Why should you care about fallacies?

Well, studying fallacies is an important part of logic and one that can immediately enrich your life. It will help you develop the vocabulary and skills needed to better evaluate the arguments of politicians, neighbors, advertisers, authorities, and people who loved you before you began studying logic.

In my classes, I emphasize the study of fallacies early because they outline the “rules of philosophy." Much of philosophy is about idenitfying and evaluating arguments... and studying fallacies can help you do both better.

Knowing the fallacies is also a mark of a well educated mind and it greatly enriches the quality of philosophical discussions. For example, imagine a student argues that “it is good to eat animals because it is natural to do so.” Instead of getting bogged down in a vague argument about naturalness, another student could simply ask, “Why isn’t that the appeal to nature fallacy?” In short, students who studied both formal and informal fallacies can more easily engage in philosophy at the highest levels. 

Imagine too visiting a rich forest like the Amazon. Most of us will simply see a “bunch of green,” but a botanist will see the many different types of leaves. She will understand their similarities and differences and be able to tell us which leaves are safe to eat. In a similar way, some people think of fallacies as “a bunch of bad arguments." They cannot distinguish among the fallacies and are lost, though they may not know it.  While it is true that all fallacies are faulty inferences, each fallacy is different and knowing the name and pattern of each can clarify your thinking, improve your debating skills, and help you better discover truth. If you are one of my students, you should be able to compare and contrast the fallacies, define and give examples of each, recognize them in readings and classroom discussions, and distinguish between formal and informal fallacies. 

In Chapter 12, we will cover formal fallacies. These fallacies have a form that is always and absolutely fallacious/invalid whereas informal fallacies have a form that is sometimes nonfallacious. Learning the formal fallacies is far more beneficial than most people realize. 

Even if you are not interested in philosophy, studying fallacies will help you better evaluate all kinds of arguments. 

As a side note, the fallacy I am most guilty of is cherry picking.  Of course, committing fallacies is not always a bad thing. We are all human and recognizing our fallacious tendencies and cognitive biases can make us more human.

Paul Stearns

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