Make Decisions and Solve Problems
Deal with Your Irrational Mind
Informal Logical Fallacies
An integral portion of critical thinking is learning about informal logical fallacies that vitiate many arguments and ideas that surround us. A logical fallacy is a mistake in reasoning that invalidates the claims that someone else is making. Fallacious reasoning is false 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 your personal life. It takes hours of work and experience in order to recognize these fallacies off the cuff. Hopefully, this lecture will give students initial insight into some of these fallacies. There are many online resources for fallacies that students can go to for more in-depth analysis, examples, and descriptions of some of the less common fallacies. Our discussion will focus on those fallacies that are most common in the hope that this analysis will allow students to understand the foundations of the most common forms of fallacious reasoning.
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, etc (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.
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. Students often confuse this fallacy with appeal to emotion (to come later). However,
PHL 1010, Critical Thinking 1
UNIT VI STUDY GUIDE
Making Decisions, Problem Solving, and the Irrational Mind
when someone uses scare tactics, you are appealing only to one emotion: feaUr.NTIhTisxfSoTrmUDofY?aGrUguIDmEent? often occurs when someone threatens another person in order to get that person to agree.
Man with Gun: I think it would be a good idea for you to give me your purse (points the gun at the woman?s face).
Woman: I think you are right (as she hands over the purse).
It is evident in this example that the woman must give over her purse and agree with the proposition that she should give the thief her purse. 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 do not 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.? The person placed in this situation would probably not report the infidelity due to the fear that he or she would lose his or her job.
It is important to remember that there are non-fallacious forms of appealing to fear. For example, if you were on a hiking trip with a friend and the friend told the other person to watch out because there was a copperhead snake on the edge of the trail; this would merely be an example of someone looking out for the best interest of his or her friend. However, whenever someone threatens another person or plays on their fears in a manipulative manner, this person has committed the fallacy called ?Appeal to Force? or ?Scare Tactics.?
Argument from Pity
The argument from pity occurs when someone tries to get another person to agree with his or her claims by merely appealing to the person?s pity or empathy. Humans tend to overestimate the capabilities of others when they feel sorry for them. If you overestimate another?s ability based on insufficient evidence as a result of pity, then you have succumbed to this fallacy.
The appeal to pity is used most often to get people to support a cause or to give their resources to a cause. The ultimate examples of appeal to pity are groups that involve human rights or animal rights. Showing images of starving children or abused dogs, without providing logical reasoning about why you should support the cause, is not enough to present rationally justified reasons for believing that you ought to contribute to this cause. It is extremely important to recognize and understand exactly what the goals of the organization are before you donate your resources to the cause. The human mind has the uncanny ability to fill in arguments where there are none given. For example, if you are shown a picture of a starving child and hear, ?will you please give me money to help these children?? your mind might create an argument as to why you should give me money. However, nothing has been said about how you are going to help these children or if you even have the means of helping these children. Our minds fill in gaps. Our minds tell us that suffering is bad, and that if we can eliminate human suffering with extra resources, then we should do it. However, it might be a scam artist with a bunch of repugnant pictures. It is important to not let an appeal to pity cause us to believe something irrationally. Students often appeal to pity when they fail to complete their assignments. It is not fair to give a student two extra weeks to complete an assignment because he or she had a cold when there are five students sitting in class coughing and who have their assignments completed. At the same time, it is not a case of appeal to pity to give an extension to a student based on the fact that she could not attend class due to her mother?s death. However, it would be fallacious to give her an ?A? on her exam merely because she was going through such a hard time.
Argument from Envy
The argument from envy occurs when we find fault with a person or underestimate his or her abilities because of envy of that person. Humans often do this with celebrities, people in high power positions, or others they find threatening. If a person is extremely beautiful, people will scour the person?s body to find one attribute that they can point out that will indicate that the person is not perfect. Let?s look at an example.
PHL 1010, Critical Thinking 2
UNIT x STUDY GUIDE
Suppose there is a group of awkward male philosophy graduate students who have decided
to go out after an Aristotle seminar and discuss some of the details of Aristotle?s Metaphysics. They enter a drinking establishment and begin discussing the difference between actuality and potentiality. They are rather awkward and, to be honest, not much to look at. They are smart but are unable to carry on everyday conversations with people. All these philosophers happen to be heterosexual and they notice a group of ladies across the room. They immediately become even clunkier as they try to introduce themselves to these women. Somehow, they convince the women to play a game of darts with them, and the beads of sweat dissipate as they become more comfortable and amicable. Just when our group of clumsy thinkers hit their stride with the ladies, a group of undergraduate business majors walk through the door. These neophytic capitalists are tall and handsome. Having just left the gym to go out for the night, their muscles are still pulsing with vascularity. As they start ordering $10 glasses of Scotch, the philosophers realize that these are not your typical Ramen-noodle undergrads. One especially statuesque and vascular young man looks across the room in disbelief as he sees the motley crew of philosophers with the ladies who are ?way out of their league.? The philosophers see the young man nudge those around him and point to the group across the way. He separates from the group and moves over to the dart board. Walking right past the bearded imps, he says, ?Can I buy you ladies a drink?? Unfortunately for our philosophers, the girls they have been talking to have already noticed the group that has come in and were waiting for this opportunity. ?SURE!!!? they cry in unison. ?We will be right back guys.? However, they will not be back. Everyone in the room knows that they will not be back. As the philosophers are left alone they look across the room and begin to speak to one another about what just happened.
Now, if these philosophers are the critical thinkers that they claim to be, they would respond in a manner that would be appropriate in a comedic movie. The critical response would be to say something like the following:
?Well guys, we did our best, but I think we need to move on. I mean, those guys are better looking than we are. Their biceps are bigger than our beer guts. They look like they just came back from Cabo, whereas we all look like we have just survived a polar winter. Plus, it seems like they have a lot of money. I just watched one of them pay $120 for a round of drinks. None of us have even had $120 in our bank accounts for the past five years. They seem to be making the ladies laugh a lot more than we were, and I am positive that if I were a woman, I would make the same decision. Because we really want people to be happy and want to promote the good for all people, we must be happy for those ladies that they were able to meet such a great group of guys.?
However, such a response would take a heroic show of critical thinking strength. What is the more likely response? Probably something like:
?Who do those guys think they are? I bet we are smarter than those guys. They seem like they are jerks. I mean, honestly, who spends that much on alcohol? What a waste of money. They must not care at all about all the homeless people who are wandering the streets of Chicago on this cold night. I cannot believe that those girls would even want to hang out with such arrogant and heartless idiots!?
Whenever we respond to the strength, beauty, success, or happiness of others in this manner we are succumbing to the argument from envy. It is always extremely difficult to admit that others are smarter, more beautiful, stronger, more caring, more humble, more loving, more giving, more interesting, and more entertaining than we are. However, when we resort to negative talk about these people that is not based on anything factual, we are merely showing that we have no other way to deal with our envy of those attributes than to attempt to find something wrong with the strengths of others.
Appeal to Pride/Ego
The appeal to pride is a fallacy that we are all familiar with. We called this ?brown-nosing? when we were younger. In the appeal to pride, someone tries to obtain favor with another or manipulate another by complimenting the person or appealing to the person?s ego. Let?s examine some examples.
PHL 1010, Critical Thinking 3
Student to professor: ?Dr. Martin, I am really sorry that I have only beeUnNaIbTlex tSoTcUoDmYe GtoUoInDeE of the first 14 classes of the semester. I have had some things going on in my life. That one
class was amazing though. You are the most entertaining and intelligent professor I have this semester. I know it says in the syllabus that you do not accept late homework, but do you think there is any way that I could turn in my late homework assignments??
In this example, the student appeals to the ego of the professor by telling the professor that she is the most intelligent and engaging professor he has had all semester. Unfortunately, this student has not presented any reasons why the professor ought to allow him to turn in his homework assignments late. That means that the professor has no logical reason to allow the student to turn in his assignments late.
Professor to students on the day of course evaluations: ?Alright everyone, we are going to finish class with course evaluations. Let me just say that you all have been one of the brightest, liveliest, and most interesting bunches that I have ever had. You are much better than my other classes. Oh yeah, feel free to grab another piece of pizza on the way out of class!?
Using flattery is a great way to get people on your side. Weeks of poor teaching and antagonism with students can often be overcome with just a few sentences and some large pepperoni pizzas. Notice that the teacher said nothing about the evaluations or about what was accomplished in the course. He does not have to. All he has to do is tell the students how smart and engaging they are, and his work is done. It is extremely hard to make a poor statement about another person when you have just told him or her how smart he or she is. However, when we take this as the reason why we OUGHT to give that person a good review or analysis of character, we have fallen victim to the appeal to pride. When a commercial tells us that only those of superior refinement will appreciate the quartz-chronos technology of a certain type of watch, and we buy the watch because we think that we are those who have that sort of refinement, we are succumbing to the appeal to ego. Alcohol companies claim that those with ?superior taste? choose their product every time. Appealing to people?s concepts of their own intelligence and refinement is a great way to get them to buy your product. Place a sign on the door that says ?Only Those in Proper Attire Permitted? and you are guaranteed to obtain a crowd of individuals that want to separate themselves from those who lack the ?proper attire.?
Humans are extremely susceptible to feelings of guilt. Nietzsche called the feeling of guilt the bad conscience. Freud explicated his concept of the Super-ego and its role in monitoring the ?ego? and ?id? as if it were an internal voice of parental admonition. Kant claimed that the purpose of reason was to create a good will in us, and that reason would limit our happiness below zero if it recognized that we were doing something that went against the universal claims that lead to the good will. Whatever the foundation of guilt in human experience, it is one of the most prevalent and easily manipulated human emotions. A guilt trip occurs when someone tries to make another person feel bad about an action without presenting any logical reasons why the person should feel bad.
Son to Mother: ?I really love Carla and I am going to marry her. She makes my life better. She is there for me emotionally when I need her. She is happy in her career. She accepts that I do not make a lot of money. She makes me laugh, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her!?
Mother to Son: ?You are tearing my heart out son! I guess Mom does not matter anymore. It is ok. I was only in labor for 96 hours, and then had to sacrifice my career and my own life just to raise you. Do not worry about it though…I will be fine shriveling up like a prune all alone. I just hope they find me after I die before I start to rot.?
Our mother in this example does not seem to be presenting any real reason why her son should not marry Carla. Instead, she merely tries to make her son feel guilty for his decision. When parents scold their children, they often merely try to make the children feel badly about what they have done. There is often not a lot of explanation as to why the children should feel guilty. If we tell our kids that we are disappointed that they did not clean their rooms and they should be ashamed of themselves, we are putting on a guilt trip. If we tell our children that they need to clean their rooms because they need to learn how to keep their environment clean, that it displays a care for the aesthetic condition of the spaces that they inhabit, that it will make them good living partners when they have to live with others, and that it will make their lives easier as they will more
PHL 1010, Critical Thinking 4
easily be able to find their possessions, then we have given good reasons for UclNeaITnixngSTanUdDwYeGhUaIvDeEavoided
the guilt trip.
Groupthink occurs when people of a group hold specific beliefs merely because those beliefs are thought to be fundamental thoughts of the group. If we do this because we have rationally thought about all the issues and we have decided that this group has the best position on all the issues, then we are thinking critically. However, if we only cling to these ideas because we identify with the group, and fail to submit these ideas to rational analysis, we are not thinking critically. One area in which the groupthink fallacy is most pronounced is in politics. Rather than examine multiple perspectives and sources on issues, people who are hardline conservatives (group #1) or progressives (group #2) spend most of their time taking in news sources that cater towards their own beliefs. They listen to two-minute interviews with ?experts? on the matter, and then act as if they have spent hours researching the best positions on the issue. Really they are merely parroting what they have heard on TV. Those who align with the group learn the most common positions of the party and they refuse to take on any other perspective than those of the majority in the party. Even when they internally disagree with a position that their party has taken, they refuse to allow themselves to accept a contrary position, because it does not follow the majority opinion of the group.
Groupthink is also manifest in nationalistic behavior. A majority of people in a country find that their own country is the best country in the world, that their food is the best, that their people are the best, that their art is the best, that their wine is the best, and that the people in their country really understand what is going on in the world, while those in other countries could learn a lot from them. It is acceptable for the critical thinker to be patriotic, but when that patriotism turns into thinking that refuses to accept other cultural ways of doing things or differences of opinion based on nothing but the fact that these differences come from a place outside the borders of your own country, the person has fallen into the groupthink fallacy. Advertisers and shrewd business people have realized that sewing a flag onto an object is a sure-fire way of getting people with these tendencies to buy the product. Whether it is a t-shirt with an American flag or a coin that displays the image of the Twin Towers and Seal Team 6, one thing is certain: patriotic images and concepts sell.
Manufacturers do not sell items with flags on them because they care about the spread of patriotism; they do it because they know that they will sell more baseball hats if they stick a flag on them than if they do not. It is important for the patriotic critical thinker to remember that patriotism is only a hop, skip, and a jump away from nationalism, and nationalism is dangerous to your thought and to those who fall outside the group in which you think.
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A form of government in which the people hold the ruling power directly or through means of
elected officials is __________.
A form of government that is led by the wealthy is __________.
A form of government in which the ruling power belongs to a few people is __________.
The economic system in which a majority of objects and resources are privately owned and run in a
for-pro?t manner is __________.
The economic theory that is focused on group ownership of the means of production with all
members of the community sharing in the work and the products is __________.
De?ne the two most important dimensions of decision-making in your view, and give an example
of each from your own experience.
Your response should be at least 75 words in length.
Match the explanation with the appropriate Key Term.
Innate wish ful?llment
Cultural domain of thinking
Sociological domain of thinking
a. Overcon?dence that one possesses true
b. Selectively forgetting information that does
not support one?s thinking and remembering
information that does.
c. Accepting without question the prevailing
beliefs of one?s group.
d. Ignoring the obviously implausible
implications of one?s beliefs.
e. Ignoring meaningful complexities in the world
in order to preserve the clarity of one?s
f. Using direct power over others to get what
g. Tendency to see all of one?s life as good or
bad on the basis of a single event.
h. Applying a narrow point of view to one?s
i. Interprets problems as caused by social group
j. Ignoring obvious inconsistencies in one?s
k. Believing something because it ?ts with one?s
other beliefs and does not necessitate any
changes to one?s current thinking.
l. Tendency to assume one?s beliefs are true
because one has not questioned them.
m. Desire to hold on to beliefs one has held for a
n. Interprets problems as the result of cultural
o. Seeks one?s self interests at the expense of
others, pursues self-validation, and reacts
with negative emotion when desires are not
p. Answer that appears to resolve a problem but
really does not.
q. Holding on to a belief because it justi?es
pursuing one?s personal advantage over
r. Failure to take note of evidence that is
contrary to one?s beliefs.
s. Pursues one?s interests while respecting the
interests of others, seeks to be fair-minded,
and strives to consider all relevant
t. Strategic subservience to others to get what
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