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This brief non-technical guide organizes informal fallacies into three categories: fallacies of

ambiguity, presumption, and relevance.

The word fallacy may derive from the Latin word fallere, meaning to deceive,
to trip, to lead into error, to trick. The word may also derive from the Greek
phelos, meaning deceitful.

Fallacies of Presumption
Fallacies of presumption are unsound arguments because of unfounded, or unproven
embedded assumptions.
Circulus in Demonstrando (Circular Argument, Begging the Question): restating the premise
in the conclusion rather than proving or disproving.

President Kennedy was an excellent speech giver because he delivered exceptional


Complex Question (Fallacy of Loaded Question, Fallacy of the False Question): this is the
interrogative form of circulus in demonstrando.

How long did it take you to come up with that excuse for misreading the text?
Which sources did you use to plagiarize your policy brief?

Either/Or (False Dilemma, Bifurcation): from the Latin bifurcus, meaning, two pronged. An
oversimplification that assumingly reduces several alternatives to a mere binary opposition.

You either shape up or ship out!

There is only one way: my way or the highway!
If the agency does not approve my proposal, they can say goodbye forever to affordable

False Metaphor (False Analogy): an ambiguous comparison with more dissimilarities than
similarities that are not acknowledged or even clearly explained.

The Kennedys had spark and Jack had grown into a handsome man, a male swan
rising out of the Billy the Kid version of an Irish duckling he had been when he was a
young senator. (Stanley Crouch, Blues for Jackie)

Hasty Generalization: drawing conclusions from too little of evidence and often relying on

I have known several democrats who vacillate in their support of this policy; so all
democrats dont have an adamant stance concerning this policy.
All lawyers are verbose and unethical.

Non Sequitur: in Latin, it does not follow. A conclusion that does not necessarily follow from
the premises upon which it is based.

If these politicians were patriotic, they would not question the President.

All the students have high grades in their classes, so they must be excellent writers.

Petitio Principii (Begging the Question): premises that are passed on as being valid without
supporting evidence.

When combined, Public Affairs majors and unmotivated Liberal Arts Majors make up
30% of the student population. (Unproven premise: Liberal Arts Majors are unmotivated).

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (Coincidental Correlation): in Latin after this, therefore because of
this; an error in casual relationships. Just because two events chronologically follow each
other, does not necessarily mean that a cause and effect relationship existsit is just mere

I forgot to read my assignment last night and we had a pop quiz.

I washed my car so it just had to rain.

Question Begging Epithets: using strongly emotional language to force an otherwise

unsupported conclusion.

That criminal is charged with the most heinous crime known to humanity.

Rhetorical Question: not really presented as a question, but where there is an expected

Why should we pay taxes to an industry that is polluting the Mediterranean ocean?

Red Herring: avoiding the main argument by diversionary tactics such as following tangents.

I forgot to go grocery shopping for you, but I did buy you a dozen roses because I love
Yes, my grades are low, but I volunteer a lot of time to the non-profit sector.

Slippery Slope (Bad Precedent): assuming that a proposed step will set off an uncontrollable
chain of undesirable events.

If you don't stop smoking cigarettes, then you are going to start shooting heroin.
If the FDA approves of putting fish hormones in tomatoes, and rejects the proposed
policy, our vegetables will soon be injected with monkey hormones.

Special Pleading: committed by applying a double standard exemplified in choice of words.

I am firm; you are stubborn; he is pigheaded. (Bertrand Russell)

Men sweat; women perspire. (TV ad)

Straw Man: distorting or misrepresenting someone's position so that it may be easy to refute.
Attack the misrepresented position, or the weak, straw man (unreal person) and then conclude
that the original position is incorrect or ridiculous.
Sweeping Generalization: committed by applying a fair generalization, one usually true, to an
exceptional case by ignoring the peculiarities of the case.

If he can lose weight, then you can too.

That particular diet works for him, so you should be successful with it too.

Engel, S. Morris. With Good Reason. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martins Press, 2000.
Lunsford, Andrea A., & Ruszkiewicz, J. Everythings an Argument. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/
St.Martins Press, 2001.

Fallacies of Ambiguity
Fallacies of ambiguity are unsound arguments, because they contain words that may be
understood in more than one sense.
Accent: occurs when a statement is ambiguous because the intended tone is uncertain, unclear
stress, or even quoted out of context.

He just loves giving political speeches.

She did not think that her graduate experience be like this.

Amphiboly: in Greek, ampho means double, or both sides. Occurs when there is a lack of
grammatical clarity, unintended ambiguity and two meanings to occur.

He loves his new girlfriend and puppy; however, he just can't stand it when she barks.
The politician hid that file with despair.

Composition: assumption that what is true of a part or whole, or a member of a group must be
true of the whole or the group. Trying to compose the whole out of parts.

A couple of people in that neighborhood have been charged of theft-- the whole
neighborhood is full of theives.
She can't even stomach the first lab, how she even going to finsh med school?

Division: the assumption that what is true of the whole, or the group, must be true of the parts,
or the members. Another way to look at is, trying to divide what is true of the whole among its

I can't tear this encyclopedia in half; therefore, I can't tear one page.
I've got so many reports to write, I won't even try to get started.

Equivocation: in Latin equi means equal and vox means voice. Occurs when two valid
meanings of a term are used.

A college graduate exclaims, I just got my degree!

Did you get it in Fahrenheit or Celsius?

Hypostatization: from Greek hypostatos meaning having an existence in substance; hypo

means down or under and statis means standing. Treating abstract terms like concrete ones
and even personifying abstractions.

You must live the life of truth.

Don't worry about creating an environmental policy concerning recycling; Mother Nature
cleans up after herself.

Engel, S. Morris. With Good Reason. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martins Press, 2000.
Lunsford, Andrea A., & Ruszkiewicz, J. Everythings an Argument. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/
St.Martins Press, 2001.

Fallacies of Relevance
Fallacies of relevance are arguments in which the premises do not bear upon the drawn
arguments even though they may appear to do; therefore, this makes them irrelevant.
Anonymous Authority: authority in question is not named.

Experts agree that drinking forty glasses of water a day is healthy.

According to leading experts, the foreign policy is progressive.

Argumentum ad Baculum (Appeal to Force): Latin word for stick is baculum; someone in a
position of authority supports their claim by threatening the audience with undesirable
consequences, (which may be either ideological or brute force) if the audience does not accept
the claim.

My dad is the Dean of the college, so if you want keep your job an a professor, you will
give me an A in this class.
Vote for me, or you will be sorry.
If you dont vote for the tax increase, the community college will shut down.

Argumentum ad Ignoratiam: an argument is true because no evidence disproves its validity.

No one has complained about this public policy, so it is not unjust.

No one has determined that the elusive Yeti does not exist, so I know it must exist in the
thick forests of Alaska.

Argumentum ad Misericordiam (Appeal to Pity): argument addressed to sense of mercy: an

argument that wins the reader's acceptance by mere pity.

I work full time and am solely responsible for the financial support of my children. If I
don't get an A on this examination, then I will lose my license to practice law and then I
will lose my job at the law firm. If I am jobless, then my children will starve to death;
therefore, you have to give me an A. (Somewhat of a slippery slope as well.)
I was late to class because the electricity went out in my apartment.

Argumentum ad Populum (Fallacy of Mob Appeal, Appeal to the Masses): this fallacy can
include a nostalgic appeal that arouses the audience's negative and positive emotions about
institutions and ideas; this appeal commonly uses emotional language, and trite expressions
that are irrelevant to the argument at hand.

Elect me for President, and our country will get back to wholesome family values and
apple pie.
Back in the day when Americans worked hard, an apple was a treat.

Argumentum ad Verecundiam
Argumentum ad Verecundiam: John Locke gave this fallacy its Latin name, argument
addressed to sense of modesty; using someone such as a celebrity to support your claim.

President Bush said that spiders are insects; therefore, spiders are insects.

Authority of One: justify an idea citing one source of expertise based as a reason for holding
the idea.
Authority of a Select Few: justify an idea by citing a select source of expertise.
Authority of Tradition: justify an idea based on tradition.

We have always written the fiscal notes this way.

Bandwagon: supporting a claim by stating that everyone believes or acts a particular way.

I absolutely have to support the war, because every patriotic citizen does.
Why be the only person who hasnt voted Republican?

Cardstacking: using selected evidence to make your side appear favorable or better than it
actually is.

Our students always win acting awards, so we provide the best theatre department in
the nation.

Common Sense: an argument is held to be true because of practical truths and common
sense. Common sense is sometimes correct, but all too many times all too commonly incorrect.

We all know if it looks bad, it tastes bad.

Novelty: arguing that something is good because it is new and different.

Under New Management.

New and Improved.

Personal Attack: committed by attacking a person for making an argument, rather than the
argument itself.
Abusive ad Hominem: a direct attack on a person's character rather than focusing on his or
her arguments.

There is no way that Louis Althusser can provide a believable Structuralist Marxist
philosophy; look at the guy, he strangled his wife to death.
The new President elect was convicted of drunk driving and now he is going to drive this
country to ruin.

Circumstantial ad Hominem: opposing speaker is accused of having vested interests.

Of course he is against raising cigarette taxes, he smokes eight packs a day.

Poisoning the Well: an attempt to preclude discussion by attacking the credibility of an

opponent; this expression goes back to the Middle Ages, when waves of anti-Jewish prejudice
and persecution were common. If a plague struck a community, the people blamed it on the
Jews, whom they accused of poisoning the wells.

Why should we listen to that politician if he is a charlatan?

Genetic Fallacy: the origins of a person, object or institution determine its character, nature or

That lawyer has such a hot temper; she must be Italian.

The new professor must be an excellent writer; he got his Ph.D. from Yale.
The Cannondale is a better bicycle because it wasn't manufactured in Taiwan.

Tu Quoque: indicating that the opposing side made the same error; often times referred to as
you did it too! (Pronounced as tu kwo kway)

Yes, I cheated on my examination, but I know you did it too when you were a student.

Engel, S. Morris. With Good Reason. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martins Press, 2000.
Lunsford, Andrea A., & Ruszkiewicz, J. Everythings an Argument. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/
St.Martins Press, 2001.