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Writing Center at Southeastern 20 Sep 2011

Recognizing Fallacies

A fallacy is a mistake in reasoning resulting in a flawed argument. A fallacious argument may seem to prove its conclusion but,
in fact, does not. A writer who unintentionally uses fallacies is not thinking clearly while a writer who intentionally uses
fallacies is either strongly biased or being deceptive (fallere in Latin). Readers and writers should learn to recognize the most
common fallacies: challenging them when reading, avoiding them when writing, always naming then when found.

Fallacies of Logos (Statement)

Non sequitur

Deductive fallacy meaning it does not follow: Arriving at a conclusion that does not logically follow
from its premises. Bill is a good businessman, so he will make a good deacon, too.
Post hoc fallacy

Deductive fallacy of doubtful cause: A came before B; therefore, A caused B. Roosters crow just
before the sun rises; therefore, roosters cause the sun to rise. (Association causation.)
Begging the question

Deductive fallacy: Assuming the premise and conclusion at the same time; circular reasoning;
exemplified in definition by opposition (e.g., faith/reason). Why did it survive? Because it is the
fittest. How do you know it is the fittest? Because it survived.
Excluded middle

Deductive fallacy: Oversimplifying a complex issue as if only two viable options exist, thus failing to
consider a range of middle options; also called false dilemma and either/or question. How can we
support international humanitarian missions when the need at home is so urgent?
False analogy

Deductive fallacy: Assuming that since events are similar in some ways, they are similar in other
ways; comparing apples and oranges; called the historians fallacy. Reporter: Mr. President, Some
people are comparing Iraq to Vietnam and talking about a quagmire. President: I think the analogy
is false and sends the wrong message to our troops (Bush, 2006).
Naturalistic fallacy

Deductive fallacy: Assuming that nature is the norm for human behavior. If evolution is true, then we
ought to practice Social Darwinism (argument of the Nazi regime).

Deductive fallacy: Reducing form to matter; abstractionism or essentialism. For the truth is that when
you have stripped off what the human heart actually was in this or that culture, you are left with a
miserable abstraction totally unlike the life really lived by any human being (C.S. Lewis).
Hasty generalization

Inductive fallacy: Jumping to a conclusion based on too little evidence; being judgmental. Ten Arab
Muslims bombed the World Trade Center, so the message is clear: all Arab Muslims are violent.
Inductive fallacy: Claiming a qualitative conclusion that cannot be supported no matter how much
quantitative evidence is supplied. Only those who read the Bible daily will grow in faith.
Cherry Picking

Inductive fallacy: Selecting evidence tending to support ones hypothesis while ignoring evidence
tending to refute it; biased sample. Racism no longer exists, and all of my white friends agree.
Appeal to ignorance

Inductive fallacy: Claiming that a thesis is true because it cannot be proved false, or vice versa, thus
ignoring that some theses may never be proved or disproved with certainty. Every action humans
perform is predetermined since no one has proved that humans have free will.

Fallacies of thos (Character)

False authority

Appealing to an expert when out of his or her field of expertise. Since Dr. J drinks Dr. Pepper, you
should drink Dr. Pepper, too.
Ad hominem

Attacking a person rather than his or her argument. I believe that abortion is wrong. Of course you
do, youre religious. What about my strong arguments? Those dont count. Like I said, youre
religious, so youre supposed to say that abortion is wrong.

Attacking character to discredit trust that must exist between those who engage in dialogue.
You promote hate, so we will not speak with you. No rational person would disagree that . . .
Similar fallacies include misrepresentation, straw-man argument, and hasty generalization.
Moral equivalency

Comparing a minor misdeed with a major atrocity to discredit a policy on moral grounds. A senator
compares the attack on Pearl Harbor to Americas actions in Iraq (America Back on Track, 2009).

Fallacies of Pathos (Emotion)

Bandwagon appeal

Seeking to establish a thesis based on the quantity of people who believe it (zeitgeist) or who have
believed it in the past (tradition). Evolution must be right because most scientists believe it.
Scare tactics

Seeking to force an idea or action by veiled threats. If Congress does not pass the seven-billion-dollar
bill, then the mortgage industry will fail. (Fear that is not based in fact is a fraud.)
Writing Center at Southeastern 20 Sep 2011
False analogy

Proposing an analogy meant to enflame fear. We are experiencing the worst economic decline since
the Great Depression.
Appeal to force

Stating an implicit or explicit threat. When considering my grade, Dr. Evans, please keep in mind that
my father is the Dean (your boss). Thanks.
Appeal to pity

Using emotional appeals that are irrelevant to the topic. When considering my grade, Dr. Keathley,
please keep in mind that I have two kids and work two part-time jobs! Thanks.

Fallacies of Language (Ambiguity)


Making a misrepresentation of an opposing argument, such as a ridiculous or overly simplified version
of it, and then refuting that straw argument instead of the real argument. Intelligent design is simply
religion in disguise. Evolution is simply Victorian mythology.
Misleading context

Omitting context to hide information; thus the maxim: A text without a context is a pretext. Wall of
separation between church and state, for instance, derives from the Protestant Reformation with
specific usage in Thomas Jeffersons 1801 letter to the Danbury Baptist Church, a context that changes
the phrases meaning from todays perceived meaning of that phrase.
Slanted language

Slanting language to create a biased mood and perception; a form of circular reasoning that describes
and evaluates at once. Pro-choice vs. anti-choice and pro-life vs. anti-life. I am firm, you
are stubborn, he is pigheaded (Bertrand Russell).
Slanted question

Framing a research question to obtain a desired answer and to skew statistics; thus the maxim: He who
poses the question wins the debate. Dont you think people are entitled to universal health care? vs.
Do you think we should be forced to pay for socialized medicine?

Shifting the meaning of a key word or phrase (a homonym: double identity of a single term) during the
course of an argument. Your argument is very sound; in fact, it is nothing but sound.
Claiming that words have meaning apart from context; assuming a direct link between words and the
things or ideas that they represent rather than finding that meaning is rhetorical: words are meaningful
only in discourse (not, that is, in dictionaries); nave realism, especially by making a rigid distinction
and hierarchy between logical-grammar and rhetoric. Just the facts, Maam (Sgt. Joe Friday).

Fallacies of Exgsis (Bible-Study Blunders)

Word-study fallacy

Fallacy of language: Considering only the literal meaning of individual words, thus discounting
context, such as situation, syntax, tone, and style, which help determine meaning or usage in context.
Reading between the
Fallacy of language: Considering what is implied rather than what is stated in a text, including
unwarranted personal associations.
Ignoring particles

Fallacy of language: Failing to recognize the distinctive importance of small words, especially the
semantic range of particles, when interpreting a texts meaning in context.
Illegitimate totality
Fallacy of language: Transferring all the meanings of a given word into any passage; extending the
meaning of a word in one context to others in its semantic range in conflict with its context.
Evidential fallacy

Fallacy of thos: Presuming a text is inaccurate until corroborated by external evidence for verification
of its statements; analogous to guilty until proven innocent in judicial contexts.
Superior knowledge

Fallacy of thos: Presuming a text has a fault rather than ones (mis)understanding of it and rather than
researching to find a reasonable answer to a perceived difficulty in a text.
Reduction fallacy

Logical fallacy: Reducing a text to its abridged meaning or subject-matter, thereby ignoring form,
style, tone, and situation.
New Testament
Logical fallacy: Failing to recognize the unit or whole when interpreting parts of the canon, thus
ignoring implicit meanings that are explicit in later texts; also ignoring the central principle of biblical
interpretation: scripture interprets scripture.


Engel, S. Morris. With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2000.

Kstenberger, Andreas J., and Richard D. Patterson. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011.

Kreeft, Peter. Socratic Logic: A Logic Text Using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles. 2nd ed.
South Bend: St. Augustines, 2005.