• 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.

7. The Too Powerful Fallacy

At this point we’re pretty entrenched into logical fallacies. It’s important to remember, however, that simply because something has a logical fallacy in the argument doesn’t necessarily mean the argument is factually incorrect. The too powerful fallacy fallacy (for lack of a better term) asserts just this–that a logical fallacy in argument necessarily leads to a factual fallacy in application or conclusion.

For instance, suppose a child hears an anecdotal argument at the dinner table, similar to the old-fashioned “There are starving kids in China” reasoning for finishing all your green beans. Afterwards, the very precocious (but foolish) child says, “Mother, you’ve based your argument on a logical fallacy. Therefore, I will never eat green beans because the reasoning in your argument is flawed.” The fallacy-accusing child has himself or herself committed a fallacy as well. Eating green beans is not justified wholly on the possibility of starving Chinese children, but on the basis of health and perhaps taste. To never eat green beans because one justification for doing so is logically flawed is a conclusion which is logically flawed in itself.

In short: don’t let logical fallacies obscure the conclusion unless the conclusion is ultimately and solely based on illogical reasoning.

8. Slippery Slope

Ever go hiking up a hill or mountain, lose traction, and then start rolling and hit a tree? No? Just me? Well, the slippery slope fallacy is metaphorically similar to this experience. This fallacy asserts that if Event A happens, then eventually Event Z will as well, and Event Z is not something we want, therefore Event A shouldn’t happen (remember this book?). This fallacy is so tricky because it masquerades as a logical causal demonstration, which is good, but the casual links are often shaky and propagated through fear.

The most common way this plays out in modern society is in the gay marriage debate. The popular argument there is, “If we allow men to marry men (or women to marry women), what’s next? Men marrying goats? Men marrying cars? Allowing same sex marriage opens marriage up to allowing people to marry anything.” This is an ultimately flawed argument in the sense that there is no data that allowing men to marry other men necessarily leads to men marrying goats or cars. The untold problem with this argument is that legislatures could (and probably should) limit marriage between humans, and not animals or objects. This very real possibility blocks the slippery slope argument’s proposition that once all humans can marry humans, humans can marry anything.

Slippery slope arguments are mostly used by fear-mongers who persuade through doom and gloom, rather than sound logic or public policy. Some slippery slope arguments are, in fact, sound and logical. The good slippery slope arguments are rare, and usually don’t have more than a few reasonable causal jumps (i.e. “If we legalize murder, the legal deterrent for murder will be gone, and then people will be less reluctant to not murder people.”). This example is not wholly outrageous, and it follows sound logical principles. Asserting that allowing same sex marriage would lead to inter-species marriage is just as valid as asserting that legalizing murder would cause an uptick in embezzlement–that is to say, the two events are wholly unrelated. Watch for these arguments, as they are wildly popular within illogical people.

9. Ad Hominem

Ad hominem literally means “to the man” in latin. Ad hominem statements aren’t arguments at all, but are personal attacks on an opponent’s character, personality, motivation, appearance, or other personal quality associated with them.

For instance, if your opponent says, “We should legalize same-sex marriage in order to promote equality between all people,” and you replied, “Well you’re a pinko, communist, who wears ugly shoes!” you would be guilty of committing an ad hominem attack. Your response did not address your opponent’s logic, premises, or conclusion, but rather it attacked the personal qualities of the opponent. This type of discourse is generally referred to as “mudslinging” in politics.

The people who use this are generally the ones who are on the losing side of the argument–when they run out of comebacks or defenses, they start trying to needlessly degrade their opponent’s character in front of the jury or audience to the debate. These sorts of attacks are wildly popular on cable news television stations and in badly-informed political debates.

What sorts of examples have you found of these logical fallacies? Interested in more? Go read part two