Logical fallacies are everywhere. Arguments that seem valid and convincing to us initially, however, when examined closely, they actually don’t make any logical sense. Logical Fallacies are the exact opposite of a sleight of hand card trick—while the magician makes us believe that logical card maneuvers are actually nonsensical and magical—the Logical Fallacy Arguer aims to convince the listener that their nonsensical arguments are actually logical. People use them all the time to sway us to their way of thinking (see certain politicians).
Here’s a scenario demonstrating five common logical fallacies in a short conversation in which a couple argues about whether or not to eat at a bad restaurant. (Relatable? Hopefully not)
If only this couple—Billie and Alex—had known these five fallacies beforehand, they could have avoided their impending food poisoning.
It’s a Saturday evening and Billie and Alex (notice the gender neutral names) are walking through town trying to find a place to eat.
Billie walks up to a less than stellar looking restaurant and remarks to Alex, “Look, this place was ranked Sacramento’s best by the Restaurant Association, it says it here on the window. It has to be good!”
Fallacy 1: Appeal to Authority Fallacy
Billie doesn’t know who the “Restaurant Association” is, however, she is assuming that because they have given this restaurant an award that the restaurant must be good. She is assuming that the claim is true simply because it is stated by an authority.
Alex eyes the restaurant skeptically, saying “I don’t know, Billie, this restaurant doesn’t look so great, it might be worth it to keep looking.” Billie, frustrated, replies, “Come on Alex, I don’t see any other restaurants and I don’t want to spend an hour looking for something else.”
Fallacy 2: False Dilemma Fallacy (also called Either/Or Fallacy or Black and White Fallacy)
Billie is presenting Alex with a false dilemma: either they eat at that restaurant or spend a whole hour finding another one. She doesn’t have enough evidence to know that it will take an hour to find a better restaurant, she is only assuming this. When she presents these two options as if they are the only choices, she creates a false dilemma and an illusion that there are only two options for Alex to choose from.
Alex agrees and the couple enter the restaurant. “I’m not so sure, it smells kind of bad in here,” Alex says. Billie replies, half jokingly, “You hardly ever cook! And when you do you always burn things, so what do you know?”
Fallacy 3: Ad Hominem Fallacy
This is the Ad Hominem Fallacy, or as it translates “to the man,” which is when someone attacks the person making the argument rather than their actually argument. Alex’s inability to cook actually has no effect on his ability to recognize bad smelling food, however, Billie uses this as an argument to discredit Alex’s opinion.
“Here’s an idea,” Alex says. “I’ll just find a better restaurant really quickly on my phone.” Billie replies, angrily, “So you’re saying that you don’t trust me enough to choose the restaurant?! Alex, you should trust me enough to make decisions.”
Fallacy 4: The Straw Man Fallacy
Here, Billie is presenting a “straw man” argument, by saying that Alex is saying something that he/she isn’t. Although Alex merely said that he could find a better restaurant, Billie is presenting his argument as if it is an attack on her judgement, and thus making it easier to discredit.
Alex replies, “No, Billie, of course I trust you. It’s just that I think we could find a better restaurant if we looked a little longer. Some place that doesn’t smell like this…” Interrupting, Billie exclaims, “Look, Alex! They even have your favorite, SASHIMI!”
Fallacy 5: Red Herring Fallacy
Using the Red Herring Fallacy, Billie is presenting a completely unrelated argument in lieu of responding to Alex’s argument about the smell of the restaurant. Just because the restaurant serves Alex’s favorite food, doesn’t mean that it can’t still be bad.
And that’s how Billie and Alex got food poisoning.
If we can learn to recognize these fallacies as individuals, we will greatly reduce our chance of eating raw fish that has gone bad. Worth it? I think so.