general population. Hyperbole: an exaggerated analogy, used for effect. Innuendo: disparaging question or remark often made implicitly. (‘Community organizing?!?’) Irrelevance. Bringing up irrelevant considerations in an effort to distract listener from the merits of the actual argument. Many forms. Loaded language Using words that have a certain code for members of the audience, or cast the proposition in one light or another – i.e. ‘liberal’, ‘illegal alien’ v. ‘undocumented immigrant’, e.g. Dysphemism – loaded language/ misleading term that tries to make something sound worse. (“Babykiller” for a doctor who performs abortions) Euphemism – loaded language/ misleading term that tries to make something sound better. (“Collateral damage” for civilians who are killed in military operations) Loaded question, complex question – a question with an unacceptable pre-supposition. (Why do you hate America so much? – Stephen Colbert) Moving the goalposts – changing what counts as success partway through the game.


Non sequitur (“it doesn’t follow”) - General term for a conclusion that doesn’t follow from the premises. Irrelevance. Also can be used for an abrupt and pointless change of topic. Poisoning the well - telling the audience what to think of a speaker when you’re introducing the speaker (My next guest is notorious for his extremist views about gun control and I’m sure my audience is much too smart to fall for his tricks…) Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this”, a fallacy in reasoning about causes. (I took a sip of my drink and right afterward, the Red Sox scored a run. I’ll take another sip to make them score again!) Red herring - general term for an irrelevant consideration that is meant to distract you, to throw you off the scent of the main argument Smokescreen – general term for vagueness or irrelevance that is meant to make it hard to see through to the real point of the argument Shifting the burden of proof: making it seem that your opponent has to prove, for example, that your plan won’t work, rather than you having to prove that it does work. This can be legitimate or illegitimate; keep an eye out for it. Slippery slope – If we take one step, we’ll have to take all the rest of them because there’s no real difference between this first step and all the subsequent ones. Straw-man --Attributing to your opponent a view that is oversimplified and easy to defeat.


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