Formal Critical Thinking Strategies and Techniques.

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( Please be sure to read my HW PDF!!!!! very carefully and carefully read it. VERY IMPORT!! T hat way you can get perfect marks for your answers. Thank you.

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This activity represents our next engagement with formal Critical Thinking strategies and techniques. Fallacious reasoning or the use of fallacies is when the logic of argument breaks down. We often get the feeling that ‘something is wrong’ when we are faced with such faulty logic. However, it takes critical focus and study of the various kinds of Fallacy to be able to effectively identify and articulate HOW the reasoning at hand is fallacious. The advantage of such skill and knowledge becomes particularly evident in counter-argument, as well as effective presentation of your own point of view/thesis statements. Public discourse in our society today, both online and on the ‘airwaves’, as well as in our everyday lives, is riddled with fallacious argumentation. Our attention to Fallacious Reasoning, here in ENG5, is meant to cultivate logical critical thinking that is relevant outside the classroom in myriad settings.

FALLACIES or Fallacious Reasoning

For each fallacy listed, there is a definition or explanation, an example, and a tip on how to avoid committing the fallacy in your own arguments. Read these very carefully, i.e. STUDY them and the examples provided. Subsequently, your HW assignment (at the bottom of this post) will be to examine Fallacies 1-21 and identify and explain the fallacy you think is at work. Remember fallacies are the dysfunction of logic in an argument, make sure you identify the fallacy that is associated with the statements illogic and explain why it is flawed. At the beginning of each answer, state the Fallacy you have chosen in BOLDS, then explain your choice with a few sentences. [Incorrectly numbered questions/un-bolded answers will receive point deductions]

[Descriptions from UNC Chapel Hill Writing Center]

Hasty generalization

Definition: Making assumptions about a whole group or range of cases based on a sample that is inadequate (usually because it is atypical or too small). Stereotypes about people (“librarians are shy and smart,” “wealthy people are snobs,” etc.) are a common example of the principle underlying hasty generalization.

Example: “My roommate said her philosophy class was hard, and the one I’m in is hard, too. All philosophy classes must be hard!” Two people’s experiences are, in this case, not enough on which to base a conclusion.

Tip: Ask yourself what kind of “sample” you’re using: Are you relying on the opinions or experiences of just a few people, or your own experience in just a few situations? If so, consider whether you need more evidence, or perhaps a less sweeping conclusion. (Notice that in the example, the more modest conclusion “Some philosophy classes are hard for some students” would not be a hasty generalization.)

Post hoc (also called false cause)

This fallacy gets its name from the Latin phrase “post hoc, ergo propter hoc,” which translates as “after this, therefore because of this.”

Definition: Assuming that because B comes after A, A caused B. Of course, sometimes one event really does cause another one that comes later—for example, if I register for a class, and my name later appears on the roll, it’s true that the first event caused the one that came later. But sometimes two events that seem related in time aren’t really related as cause and event. That is, correlation isn’t the same thing as causation.

Examples: “President Jones raised taxes, and then the rate of violent crime went up. Jones is responsible for the rise in crime.” The increase in taxes might or might not be one factor in the rising crime rates, but the argument hasn’t shown us that one caused the other.

Tip: To avoid the post hoc fallacy, the arguer would need to give us some explanation of the process by which the tax increase is supposed to have produced higher crime rates. And that’s what you should do to avoid committing this fallacy: If you say that A causes B, you should have something more to say about how A caused B than just that A came first and B came later.

Ad hominem

Definitions: the ad hominem (“against the person”) is a focus our attention on people rather than on arguments or evidence. The conclusion is usually “You shouldn’t believe So-and-So’s argument.” The reason for not believing So-and-So is that So-and-So is either a bad person (ad hominem). In an ad hominem argument, the arguer attacks his or her opponent instead of the opponent’s argument.

Examples: “Andrea Dworkin has written several books arguing that pornography harms women. But Dworkin is just ugly and bitter, so why should we listen to her?” Dworkin’s appearance and character, which the arguer has characterized so ungenerously, have nothing to do with the strength of her argument, so using them as evidence is fallacious.

Tip: Be sure to stay focused on your opponents’ reasoning, rather than on their personal character. (The exception to this is, of course, if you are making an argument about someone’s character—if your conclusion is “President Jones is an untrustworthy person,” premises about her untrustworthy acts are relevant, not fallacious.)

False Dilemma

Definition: In false dichotomy, the arguer sets up the situation so it looks like there are only two choices. The arguer then eliminates one of the choices, so it seems that we are left with only one option: the one the arguer wanted us to pick in the first place. But often there are really many different options, not just two—and if we thought about them all, we might not be so quick to pick the one the arguer recommends.

Example: “Caldwell Hall is in bad shape. Either we tear it down and put up a new building, or we continue to risk students’ safety. Obviously we shouldn’t risk anyone’s safety, so we must tear the building down.” The argument neglects to mention the possibility that we might repair the building or find some way to protect students from the risks in question—for example, if only a few rooms are in bad shape, perhaps we shouldn’t hold classes in those rooms.

Tip: Examine your own arguments: if you’re saying that we have to choose between just two options, is that really so? Or are there other alternatives you haven’t mentioned? If there are other alternatives, don’t just ignore them—explain why they, too, should be ruled out. Although there’s no formal name for it, assuming that there are only three options, four options, etc. when really there are more is similar to false dichotomy and should also be avoided.

Slippery slope

Definition: The arguer claims that a sort of chain reaction, usually ending in some dire consequence, will take place, but there’s really not enough evidence for that assumption. The arguer asserts that if we take even one step onto the “slippery slope,” we will end up sliding all the way to the bottom; he or she assumes we can’t stop partway down the hill.

Example: “Animal experimentation reduces our respect for life. If we don’t respect life, we are likely to be more and more tolerant of violent acts like war and murder. Soon our society will become a battlefield in which everyone constantly fears for their lives. It will be the end of civilization. To prevent this terrible consequence, we should make animal experimentation illegal right now.” Since animal experimentation has been legal for some time and civilization has not yet ended, it seems particularly clear that this chain of events won’t necessarily take place. Even if we believe that experimenting on animals reduces respect for life, and loss of respect for life makes us more tolerant of violence, that may be the spot on the hillside at which things stop—we may not slide all the way down to the end of civilization. And so we have not yet been given sufficient reason to accept the arguer’s conclusion that we must make animal experimentation illegal right now.

Like post hoc, slippery slope can be a tricky fallacy to identify, since sometimes a chain of events really can be predicted to follow from a certain action. Here’s an example that doesn’t seem fallacious: “If I fail English 101, I won’t be able to graduate. If I don’t graduate, I probably won’t be able to get a good job, and I may very well end up doing temp work or flipping burgers for the next year.”

Tip: Check your argument for chains of consequences, where you say “if A, then B, and if B, then C,” and so forth. Make sure these chains are reasonable.

False Analogy

Definition: Many arguments rely on an analogy between two or more objects, ideas, or situations. If the two things that are being compared aren’t really alike in the relevant respects, the analogy is a weak one, and the argument that relies on it commits the fallacy of weak analogy.

Example: “Guns are like hammers—they’re both tools with metal parts that could be used to kill someone. And yet it would be ridiculous to restrict the purchase of hammers—so restrictions on purchasing guns are equally ridiculous.” While guns and hammers do share certain features, these features (having metal parts, being tools, and being potentially useful for violence) are not the ones at stake in deciding whether to restrict guns. Rather, we restrict guns because they can easily be used to kill large numbers of people at a distance. This is a feature hammers do not share—it would be hard to kill a crowd with a hammer. Thus, the analogy is weak, and so is the argument based on it.

Tip: Identify what properties are important to the claim you’re making, and see whether the two things you’re comparing both share those properties.

Appeal to authority

Definition: Often we add strength to our arguments by referring to respected sources or authorities and explaining their positions on the issues we’re discussing. If, however, we try to get readers to agree with us simply by impressing them with a famous name or by appealing to a supposed authority who really isn’t much of an expert, we commit the fallacy of appeal to authority.

Example: “We should abolish the death penalty. Many respected people, such as actor Guy Handsome, have publicly stated their opposition to it.” While Guy Handsome may be an authority on matters having to do with acting, there’s no particular reason why anyone should be moved by his political opinions—he is probably no more of an authority on the death penalty than the person writing the paper.

Tip: There are two easy ways to avoid committing appeal to authority: First, make sure that the authorities you cite are experts on the subject you’re discussing. Second, rather than just saying “Dr. Authority believes X, so we should believe it, too,” try to explain the reasoning or evidence that the authority used to arrive at his or her opinion. That way, your readers have more to go on than a person’s reputation. It also helps to choose authorities who are perceived as fairly neutral or reasonable, rather than people who will be perceived as biased.

Straw man

Definition: One way of making our own arguments stronger is to anticipate and respond in advance to the arguments that an opponent might make. In the straw man fallacy, the arguer sets up a weak version of the opponent’s position and tries to score points by knocking it down. But just as being able to knock down a straw man (like a scarecrow) isn’t very impressive, defeating a watered-down version of your opponent’s argument isn’t very impressive either.

Example: “Feminists want to ban all pornography and punish everyone who looks at it! But such harsh measures are surely inappropriate, so the feminists are wrong: porn and its fans should be left in peace.” The feminist argument is made weak by being overstated. In fact, most feminists do not propose an outright “ban” on porn or any punishment for those who merely view it or approve of it; often, they propose some restrictions on particular things like child porn, or propose to allow people who are hurt by porn to sue publishers and producers—not viewers—for damages. So the arguer hasn’t really scored any points; he or she has just committed a fallacy.

Tip: Be charitable to your opponents. State their arguments as strongly, accurately, and sympathetically as possible. If you can knock down even the best version of an opponent’s argument, then you’ve really accomplished something.

Red herring

Definition: Partway through an argument, the arguer goes off on a tangent, raising a side issue that distracts the audience from what’s really at stake. Often, the arguer never returns to the original issue.

Example: “Grading this exam on a curve would be the most fair thing to do. After all, classes go more smoothly when the students and the professor are getting along well.” Let’s try our premise-conclusion outlining to see what’s wrong with this argument:

Premise: Classes go more smoothly when the students and the professor are getting along well.

Conclusion: Grading this exam on a curve would be the most fair thing to do.

When we lay it out this way, it’s pretty obvious that the arguer went off on a tangent—the fact that something helps people get along doesn’t necessarily make it more fair; fairness and justice sometimes require us to do things that cause conflict. But the audience may feel like the issue of teachers and students agreeing is important and be distracted from the fact that the arguer has not given any evidence as to why a curve would be fair.

Tip: Try laying your premises and conclusion out in an outline-like form. How many issues do you see being raised in your argument? Can you explain how each premise supports the conclusion?

Begging the question

Definition: A complicated fallacy; it comes in several forms and can be harder to detect than many of the other fallacies we’ve discussed. Basically, an argument that begs the question asks the reader to simply accept the conclusion without providing real evidence; the argument either relies on a premise that says the same thing as the conclusion (which you might hear referred to as “being circular” or “circular reasoning”), or simply ignores an important (but questionable) assumption that the argument rests on. Sometimes people use the phrase “beg the question” as a sort of general criticism of arguments, to mean that an arguer hasn’t given very good reasons for a conclusion, but that’s not the meaning we’re going to discuss here.

Examples: “Active euthanasia is morally acceptable. It is a decent, ethical thing to help another human being escape suffering through death.” Let’s lay this out in premise-conclusion form:

Premise: It is a decent, ethical thing to help another human being escape suffering through death.

Conclusion: Active euthanasia is morally acceptable.

If we “translate” the premise, we’ll see that the arguer has really just said the same thing twice: “decent, ethical” means pretty much the same thing as “morally acceptable,” and “help another human being escape suffering through death” means something pretty similar to “active euthanasia.” So the premise basically says, “active euthanasia is morally acceptable,” just like the conclusion does. The arguer hasn’t yet given us any real reasons why euthanasia is acceptable; instead, she has left us asking “well, really, why do you think active euthanasia is acceptable?” Her argument “begs” (that is, evades) the real question.

Tip: One way to try to avoid begging the question is to write out your premises and conclusion in a short, outline-like form. See if you notice any gaps, any steps that are required to move from one premise to the next or from the premises to the conclusion. Write down the statements that would fill those gaps. If the statements are controversial and you’ve just glossed over them, you might be begging the question. Next, check to see whether any of your premises basically says the same thing as the conclusion (but in different words). If so, you’re probably begging the question. The moral of the story: you can’t just assume or use as uncontroversial evidence the very thing you’re trying to prove.

Loaded Question

Definition: Ask a question that contains an assumption or unproven statement that must first be proven in order for the argument to stand, logically.

Example: Our society needs some urgent legislation against the court systems being too lenient on criminals. One cannot call for ‘urgent’ action, if the problem (“court systems being too lenient on criminals”) has not yet been credibly established. This argument tries to evade giving evidence of the problem and moves right on to advocating for new law. Like Post Hoc the relationship between Event or Fact A and Event of Fact B has not been adequately proven. These types of pronouncements are easy to counter if you can identify what has been ‘loaded’ into the statement, but is actually just an unproven assumption.

Tip: Look closely at your own argumentation and make sure that you have solid proof of every logical step and that you are not inadvertently (or purposely) basing your argument on something assumed or unproven.


Double Standard

Definition: Is what it sounds like—applying two different standard to the same thing. These may also appear as labeling or judging a similar or same act differently, or even basing that judgment on who, group or person, performs the act.

Example: The Nazis perpetrated genocide in Europe they sought to reclaim sole possession of what they considered ‘their lands.’ However, the United States westward expansion that dislocated and wiped out many Native American Tribe was just a new nation pursuing its Manifest Destiny and occupying newly discovered wilderness.

Tip: Any time there is judgment of two (or more) things in an argument or statement, be very clear what the parameters/criteria of that judgment/standard are and be sure to set aside any notion of bias or opinion. Logical judgment needs to be universally applicable within the given argument or topic and completely committed to subjective analysis.

Appeal to Pity/ Appeal to Fear

Definition: Calls, within the argument, not on logical reasoning, rather, attempts to win sympathy. Of course, not all arguments involving sympathy/empathy are faulty. Sometimes there is a legitimate call for action based on sympathy. It is when the logic breaks down, however, that a fallacious appeal takes hold. Similarly, there are times when fear, or danger, or insecurity are well founded, like: “If you never go to class, dude, …there’s a good chance you are going to fail!” (Unless it’s an ONLINE class, of course) …is good advice, and solid in its logic. However, when the logic is absent, like the Appeal to Pity, fallacy comes into play.


Pity: “I really need a good grade in this class, Professor, or I won’t get into my top choice university.”

Fear: “Every home needs a security system, preferably one connected to their mobile phone and the local police, our they are simply asking to be robbed.”

Tip: Remember to always be aware of using emotion in logical argumentation—it has its place, but must still be based on solid reasoning, not just distracting away from the point that is being proven and relying on the audience’s emotional response for support.

Poisoning the Well

Definition: Like the Loaded Question, this fallacy embeds false or unsupported logic in order to make its argument. In this case, one cannot disagree with the argument, without falling prey to a presupposition included within the statement. This fallacy basically forces the audience to agree with the argument or accept another argument or precondition. This is also a strategy of intimidation and one that precludes the possibility of any further discussion of the topic at hand.

Example: “Any reasonable citizen of this country will agree that businesses in a free market system should be regulated as little as possible.” In other words, if perhaps you believe that close regulation of industry is actually crucial to the efficient functioning of a society, you are an unreasonable person.

Works consulted

Hurley, Patrick J. A Concise Introduction to Logic. Thornson Learning, 2000

Lunsford, Andrea and John Ruszkiewicz. Everything’s an Argument. Bedford Books, 1998.

Copi, Irving M. and Carl Cohen. Introduction to Logic. Prentice Hall, 1998.


  1. Ever since I started taking those multivitamins, my grades have gotten much better.
  2. We either go out to eat and spend all our money, or we stay at home and cook and watch our savings grow.
  3. The cost of speeding tickets are going up, as well the price of car insurance; soon public transportation will be mandatory.
  4. This streak of freezing weather is caused by the non-stop low temperature.
  5. My friend’s son is doing jail time for his third burglary, you just can’t trust the youth these days.
  6. I don’t think that what you are saying with regard to changing the tax laws is very valid, after all we don’t have kings and queens anymore.
  7. Are we going to keep allowing people to abuse the welfare system and its benefits?
  8. I don’t think the graduate student’s argument is very compelling, especially given that she is arguing against what a professional economist has claimed.
  9. If you don’t work out every day and get in shape, and get some nicer clothes, …you’re never going to find romance.
  10. How can you possibly send this man back to prison, his mother is seriously ill.
  11. The Russian agents that came to our country are guilty of espionage, our government representatives were merely gathering intelligence.
  12. How can we trust what Mr. Kerouac has written in his article on strategies for women’s’ rights, when he is a man and has never spent a second of his life in situations that females confront every day.
  13. The people who want the assault weapons ban want to eradicate the Second Amendment.
  14. If you support the United States, then you will support the decisions of our President.
  15. If we are so worried about addiction, how come video games and social media don’t receive the same kind of intolerance and criticism as drug abuse? It has been scientifically proven that both are addictive.
  16. If we don’t allow the government to monitor internet usage and communications, then how will we prevent future terrorist attacks?
  17. Global Warming—what a joke! …It’s snowing outside, right now!
  18. I knew this guy from Germany who was a total fascist—I’m not surprised at their militant past.
  19. This recession will end or continue, depending on whether the economy bounces back, or not.
  20. First the Professor told us no late work would be accepted, then she added that all the homework assignments were required to pass the class, as well as fifty pages of reading per week! …What’s next, is she going to tell us to quit our jobs, just so we can pass this class?
  21. America: Love it or leave it!

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