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This is part one of a two-part series. Check out examples of Ad Hominem, Begging the Question, Non-Sequitur, and Straw Man in part two.
When I hear a politician vehemently spew illogical reasoning in order to try to get their point across my stomach flips over and my knuckles clench. Not only are they using poor deductive reasoning, but I know so many people are obediently nodding their heads in agreement because their speechwriters make the argument sound appealing. “No!” I yell at the radio as NPR interviews a senator who bathes in fallacious arguments.
There are many persuasive tools available to an arguer, but some forms of reasoning are stronger than others. Whether or not a conclusion is true, the argument used can still be fallacious. A fallacy is an argument that uses poor logical form but disguises itself as a valid, logical argument by sounding appealing.
There are many fallacies used every day in advertisements, political debates, and other forms of persuasion. You may not realize you’re encountering a fallacy when you hear one. I’ll be introducing you to the most popular fallacies through this series. Here are the first four you can get to know so you won’t be fooled when someone tries to convince you through fallacious reasoning.
This is a common fallacy in which an arguer assumes that one thing must lead to an extreme other, therefore the first thing must be avoided. Though there may be gradual steps leading to the final negative occurrence, the steps usually aren’t logical.
The series of Direct TV commercials are a great example of the slippery slope fallacious argument:
The premise of this advertisement is that when you choose cable instead of Direct TV, you will eventually sell your hair to a wig shop. All of the gradual steps between lead you to this demise, but nonetheless they are not logical steps. This commercial is intended to be funny and ridiculous, highlighting the outrageousness of the slippery slope fallacy.
Post hoc, short for post hoc ergo propter hoc means “after this, therefore because of this.” It is the assumption that because one thing occurred after another, then it must have occurred because of it. This uses fallacious logic that just because two things happened in sequential order, the first thing caused the second thing to happen. This is a dangerous assumption because it concludes that the first thing that happened will always make the second thing happen.
For example, this Bud Light commercial uses the premise that compulsive superstitious habits cause fans’ favorite teams to win.
With the closing line, “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work,” Bud Light perpetuates the notion that superstitious habits are the main cause of victory or defeat.
Appeal to authority is probably one of the most popular forms of a persuasive strategy in advertisements. After all, celebrity endorsements usually carry a singer, actor, or professional athlete’s career.
Appeal to authority is the assumption that a person perceived as an authority says something, and therefore it must be true. The person may not be an expert on the subject, or the claim is wrong, but the opposing arguer is still lead to believe the claim is true.
Go Daddy is famous for their celebrity endorsed TV commercials. The action-star, Jean-Claude Van Damme endorses Go Daddy in this commercial.
Though Van Damme is not a website domain expert, his celebrity status is used to advertise Go Daddy domain names and business success.
Much like the appeal to authority, the ad populum fallacy appeals to popularity. The premise is that an idea is popular therefore, it is correct. Even though many of us were warned in our youth not to follow the crowd, it is undoubtedly the driving force in many adult lives.
This Modern Warfare Two commercial plays on the idea that “everybody is doing it.”
“There’s over 20 million people doing it now, so it’s safe to say that everyone is doing it.” A mix of innuendo and sarcasm, this clever commercial entices the viewer to want to know what everyone is doing.
Fallacies are dangerous persuasive tools because they often sound so appealing. However, these poor logical arguments aim for cheap reasoning and complacent acquiescence. Don’t get fooled by these arguments. Instead, stay tuned to learn more about fallacies so you can avoid them when you try to persuade someone through debate in the future.