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Fallacies and Arguments


Zen & Understanding the Middle East

Sellers' Market
Will to Believe
Rules of Thumb

"The truth is out there "
Use & misuse of words
False information signals more false information
Technical whiz-bang
Understand the Context
Lies, More Lies, Damn Lies and Newspapers
Beware of Generalizations
Theology and scripture
Misleading Statistics
Smoke in your eyes
What is Missing?
Myth versus fact versus narrative
The past was not like the present; the future will be different

Fallacy Recognition in the Middle East

Fallacies and Arguments
Cause and Effect
Slippery Slope
Gambler's Fallacy
Ad Hominem
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Tradition
False Dilemma or Black and White Thinking
Special Pleading
The Spotlight Fallacy
Who is to Say?

Fallacy Handbook

Fallacies and Arguments

Reference: Fallacy Handbook

Deductive logic, or reasoning from first principles, was the generally accepted mode of argument in the Medieval times. Mathematical proofs are examples of deductive arguments. If the original axioms are true, and the reasoning is correct, the result must be correct. The original axioms are usually true by definition.

Inductive arguments are generally credited to Sir Francis Bacon. Unlike deductive ("top down") reasoning, induction first generalizes laws from regularly occurring phenomena. It is the basis of scientific reasoning. Inductive arguments are attempts to generalize laws based on individual cases. They are arguments based on gathering of facts and empirical proofs. There is no "logical" proof for such arguments. "The Sun will rise tomorrow" is not a logically necessary consequence of the fact that the Sun rose on previous days. Inductive logic should only lead to statements of probability. "The Sun will very probably rise tomorrow based on past experience" is a reasonable statement.

LaBossierre gives the following example of a valid inductive argument:

Premise 1: Most American cats are domestic house cats.

Premise 2: Bill is an American cat.

Conclusion: Bill is domestic house cat.

However, the conclusion is only probably true. Bill could be a mountain lion.

LaBossierre gives the following example of a fallacious inductive argument:

Premise 1: Having just arrived in Ohio, I saw a white squirrel.

Conclusion: All Ohio squirrels are white.

(While there are many, many squirrels in Ohio, the white ones are very rare).

Actually, it would be equally false to say all Ohio squirrels are white, even if you had seen 100 white squirrels. All you could say is that most of the squirrels you saw were white, and therefore probably most squirrels in Ohio are white.

We can never be absolutely certain about an inductive generalization. That means that any statement about the real world cannot be taken as "absolute truth." We are even less certain about the explanation for any generalization. We know that heavy bodies fall by watching many heavy bodies fall. Sir Isaac Newton explained this phenomenon as due to attraction of masses, and wrote equations that described it. These fit the behavior of cannon balls and apples falling on Newton's head very well, but were shown eventually to be incorrect for describing some other phenomena. That is why Albert Einstein's much more complex relativistic theory of gravity is now accepted. A statement that any explanation "must" be true has to be wrong.

The probabilistic nature of explanations of real world phenomena have given rise to a great deal of mischief however. It opens the way to legitimizing any theory and any explanation because "you can never know." However, while you can't know what did happen with absolute certainty, you can be fairly certain of what did not happen.

Deduction masked as induction - In political polemics, many arguments and "studies" that appear to be inductive arguments based on facts, are really deductive arguments based on dubious first premises that are either incorrect assertions of fact or simply value judgements, and the arguments tend to be circular.

Zionists are evil and want to steal the land of the Palestinians. Therefore, if they built a "security fence" it must have been done with the intent of stealing the land of the Palestinian Arabs. It is an apartheid Wall. The Zionists built an apartheid wall, and that proves they are evil and want to steal the land of the Palestinian Arabs.

Palestinian Arabs are evil and want to destroy Israel. Therefore, if they propose a peace plan, it must be a trick. The Palestinian Arabs have proposed a peace plan, therefore it must be another trick to destroy Israel.

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