• SumoMe

Every man needs to know how to persuade. Everything from buying a car, asking for a raise, advocating for a client, or convincing your significant other to go to the steakhouse over the French bistro involves the subtle art of persuasion. This eight-part segment is dedicated to teaching men how to argue by explaining the most common weaknesses in arguments, and hopefully how to avoid them.

13. The Loaded Question

Even if you’re not too familiar with logical fallacies in arguments, you’ve probably heard of the loaded question. The loaded question is one in which the answer is not as important as the inflammatory reaction that the person asking the question expects. A loaded question is a passive-aggressive way of making someone look bad, similar to an emotional appeal/ad hominem hybrid fallacy.

The popular example of the loaded question is asking someone, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If he says “no,” then he implies that he still beats his wife. If he says “yes,” then he implies he used to beat his wife. There is no winning response to this argument (aside from, of course, “I don’t have a wife,” or “I’ve never beaten my wife”) within the yes/no bounds of the question.

The loaded question is not so much a logical fallacy, as it is a poor basis for argument. The questions presuppose facts that are usually false or inaccurate. “Have you stopped beating your wife?” presupposes that the person beats his wife, so the question is “loaded” with presuppositions. These types of questions are usually used during unfriendly arguments of a personal nature.

14. False Burden of Proof

In order to have a worthwhile argument, if you make a claim, you have the burden of proving it. This is the simple premise behind the false burden of proof fallacy. This fallacy occurs when someone makes a claim, and then says that because his/her opponent lacks evidence to the contrary, the claim is therefore correct or valid.

For example, say that Paul says, “Little invisible green men are living inside my brain and telling me what to do. You can’t prove me wrong, so therefore I’m right.” Unfortunately for Paul, this line of reasoning is flawed. If you make a claim, and assert it as true, you can’t then shift the burden to the other party and make them prove otherwise. This is why plaintiffs have the burden of proof in court–they’re the one(s) asserting the claim.

A good general rule for intense rational argument: if you can’t prove it, don’t assert it.

15. Argument by Ambiguity

The best arguments are clear arguments. When you or your opponent are relying on ambiguous language in order to argue a point, something is going wrong. Either you need to agree on a definition, or you just shouldn’t argue the point that can’t be resolved due to an ambiguity.

For instance, do you remember when Clinton said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” during his impeachment hearing? Yeah… that’s an argument by an ambiguity. While the word “is” doesn’t usually bring up ambiguities, if your argument swings on an unclear word like “is,” you are probably making a pretty terrible argument.

Arguments by ambiguity are usually proposed after someone is caught and they are trying to justify their action(s) or lack of action(s). These types of arguments are usually losing ones, and they are more often than not distractions from the matter at hand. Granted, many legal arguments are made on ambiguities of language, but it makes sense there because lawyers and courts are trying to interpret language given to them by the legislature. Generally, when in doubt, make arguments on substance, not far fetched double meanings in words.

 What examples of these logical fallacies have you experienced? Interested in more? Go read part 4.