What Logical Fallacies Are (And How They Can Limit Your Growth)
Imagine you’re a kid running a lawn-mowing service for your neighbors. You do a great job, and your customers love you. However, there’s one neighbor with a ruined prized rose bush, and he’s blaming you for it.
Being a responsible person, you walk over and explain to him the rose bush was in perfect state the last time you came by. In fact, he checked out the garden himself before paying you for it, so there’s no evidence against you.
If your neighbor is a reasonable man, he’ll agree that he can’t blame you without any evidence and nothing is linking you to the crime. He’ll have to look for another culprit and call it a day, so you can walk away without worries. However, what if he isn’t the kind of man to let logic and evidence stand in the way of what he believes? He could accuse you of ruining his roses, and lying to him because you’re a “No good, spoiled millennial!”
On top of being offensive, this is a prime example of a logical fallacy – an ‘ad hominem’ attack, in this case. This occurs when someone tears you down instead of your argument since they can’t counter it, and is just one simple example of a logical fallacy.
The truth is, they’re more common than you might think. If you can’t recognize logical fallacies, you might fall prey to them, which can affect you in several ways:
- They’ll lead you to the wrong conclusions.
- They might cause you to butt heads with friends or coworkers.
- You get accustomed to ignoring evidence and reason, which is highly dangerous.
Running into a logical fallacy can be highly frustrating since people will often stick to their guns even if you explain why they’re wrong. However, there’s no reason you should fall into the same trap.
7 of the Most Common Logical Fallacies (And How to Spot Them)
There are way more than seven types of logical fallacies. However, these are the most common reasoning inconsistencies you’ll come across. For each one, we’ll discuss how it works, break down an example, and talk about how to avoid falling into the trap.
1. Appeal to Authority
Usually, we rely on experts to tell us what to think about a variety of topics. There’s way too much information in existence for us to have an informed opinion on everything going on. This means it’s only logical we defer to more knowledgeable folk in some cases.
This is usually okay, as long as the person in question is an expert in the field he or she is talking about. However, a lot of people fall into the trap of believing that just because someone in a position of power makes a statement, it must be true. For example:
Jane’s husband is the CEO of an engineering firm, and he told me the problem with our car is probably the radiator, so we should look into replacing it.
Jane’s husband could be an expert in cars, for all we know. However, we’re deferring to his authority here because he’s an engineering CEO.
To avoid this fallacy, you need to ask yourself two questions when you run into an argument:
- Does the person have any expertise in the field they’re discussing?
- Can their argument stand on its own or does it rely on their reputation alone?
If the answer to either of those questions is “No”, then take a closer look at the point they’re trying to push through. It may not be of any value after all.
2. False Dilemma
When there’s a disagreement in a discussion, there’s usually a middle ground to keep both parties happy. However, there are cases where when someone is faced with an argument, they’ll try to pull out what’s called a ‘false dilemma.’ In other words, they’ll assert that there are only two possibilities – one of which being downright terrible – to make you agree with them:
We can either order pizza or we can pick up something from the trash for dinner.
Naturally, if you have to choose between pizza or literal garbage, you’re going to go with the former. Of course, this is an exaggerated example, but it does give you a clear picture of the fallacy.
In this case, the logical resolution would be to order something else you’re all happy with eating. Fortunately, this type of fallacy is easy enough to recognize because it leans towards the extreme. If you run into it, try disarming the situation by simply suggesting a third option.
3. Ad Hominem
We briefly discussed this type of logical fallacy earlier, but let’s dig in a little more. Here’s what an ad hominem attack usually looks like:
I don’t believe what you’re telling me about user experience design, because I think you’re a horrible person.
Imagine presenting someone with evidence about UX design, citing studies, linking to articles, and more. However, rather than carry on the discussion based on the facts presented, the comeback is that you’re wrong because of a personal feeling towards you.
This is a great example of an ad hominem attack, and it’s usually tough to change their minds in this situation. To avoid this fallacy, you need to be mindful about the way you react when people you don’t like try to argue with you. It might be they’re right and you’re refusing to see it just because of your preconceptions.
4. Straw Man
The ‘straw man’ fallacy is particularly frustrating to deal with, because it seeks to misrepresent your arguments. This essentially involves you trying to make a point, and the responder twists your words to fit their narrative, which is difficult to counter. For example:
John: I think our site might be due for a redesign, as we’ve had the same one for a few years.
Tom: So you’re saying that the whole development team are lazy and have been sitting on their hands the entire time?
Usually, waiting a few years between redesigns is pretty standard for a website. In some cases, you can put it off even longer if it’s still looking current. In this case, the proper answer would’ve been along the lines of “I think it’s unnecessary, because it’s still current.”
However, by blowing up the original statement and distorting it, your opponent has set up a straw man fallacy. To avoid this, you want to keep an open mind and consider each argument on its own merits, without turning it on its head or distorting it.
5. Slippery Slope
The slippery slope is very popular, but not due to its name. This occurs when you’re faced with an argument, and you instantly jump to a conclusion that’s almost the ‘worst-case’ scenario. Here’s what it looks like in action:
If you don’t buy me a PS4 all my friends are going to stop wanting to hang out with me, I’ll end up failing school, and living under a bridge.
While PlayStations are indeed fun, you’d be hard pressed to prove that not having one has ever resulted in homelessness.
Here’s another variant:
If we expand to a new location, the company will go bankrupt and we’ll all end up on the breadline.
It could very well be that an expansion would bankrupt this hypothetical company. However, it’s clear this person went a bit too far by jumping ahead to a situation where the entire workforce is destitute.
To avoid this fallacy, you want to keep your counterarguments grounded in reality. Exaggerating the situation only makes it look like you don’t know what you’re talking about, so don’t fall into the trap!
6. Causal Fallacy
The causal fallacy is one of the most well known. You may have alternatively heard of it as ‘correlation equals causation.’ This means you may be attributing an event or a result to a cause bearing no correlation with it. Let’s give you an example:
A black cat crossed my path yesterday, which is why I had a traffic accident today.
In truth, there are a hundred reasons why you may have gotten involved in a traffic accident. However, by incorrectly assuming the black cat was the cause, you’re committing a causal fallacy.
This fallacy is common because we tend to connect events in our mind, even if they bear no relation. Consider karma, for example. A lot of people believe if you do good things, they will circle back to you. For instance, if you save a puppy from an oncoming car, then win the lottery shortly afterward, you might establish a correlation between both events.
That would be silly, of course, but it’s the way our brains work sometimes. To avoid this fallacy, you need to ask yourself if event A really could’ve led to B. If you can’t find a logical connection between both, it’s usually a fallacy.
Often, we end up believing things that aren’t true, simply to go along with a group. This is called a ‘bandwagon’ or majority fallacy. Since so many people believe something, it must be true, even if it doesn’t make sense. For example:
There are thousands of members of our organization and we’re all in agreement that the earth is flat.
Bandwagon fallacies aren’t always so obvious, though. For example, you could convince yourself a movie or a book is good just because it’s popular. Or while you may have evidence to categorically prove a point, if everyone else disagrees, you could figure that they must be right.
To avoid the bandwagon fallacy, there’s a simple solution. You just need to examine arguments based on their merits and not who and how many people agree with them.
If you’re immune to reason, you won’t get far in the workforce. One key component of success is to be able to listen to an argument and analyze it on its merits. However, it’s hard to do if you’ve fallen into the trap of a logical fallacy.
Some logical fallacies are tough to spot, such as the bandwagon, the slippery slope, and the straw man. Despite their funny names, if you fall prey to logical fallacies, it can end up affecting your judgment and leading you to make terrible decisions. This means you need to rein in your emotional investment, and apply a healthy dose of logic and common sense to get a good outcome for you.
What do you think is the most common logical fallacy people fall prey to? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!