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Research Rabbit Holes | Logical Fallacies
Whenever there’s support for a societal change to extend rights to a marginalized group, there are always people pushing back. In hindsight this pushback seems completely wrong-headed—not only because of the collective moral shift that’s happened since, but because most of the arguments against these changes don’t have any valid reasoning behind them. Opposition to change is usually based on emotion and conjecture rather than facts, so the arguments themselves end up being built on a foundation of sand. In argumentation, these errors in reasoning are called logical fallacies. If you can recognize them within problematic arguments of the past, you may be able to identify the bad arguments of today.
Slippery Slope
This is one of the most common logical fallacies. Someone will assert that one action will lead to another action—usually with unreasonable escalation. But it’s not a given that if we allow A, B will happen. In fact, there may not be a natural sequence to those two events anywhere other than that person’s mind. Unless the person arguing has a fully functioning crystal ball, this isn’t legit reasoning.
Straw Man
Something that’s much easier than addressing someone else’s valid arguments is to mischaracterise their stance and then attack the misrepresentation. Having just gone through an election, you undoubtedly heard politicians summarizing the other side’s platform in a less than charitable light—that’s a straw man.
Ad Hominem
One step lazier than a straw man is a direct personal attack. Rather than engaging with what their opponent is saying, sometimes people criticize them in an effort to lower their credibility. This isn’t a valid way to make a case for your argument. If you want to see this fallacy in action, go to literally any comment section online.
Appeal to Tradition
It’s often said that the reason we can’t try doing something another way is that we’ve always done it this way. But that’s not an actual argument. Whether you’ve been doing something for your whole life or not doesn’t mean there might not be a better way of doing it. There was a time where we never tried anything new and relied solely on tradition—it was called the Medieval period, it was terrible and we were stuck in it for about 1,000 years.
Bandwagon Appeal
When making a bad argument on its own doesn’t do the trick, people sometimes point to an imagined group for support by saying “most people would agree”. But there’s no way to know that for sure, and just because a majority of people believe something doesn’t make it right. Every regressive idea we’ve grown past as a society was at one time held true by a majority.
Once you start watching for them, these errors in reasoning start popping up everywhere. People you disagree with will start looking like logical fallacy factories. But instead of using this knowledge to point this out to them, the real value you can get from this is from recognizing these errors in our own reasoning. We all naturally make these mistakes. By holding your reasoning to the highest standard, you can discover your own faulty reasoning and perhaps see where you might need to rethink things before you try to change someone else’s mind.
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