Logic 101: Addressing the Fallacy in the Room

In this series of Logic 101, I’ve covered three common tendencies in identifying fallacies in an argument. In the first post, I discussed the problem of identifying fallacies willy-nilly. In this instance, one is familiar with fallacies in general, but lacks sufficient knowledge in the finer details. When identifying a fallacy, they more often than not incorrectly identify fallacies, or they identify a fallacy when the argument does not contain one.

In the second post, I addressed the problem of fallacious fallacies – misidentifying fallacies in an argument. And finally, the most recent post discusses the error of the fallacy mic-drop, where someone correctly identifies a fallacy, but does nothing by way of explaining it or correcting it. The three errors I address are easy to make when analyzing or answering an argument, and if not corrected, can discredit or invalidate your own argument.How, then, do you explain and correct the fallacy? The process may sound more difficult than it actually is. The first thing to do is to point to the specific part of the argument that is fallacious. By pointing the audience to a specific part of the erroneous arguments helps them to “see” what you are referring to. Failure to make this connection explicit leaves the audience unclear as to what you are thinking. Further, it allows the audience to judge for themselves whether your claim is valid or not.

In addition to pointing the audience to the fallacious part of the argument, explain how it commits a fallacy. For instance, if the arguer commits the straw man fallacy, in what way does he oversimplify the issue at hand? What aspects does he ignore that, if he had considered them, would impact his claim? If the arguer commits the red herring fallacy, where is the point of departure from the real issue, and how is the point of departure irrelevant? Do not leave it up to your audience to infer the connection between your claim and the infected part of the argument; rather, make the connection explicit so that the audience is certain of how you arrived at your claim.

Finally, offer a corrective to the fallacious argument. In light of the errors you point out, how then does your argument provide a better alternative to what the opponent neglects or misrepresents? Or, how do the errors affect the arguer’s overall argument that renders it ineffective? In short, provide a “filling” for the cavity you drilled out, such that the overall support for your argument is enhanced and bolstered.

Before closing out this mini-series on fallacies, it should be noted that the steps provided above also apply to critiquing arguments of those with which you agree. If it comes to your attention that someone who holds to the same claim that you do presents a fallacious argument, pointing out, explaining, and correcting the fallacy can help aid ensure that those like-minded avoid a similar error in argumentation and to hold each other accountable in the pursuit of truth.

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