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*Some of these glossary definitions have been adapted and reproduced by
permission of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,
Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2002 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Fallacies of Cause
misidentification of the
cause An error that occurs in causal situations
when identification of the cause and the effect are unclear.
post hoc ergo
propter hoc “After it, therefore
because if it”; refers to situations in which, because two things occur close
together in time, an assumption is made that one causes the other.
questionable cause A fallacy that occurs when someone presents
a causal relationship for which no real evidence exists.
A causal fallacy that asserts that one undesirable action will inevitably
lead to a worse action, which will necessarily lead to a worse one still,
all the way down the slippery slope to a terrible disaster at the bottom.
Fallacies of Relevance
appeal to authority
A type of fallacious thinking in which the argument is intended to persuade
through the appeal to various authorities with legitimate expertise in the
area in which they are advising.
appeal to fear
An argument in which the conclusion being suggested is supported by a reason
invoking fear and not by a reason that provides evidence for the conclusion.
appeal to flattery
A source of fallacious reasoning designed to influence the thinking of others
by appealing to their vanity as a substitute for providing relevant evidence
to support a point of view.
appeal to ignorance
An argument in which the person offering the conclusion calls upon his or
her opponent to disprove the conclusion. If the opponent is unable to do
so, then the conclusion is asserted to be true.
appeal to personal
attack A fallacy that occurs when
the issues of the argument are ignored and focus is instead directed to the
personal qualities of the person making the argument in an attempt to discredit
the argument. Also referred to as the ad hominem argument (“to the
man” rather than to the issue) or “poisoning the well.”
appeal to pity
An argument in which the reasons offered to support the conclusions are designed
to invoke sympathy toward the person involved.
appeal to tradition
A misguided way of reasoning that argues that a practice or way of thinking
is “better” or “right” simply because it is older, traditional, or has “always
been done that way.”
fallacy that relies on the uncritical acceptance of others’ opinions because
“everyone believes it.”
begging the question
A circular fallacy that assumes in the premises of the
argument that the conclusion about to be made is already true. Also known
as “circular reasoning.”
A fallacy that is committed by introducing an irrelevant topic in order to
divert attention for the original issue being discussed. Also known as “Smoke
Screen” and “Wild Goose Chase.”
A fallacy in which a point of view is attacked by first creating a “straw
man” version of the position and then “knocking down” the straw man created.
The fallacy lies in that the straw man does not reflect an accurate representation
of the position being challenged.
two wrongs make
a right A fallacy that attempts
to justify a morally questionable action by arguing that it is a response
to another wrong action, either real or imagined.