10 common logical fallacies to avoid when making an argument
Do you quote expert claims in your arguments every time without validating them? Ever found people attacking the opponent’s traits instead of their arguments in a debate? Have you rejected any true claim because it was poorly argued?
If yes, you have encountered logical fallacies.
Logical fallacies are errors in your reasoning that weaken your argument and make it less convincing. It’s the use of invalid or faulty reasoning or wrong moves that can be proven wrong with the logic. And the worst part is that people don’t even recognize they are committing fallacies when committing them. This makes the arguments less persuasive and harms decision-making.
In this article, you’ll learn the 10 common logical fallacies to avoid so that you construct better arguments and make quality decisions.
1. Ad Hominem
Ad Hominem is when the listener attacks the opponent’s character instead of addressing the merits/demerits of the argument. Such people reject the idea based on a person’s ethnic background, physical appearance, or any non-relevant traits of the person rather than focusing on the core argument.
For example, if a remote worker makes an argument in favor of remote teams versus non-remote teams, and you respond with this,
“Of course, you’ll say that. You’re a remote worker.”
You’re committing an Ad Hominem fallacy.
As Paul Graham says, “If something’s wrong with the remote worker’s argument, you should say what that is; and if there isn’t, what difference does it make that he’s/she’s a remote worker.
(Paul Graham originally said ‘senator's’ in place of ‘remote worker's.’ I edited with the word remote worker to help you understand the point).
2. Straw Man
The straw man fallacy is when a person ignores the core argument and twists it to suit a personal narrative. This person presents an opposite conclusion and attacks it, as if that’s what the other person is claiming. The purpose of this is to make one’s argument stronger than it actually is.
For example, say Paul is proposing that a remote company should avoid unnecessary meetings because it’s productive. Sam would respond that he’s shocked Paul is against team-building and face-to-face communication.
3. Hasty generalization
A hasty generalization is drawing a general conclusion based on a small sample size (one or two examples). This person gathers insufficient evidence to justify his broad conclusions.
For example, if you surveyed 2 American customers, and they prefer zero customer service, you can’t say that American customers don’t want customer service.
4. Slippery slope
The slippery slope fallacy is when a person rejects a course of action because they insist (with little to no evidence) that it would lead to a series of bad outcomes.
For example, a manager saying this to his/her employee, “Today, you submitted the project 1 hour late, the next time you’ll submit it 1 week late, and someday you will stop completing your project altogether.”
5. False Dilemma (or False dichotomy)
A false dilemma is when someone presents limited options - often the two extremes (either/or) - when, in reality, more than two options exist. This puts the other person in a complicated situation and leaves no room for effective communication.
For example, a company advocating that for an employee to work from home, the only solution is that they will have to either accept a low salary or work extra hours. In reality, if the company does try, even remote workers can get a high salary and a healthy work-life balance.
6. Red herring
This fallacy specializes in diverting attention from the main issue by focusing instead on an issue having little to no relevance to the main topic. It’s often done to distract everyone from the topic that’s being discussed to avoid possible questions later.
Unlike the straw man fallacy, where the person tries to shift the opposition’s core argument, the red herring technique aims to shift the conversation to a new discussion.
Friend 1: “I hate that my company doesn’t offer remote work”
Friend 2: “At least you have a job. Just think of millions of unemployed people who don’t even have the luxury to think of remote versus non-remote. They would do everything to have a job like you. So, enjoy.”
7. The Texas Sharpshooter
The term is coined after a Texan randomly shoots at the barn wall and then paints a bullseye target at the closest bullet holes to show that he’s an accurate shooter.
A daily life example of this fallacy would be when a person cherry-picks data or a pattern to back their arguments. These people ignore the opposing data points.
8. Sunk cost
The sunk cost is a fallacy when a person continues to do the same thing just because they have already invested in it (in terms of money, effort, or time), even when it is clear that the abandonment would benefit them.
For example, an employee argues that the manager let them work on a project because they spent 3 months on it. But, the person ignores that doing so will pile up their other (uncompleted) tasks. Plus, avoid working on high-priority tasks that can boost their career.
9. Appeal to authority
Have you ever heard someone saying, “[The claim] is true because [an expert/authority] said so?” People use authoritative claims to legitimize their arguments. They don’t consider the qualifications of the authority.
For example, you shouldn’t believe a statement just because your boss said it. I’m not saying don’t believe your boss, but his authority stature shouldn’t be the reason you believe them. It should be because they back their statements with data and examples.
10. The fallacy fallacy
The fallacy fallacy is a phenomenon when someone rejects a true claim just because it was poorly argued or a fallacy had been made. This website said it best, “It is entirely possible to make a false claim yet argue with logical coherency for that claim, just as it is possible to make a true claim and justify it with various fallacies and poor arguments.”
For example, you recognized that your colleague committed a fallacy when they said we should work when we feel the most energized because an influencer said it was popular. But, if you reject the claim just because the colleague constructed their statement poorly, you’re committing the fallacy fallacy.
Learn, identify, and avoid these common logical fallacies
Everyone makes these logical fallacies at some point. But, now you can identify and avoid them. This will help you make strong arguments to support your claims, which will make you trustful.