Fallacies and generalizations of complex topics is common in today’s high-pace society. Even before the era of 24/7 news, it was often easier to persuade people to an action if the terms were simplified. Unfortunately, this simplification often mires debates, and those who have no cost to being wrong often burden others with the cost of making a wrong decision. As I have been reading Economic Facts and Fallacies (by Sowell), many of the common fallacies of today’s economics and culture situations are broken down to reveal possible causes, as well as the true causes.
For today’s post, common fallacies and generalizations will be defined, as well as an example of each. When debating with others, watch out for these fallacies and call them out when you are able to.
1. Ad hominem
One of the most common fallacies today, in which an argument is linked to a personal characteristic or belief to the opposition. It should not be confused with general name-calling or with legitimate concerns of the opposition’s motives for arguing.
Mark: Gay marriage is wrong. Susan: Well, to you it is because you are a Christian. Mark: All the reasons against have had nothing to do with religion. Susan: You are religious so it does not matter what your reasons are for not supporting gay marriage. 2. Argument from Authority
Simply put, an argument/statement is correct because someone with recognized authority (person or organization) has said it is correct or endorses the position. It is commonly seen in commercials, but also prevalent in areas of debate that do rely upon factual data. Arguments based on a person’s expertise must be heavily scrutinized, especially in the scientific and mathematical fields, which require non-biased data to support conclusions in experiments.
“Hi, I’m (Athlete) here to talk to you about the amazing advantages of using the Dental Pro-Product Extreme! Example 2:
Susan: Global Warming has not yet been conclusively proven to have been caused by human activities. Mark: 90% of scientists with the UN and many climate agencies around the world have agreed that man is the cause of this Warming. 3. Appeal to Emotion
The fallacy of appealing to emotion is broad, a person can appeal to fear, ridicule, or some positive benefit. Emotion though has not place in a debate based upon facts.
Mark: If we don’t support our troops, then our national security is at risk! Who really wants to let up security so terrorists can sneak through and harm us? 4. Correlation does not imply Causation
One of the biggest generalizations committed today is this one. Many of the fallacies in Sowell’s book revolve around this type of fallacy including various “discrimination” such as the gender-wage gap, and black-white income/education gap. The other problem with this generalization is that it generally applies broadly to a diverse group, such as “women”.
Mark: Women consistently earn 75 cents per dollar that men make doing the same jobs despite all the advances they have made over the years. Susan: Did you know that women, as a group, tend to choose jobs that are lower pay and have less hours? And that when compared individually, productivity differences due to time off from work explain the gap? 5. Slippery Slope
The bane of many internet debates and political debates is the slippery slope fallacy. It is often combined with other fallacies to make the argument stronger. In essence, the person will use this fallacy to say that a small event will cascade into ever larger events, typically against the wishes of the audience.
Susan: If we legalize prostitution, then drug use will increase. Which means more tax dollars will be needed to combat the rise in crime that will result, and schools will need to enforce stricter drug policies to protect children. Mark: Why not legalize drugs as well? Shouldn’t people be free to use their bodies as they please? Many, many, infinitely many more fallacies exist. Generalizations are also common when people are treated as a homogeneous group, such as the income differences amongst ethnic groups in the United States. Of course, at times fallacies and generalizations can be useful, if they are true and conform to reason, but for every-day usage, most are just to win the debate and shame the opponent one way or another.