Rhetoric for Dummies PART 2: More Logical Holes You're Using Way Too Often

  • Ben Hayward
  • Dec 4, 2016 10:00AM

Last article I started a list of rhetorical fallacies that the Internet can do without. If you haven’t read it, check out Rhetoric for Dummies: Part 1 before reading this one. If you did read it, thanks so much, and here we go:

More rhetorical fallacies that drive me nuts!

ANECDOTAL FALLACY/MISLEADING VIVIDNESS: This is when the speaker uses a first-hand account to disprove a larger argumentative rule.

For example: I grew up in a diverse neighborhood and had many black friends, therefore racism is not a problem in America.

The idea with this fallacy is that first-hand experience counts for more than a larger argumentative point. It creates a faulty generalization where the listener thinks that the first-hand account is representative of a larger truth. Keep in mind- anecdotal evidence is never sufficient in a logical argument.

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE: The argument that one small first step leads to a string of out of control or furthest limit consequences.

For example: If we let gays marry what’s to stop people from marrying animals?

This argument depends on the slipperiness of the slope, where there is no middle ground or mechanism to stop the initial concession from leading to further concessions. It is not a necessarily invalid argument, but it requires proof. In a good argument, to use the slippery slope, you must prove a positive feedback loop which coincides with the argument

For example: We should do something about climate change, the melting polar ice causes the temperature of the water to rise, causing the ice to melt faster, etc.

This argument works but only with the corresponding proof, and in general is still frowned upon by formal rhetoricians.

THE STRAW MAN: This is an argument where the arguer sets up a similar scenario and refutes it while giving the impression that they are refuting the opponent’s argument.

For example: The theory of evolution and survival of the fittest has historically lead to racism, eugenics, and cultural Darwinism. Therefore, as moral people, we cannot believe in the theory of evolution.

Straw man arguments are usually pretty crafty, warping the intended sense of the fist argument or ignoring it altogether. A variant is the ‘hollow man’ argument, where the arguer uses a phrase like “some people think” to set up an entirely false claim. Donald Trump’s claim that Mexico was sending rapists to America is an example of a ‘hollow man’ fallacy.

AD HOMINEM FALLACIES: These attack the arguer instead of the argument. They assert that because the arguer is a bad person, the argument is necessarily false.

For example: How, after the Trump University scandal, can you trust Donald Trump on education?

Or

You can’t believe a word crooked Hillary Clinton says, therefore all her campaign promises are lies.

These arguments are by far the most common among the troll-elite. They do not make any point other than that the person making the initial argument is morally at fault. If you’d like to see some ad hominem attacks, please scroll to the bottom of this article. (I should mention here that there is some academic thought that says that ad hominem attacks are sometimes relevant when the arguments apply to issues of morality, for what that’s worth.)

THE NO TRUE SCOTSMAN FALLACY: This one is where the arguer makes an initial assertion, is proven wrong, then qualifies their initial argument.

For example: ‘No Scotsman would ever put sugar on his porridge.’

‘My Scottish uncle puts sugar on his porridge.’

‘No true Scotsman would ever put sugar on his porridge.'

The argument appeals to a nativism/authenticity problem instead of addressing the logical concern. Instead of accepting that some Scotsmen like sugar on their porridge, the arguer says that this disqualifies the sugar-liker from being a true Scotsman.

I wanted to close with the True Scotsman fallacy because it is the one I read the most. When people disagree about politics, they tend to accuse the others of being bad Americans, or inauthentic. They call their very identity into question on an issue that is, of necessity, up for debate. That’s no good for discussion, and it’s no good for democracy.

Our ability to hear each other’s side of things, to understand, and to logically pick each other apart is essential to making good decisions as a society. It’s what makes society possible.

So please, readers and people of the internet, I implore you, make your arguments well. Don’t resort to personal attacks and the other nonsense listed above. Like my old professor of rhetoric used to say, “If you have an argument with someone and you can’t shake their hand after, you didn’t have an argument. You had a fight.”