Rhetorical Fallacies; an illustrated guide

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Rhetorical Fallacies; an illustrated guide

Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Caissa

Are you trying to encourage more of this behaviour, Catchfire? Wink

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Caissa, if I didn't have rhetorical fallacies, I'd have no fallacies at all.

Caissa

Super! I planned on appealing to you as my authority.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Caissa wrote:
Super! I planned on appealing to you as my authority.

6079_Smith_W

The most stunning thing on their home page.... that PJ Harvey's Let England Shake is the top album for 2011 (not in north america, obviously). A testament to the fact that some do have their brains engaged, and that there is hope for the world yet.

 

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Yes, Winston. Hope--of course, hope. Hope without end. Only not for us...

Fidel

Thank god now we don't have to endure Bushy shibboleths about "surprise" terror attacks - steel frame buildings demolishing themselves - and weak conspiracy theories built around pious Muslim vendetta specialists, or those who were once with us but then went against us, like a father goes against the son on 9/11. We can defer them and their antisemitic pro US war propaganda to this thread for reference.

DaveW

it must be true, Fidel said it ...

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

 

Yes, Sven. That would be a logical fallacy. Which is why I usually say that if individual Z is a member of [oppressive] class X, then individual Z benefits from and is complicit with the oppression enacted by said class.

Are you referring to something specific?

Sven Sven's picture

Isn't the fallacy of Division employed routinely by people who make a judgment about an individual member of any given class of people of which that individual is a member? Example: Class X oppresses Class Y.  Individual Z is a member of Class X. Therefore, Individual Z is an oppressor of Class Y. 

Likewise with respect to the fallacy of Composition, although the chart incorrectly describes that fallacy in a critical way: The fallacy of "Composition" means : "Assuming that the characteristics or beliefs of some or all of a group applies [sic] to the entire group."  If a characteristic does, in fact, apply to "all" members of a group, then there is no fallacy. Rather than "or all," the chart should have said "or many" or even "or most". 

Sven Sven's picture

Catchfire wrote:

Yes, Sven. That would be a logical fallacy. Which is why I usually say that if individual Z is a member of [oppressive] class X, then individual Z benefits from and is complicit with the oppression enacted by said class.

Before an individual can be "complicit" in something with others, that individual must consciously and affirmatively choose to do something with others (e.g., one cannot be "complicit" in a crime with others if one is unaware of the crime, does not choose to participate in the crime, and is only involved by happenstance).  If Individual Z is a member (but not by choice) of Class X, which is generally engages in oppressive behavior, but is completely unaware of that behavior, then Individual Z cannot be "complicit" in that behavior.  Individual Z may "benefit" from the behavior of other members of Class X by virtue of Individual Z's membership in Class X, but not necessarily so (to assert that would be to commit the fallacy of Division).

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Quote:
Before an individual can be "complicit" in something with others, that individual must consciously and affirmatively choose to do something with others (e.g., one cannot be "complicit" in a crime with others if one is unaware of the crime, does not choose to participate in the crime, and is only involved by happenstance).

Why not?

Unionist

Catchfire wrote:

[To Sven:] Are you referring to something specific?

Of course not. That would be committing the [url=http://zimmer.csufresno.edu/~davidz/ns4/f02/finalstudyguide-prelim.html]... of specificity[/url].

 

Sven Sven's picture

Catchfire wrote:

Quote:
Before an individual can be "complicit" in something with others, that individual must consciously and affirmatively choose to do something with others (e.g., one cannot be "complicit" in a crime with others if one is unaware of the crime, does not choose to participate in the crime, and is only involved by happenstance).

Why not?

I think there are two necessary aspects of the word “complicit”: (1) at individual knows of the behavior of others (and chooses to assist that behavior in some way – either by act or omission) and is, therefore, (2) responsible in some degree for that behavior (for to say that an individual is “complicit” in the behavior of others is, at the very least, to say that the individual is morally responsible in some way for that behavior – otherwise, why not just say the individual was neutrally “involved,” like a person is involved in an accident but not necessarily responsible in any way for the accident, other than just being there?).

On what basis would you hold an individual morally responsible for the behavior of others if that individual is not even aware of that behavior?

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Complicity and responsibility are two related, but different concepts. I would say that complicity falls under the larger semantic umbrella of responsibility, denoting passive responsibility or having a complex relationship with responsibility.

As for knowledge, that is also a complex concept, but in this instance it's a fairly simple distinction. To use your crime analogy, if I have agreed to pick my friend up at the local 7-11, and he comes running out of the store with a gun and paper bag in his hands, jumps in, and after I drop him off at home he gives me $500 in cash for the favour, I would say my ignorance does not abrogate my complicty in the crime he clearly committed. So what counts as knowledge here? In terms of the discourses of class, race, gender or other privilege, to which your analogy cearly refers, the evidence of its benefit is in plain sight. To what degree should we absolve those who continue to reap the benefits of privilege while claimed ignorance of its power and presence?

Unionist

Sven wrote:

On what basis would you hold an individual morally responsible for the behavior of others if that individual is not even aware of that behavior?

Ignorance can originate in negligence or lack of reasonable diligence (otherwise known as willful blindness). And once there is knowledge (or once there reasonably ought to be knowledge), then "complicity" doesn't require participation or profit - it can just involve failure to report or take reasonable measures to prevent the behaviour.

 

Sven Sven's picture

Catchfire wrote:

Complicity and responsibility are two related, but different concepts. I would say that complicity falls under the larger semantic umbrella of responsibility, denoting passive responsibility or having a complex relationship with responsibility.

I'm not sure what "passive responsibility" means in the absence of any knowledge about the behavior the individual is being held responsible for.

Catchfire wrote:

As for knowledge, that is also a complex concept, but in this instance it's a fairly simple distinction. To use your crime analogy, if I have agreed to pick my friend up at the local 7-11, and he comes running out of the store with a gun and paper bag in his hands, jumps in, and after I drop him off at home he gives me $500 in cash for the favour, I would say my ignorance does not abrogate my complicty in the crime he clearly committed. So what counts as knowledge here?

You're correct -- "knowledge" can be on a continuum.  But, in your example, a reasonable person, with the knowledge of the facts that you gave, would likely conclude that a crime had just occurred.  But, let's say that you picked up your friend and gave him a ride as he was walking down the street and just dropped him off at home in return for a "Thanks!" -- unknown to you was the fact that he had just turned the corner from getting away from the cops when you happened to see him and give him a ride.  In giving him that assistance, without any knowledge or indication of a crime, are you "complicit" in that crime, simply because you help him in that endeavor?

Catchfire wrote:

In terms of the discourses of class, race, gender or other privilege, to which your analogy cearly refers, the evidence of its benefit is in plain sight. To what degree should we absolve those who continue to reap the benefits of privilege while claimed ignorance of its power and presence?

I think you are saying that the evidence is obvious for all to know, whether a person is thoughtful or not, and that the requisite knowledge for "complicity" is known and understood by everyone.  But, there are vast swathes of people in this world who never even think about things like this, CF.

My larger point is this: There are people across the political spectrum who hold the conviction that their views are based on "common sense" and on evidence that is in "plain sight" and that their views are based on reason and logic -- while those who hold other views lack all of those things.

In fact, I think most political disagreements have little, if anything, to do with "logic".  Rather, those disagreements are essentially a clash of competing self-interests -- and the tool of the clash is largely just raw power.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Sven wrote:

Example: Class X oppresses Class Y.  Individual Z is a member of Class X. Therefore, Individual Z is an oppressor of Class Y.

There's no logical fallacy here. All you are doing is denying the antecedent - i.e., denying the truth of the statement that Class X oppresses Class Y, and asserting as an alternative that "Some members of Class X oppress Class Y", which would make the rest of the syllogism fallacious.

Fidel

Sven wrote:
On what basis would you hold an individual morally responsible for the behavior of others if that individual is not even aware of that behavior?
 

If the person is an owner in or a high ranking official in a corporation, and one of their employees commits a crime against the public, or caused injury to another party, or a crime against known environmental laws which they should have been aware of while in his or her charge or employ, then I think that person could be held legally responsible regardless of whether they were aware of it happening. But don't quote me because there will be instances where the person or corporation was punished for the crime by legal equivalents of slaps on wrists. 

As long as it can be proven that a duty of care was owed to the victim or the public, and that a duty of care was breached, then I believe that person or group could be held liable under Canadian law.

MegB

Good point Fidel.  I would also add that an individual who is lacking the intellectual ability to understand the event or behaviour as "wrong", then there is room for doubt.

While I recognize that you're playing devil's advocate Sven, your argument borders on what I believe is the worst of relativism.

Fidel

Rebecca West wrote:

I would also add that an individual who is lacking the intellectual ability to understand the event or behaviour as "wrong", then there is room for doubt.

Room for doubt, good point. And there are companies and munipicalities, non-profits etc that employ people with different abilities.

Sven Sven's picture

M. Spector wrote:

Sven wrote:

Example: Class X oppresses Class Y.  Individual Z is a member of Class X. Therefore, Individual Z is an oppressor of Class Y.

There's no logical fallacy here. All you are doing is denying the antecedent - i.e., denying the truth of the statement that Class X oppresses Class Y, and asserting as an alternative that "Some members of Class X oppress Class Y", which would make the rest of the syllogism fallacious.

Not necessarily.  You could say that the group of people called "Americans" oppress some countries militarily.  But, that would not be true of each and every American.  Just because the class, generally, may behave in a certain way doesn't mean that every single member of the class behaves in the same way.  Same with Germans in WWII.  Same with the Communist Party in the USSR (it's unlikely that all party members were in favor of the use of the gulags).

That's the whole point of the fallacy:  Just because members of a particular group or class generally behave in a certain manner does not mean that each individual member of that class also behaves in that same manner.

Sven Sven's picture

Rebecca West wrote:

Good point Fidel.  I would also add that an individual who is lacking the intellectual ability to understand the event or behaviour as "wrong", then there is room for doubt.

While I recognize that you're playing devil's advocate Sven, your argument borders on what I believe is the worst of relativism.

RW, are you specifically referring to this quote?

Sven wrote:

In fact, I think most political disagreements have little, if anything, to do with "logic".  Rather, those disagreements are essentially a clash of competing self-interests -- and the tool of the clash is largely just raw power.

I don't think there are such things as absolute rights and absolute wrongs.  People, through one type of political mechanism or another, determine what is "right" and what is "wrong".

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Sven wrote:

Not necessarily.  You could say that the group of people called "Americans" oppress some countries militarily.  But, that would not be true of each and every American.

Once again, you are not talking about a logical fallacy. You are quibbling with the truth of the antecedent.

And the antecedent you are proposing (that all Americans are military oppressors of other countries) is demonstrably untrue. Therefore no reliably true conclusion can be drawn, even if no logical fallacy has been committed.

All cows are brown.
Elsie is a cow.
Therefore Elsie is brown.

Perfectly logical, and fallacy-free. Only problem is that the first statement is false. Therefore the conclusion is at best unreliable (Elsie may well in fact be a brown cow, but this syllogism doesn't prove that to be the case).

 

Fidel

I'm thinking Sven's propositions could be written another way:

P: Americans oppress Iraqis.

Q: Noam Chomsky is an American.

P & Q: Therefore Noam Chomsky oppresses Iraqis.

See truth table for propositions reduced to letters P & Q.

According to the truth table above, each of the two propositions, P and Q, can have two possible values, true or false, giving four possible combinations.
The only way that P can be AND'd with Q and result in a compound true statement is if both P and Q are each true. Equating true and false to numerals 1 and 0: T=1 and F=0, a logical AND operation can be done on each row. ie. multiply P times Q. If the product is 0, then false. If the product is 1, then true.

I'm thinking that Sven's original proposition, P, is fallacious. Not all Americans oppress Iraqis. Noam Chomsky is a member of a unique subset of the superset of all Americans. All Americans would necessarily include warfiteering militarists and those who profit by immoral wars. Noam Chomsky is a member of the subset of libertarians. Are all libertarians like Noam Chomsky? Not really.

Chomsky belongs to a unique subset of Americans who sometimes refer to themselves as libertarians. And Chomsky belongs to an even smaller subset of those known as socialists. Or maybe I have that worded wrong. Anyway, this is looking more like a Russian lesson in math for me. Carry on... Smile

6079_Smith_W

Meh...

Most people have rules and formulae to help them figure out how others think and act, and they work pretty good much of the time. But they don't always work,  particularly when they are being used as a sword, rather than a shield, the way they are supposed to. 

On another note, I have been trying to dig up a video (which I may have posted before) which covers similar issues of  fallacies and irrational beliefs. It is doubly interesting because while it is very instructive, it contains a few fallacies of its own.

Still looking.

 

 

 

MegB

Sven wrote:

Rebecca West wrote:

Good point Fidel.  I would also add that an individual who is lacking the intellectual ability to understand the event or behaviour as "wrong", then there is room for doubt.

While I recognize that you're playing devil's advocate Sven, your argument borders on what I believe is the worst of relativism.

RW, are you specifically referring to this quote?

Sven wrote:

In fact, I think most political disagreements have little, if anything, to do with "logic".  Rather, those disagreements are essentially a clash of competing self-interests -- and the tool of the clash is largely just raw power.

I don't think there are such things as absolute rights and absolute wrongs.  People, through one type of political mechanism or another, determine what is "right" and what is "wrong".

I suppose your point would be well taken if morality were either relativisim or absolutism with nothing in between, but since it isn't, and no one here has claimed such, I would say the above is an excellent example of the Straw Man Argument.

Sven Sven's picture

Rebecca West wrote:

I suppose your point would be well taken if morality were either relativisim or absolutism with nothing in between, but since it isn't, and no one here has claimed such, I would say the above is an excellent example of the Straw Man Argument.

Huh?

You noted, "your argument borders on what I believe is the worst of relativism."

I then attempted to explain my view of "relativism" -- I explained that I don't think that "right" and "wrong" are absolute...they are relative ("People, through one type of political mechanism or another, determine what is "right" and what is "wrong".").

I didn't construct a strawman argument.

Sven Sven's picture

M. Spector wrote:

Sven wrote:

Not necessarily.  You could say that the group of people called "Americans" oppress some countries militarily.  But, that would not be true of each and every American.

Once again, you are not talking about a logical fallacy. You are quibbling with the truth of the antecedent.

And the antecedent you are proposing (that all Americans are military oppressors of other countries) is demonstrably untrue. Therefore no reliably true conclusion can be drawn, even if no logical fallacy has been committed.

All cows are brown.
Elsie is a cow.
Therefore Elsie is brown.

Perfectly logical, and fallacy-free. Only problem is that the first statement is false. Therefore the conclusion is at best unreliable (Elsie may well in fact be a brown cow, but this syllogism doesn't prove that to be the case).

Implicit in the fallacy of Division is that a group generally has a certain characteristic (but not 100% of the individuals who compose the group have that characteristic).  If 100% of the individuals who compose the group in fact have that characteristic, then that fallacy wouldn't apply.

So, if I say, "Americans are loud and obnoxious.  John is an American.  Therefore, John is loud and obnoxious," then the error in the logic (the fallacy) is that not all Americans are loud and obnoxious.

But, if I say, "Americans are citizens of America.  John is an American.  Therefore, John is a citizen of America," then there is no error in that logic (and no fallacy) because 100% of the individuals in the group have the requisite characteristic.

Same with "Group X opresses Group Y.  Individual Z is a member of Group X.  Therefore, Individual Z oppresses Group Y."

The issue isn't whether Group X, generally, oppresses Group Y.  The issue is whether 100% of the individuals within Group X oppress Group Y.  In other words, the whole premise, as it is usually expressed, of "Group X opresses Group Y.  Individual Z is a member of Group X.  Therefore, Individual Z oppresses Group Y." is that 100% of the members of Group X oppress Group Y.

I think that is generally a fallacy because when dealing with a complex characteristic in a massive group of people, it's highly unlikely that all members of that group possess the defining characteristic.

So, I'm not questioning the truth of the antecedent if the antecedent is: "Group X, generally, oppresses Group Y."  I am questioning the truth of the antecedent if the antecedent also includes the assumption that 100% of Group X possess the requisite characteristic.  In that latter case, I think the fallacy often applies.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

There's a difference between logical fallacies and rhetorical fallacies.

"Americans are loud and obnoxious" simpliciter is a rhetorical fallacy, whether you seek to draw a conclusion from it or not. As an unqualified statement its literal meaning is that 100% of Americans are loud and obnoxious. It could be called an example of the rhetorical fallacy of "sweeping generalization".

Note that whether it is fallacious depends not on the rules of logic, but simply on whether it is true. For example, and by contrast, "Americans are citizens of America" (let's say for the moment) is a true statement, and therefore is not a sweeping generalization.

"Americans are loud and obnoxious.  John is an American.  Therefore, John is loud and obnoxious" does not contain a logical fallacy. It complies perfectly with the rules of formal logic. If the first two statements are true, the third must be true. The logic is ironclad.

There are two ways to attack a logical conclusion: Either identify a logical flaw in the argument leading to the conclusion, or assert the falsity of one or more of the premises on which it is based. Or you can do both. Either way, the result of a successful attack is to cast doubt on the conclusion (not to disprove it; for example, John may in fact be loud and obnoxious, but you couldn't prove he wasn't, merely by demolishing the above argument.)

Since the argument itself is "ironclad" in logical terms, the only way to mount a successful attack on it is to demonstrate the falsity of one or both premises. Demonstrating that "Americans are loud and obnoxious" is a sweeping generalization (by, for example, producing a single American who isn't) is sufficient to render the first premise (the "antecedent") invalid, and thus the conclusion, though reached with impeccable logic, is "not proven" (but not necessarily "wrong", as I mentioned above, since John may well be loud and obnoxious).

 

 

ygtbk

I think quantifiers are the key here: if we start with "All Americans..." or "Some Americans..." the rest kind of snaps into place automatically. Nobody (with any luck) would draw the following inference:

1) Socrates is a man.

2) Some men are mortal.

----------------------------

Therefore Socrates is mortal.

Unionist

ygtbk wrote:

1) Socrates is a man.

2) Some men are mortal.

----------------------------

Therefore Socrates is mortal.

What about this:

1) Some men are mortal.

2) Socrates was some man!

3) Therefore Socrates was mortal.

It's all in the intonation.

 

MegB

Sven wrote:

Rebecca West wrote:

I suppose your point would be well taken if morality were either relativisim or absolutism with nothing in between, but since it isn't, and no one here has claimed such, I would say the above is an excellent example of the Straw Man Argument.

Huh?

You noted, "your argument borders on what I believe is the worst of relativism."

I then attempted to explain my view of "relativism" -- I explained that I don't think that "right" and "wrong" are absolute...they are relative ("People, through one type of political mechanism or another, determine what is "right" and what is "wrong".").

I didn't construct a strawman argument.

Your explanation infers that "not-relativism" is absolutism.  In the context of my "worst of relativism" comment, your explanation implies that some kind of argument in favour of absolutism is in evidence in what I have stated.  Which is, of course, not the case.  Hence, the straw man is the absolutist criticising relativism.

 

Fidel

I believe my post @ #8 makes use of rhetorical fallacy. In that post I make no allowance for two way dialogue regarding who is to blame for the events of 9/11/01. It's a forgone conclusion according to me.

Anyway this is a wonderful thread. I am not strong when it comes to using the English language and writing in general. And I think it helps me to study what babblers and others write in this interactive way. Some babblers are wordsmiths, and I think we can learn a lot from them.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Caissa

If there is a third option between absolutism and relativism what would it be called?

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

It definitely depends.

Unionist

Mind if I ask a rhetorical question?

Caissa

I'm not sure you want me to answer that.

Fidel

On Bullshit Harry G. Frankfurt

Quote:
Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

I've not read it, but it looks like a good one.

 

Sven Sven's picture

Another example of the Fallacy of Division (which assumes that a characteristic or belief of some of a group applies to the entire group) is seen in a recent thread: "Hockey = anti-human rights"

In this case, the "entire group" is the sport of hockey (generally) and the "some of the group" is the official national anthem singer for the Vancouver Canucks (a singer who espouses odious views). 

The thread title didn't just criticize the singer, or just the Vancouver Canucks (who employs the singer), or just NHL hockey (of which the Canucks team is a part).  Instead, the thread title criticized the entire sport of hockey.

That is what I found absurd about the thread title.  The scope of the "entire group" that is anti-human rights extended far beyond what is legitimately called for.  It is certainly legitimate to criticize the singer and probably the Canucks.  It's a stretch to apply that to the entire NHL (although let's just stipulate that it is) but it certainly wouldn't apply to "professional hockey" generally (there are all kinds of professional hockey leagues and players around the world which are in no way connected with this singer or the Canucks) and it absolutely wouldn't apply to amateur hockey generally (which is also played around the world).

So, I think this is another example of where people of all political persuasions can be guilty of asserting rhetorical fallacies (it's not just limited to right-wing hacks).  And, this was the principal point of my comment above in this thread where I said:

Sven wrote:

My larger point is this: There are people across the political spectrum who hold the conviction that their views are based on "common sense" and on evidence that is in "plain sight" and that their views are based on reason and logic -- while those who hold other views lack all of those things.

In fact, I think most political disagreements have little, if anything, to do with "logic".  Rather, those disagreements are essentially a clash of competing self-interests -- and the tool of the clash is largely just raw power.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Sven, this thread does not exist for you to make proxied attacks on the feminism forum. I also find your assessment of that thread fallacious, but I will not be discussing with you why I feel that in this thread or the thread you cite. What you should take away from this is: respect the feminists who make arguments about feminist topics on this, a feminist website. And I'm sure you know how offensive it is to call feminist arguments irrational.

Sven Sven's picture

Catchfire wrote:

What you should take away from this is: respect the feminists who make arguments about feminist topics on this, a feminist website. And I'm sure you know how offensive it is to call feminist arguments irrational.

If a particular assertion is a rhetorical fallacy, then it is is a rhetorical fallacy regardless of who says it.  Saying that "hockey is anti-human rights" is a rhetorical fallacy (it's a good example of what we were specifically discussing in this thread: the Fallacy of Division, because the sport of hockey and those associated with it are simply not all "anti-human rights".

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I'm not arguing with you Sven. I think you're wrong, but more importantly, I think you're being offensive. You know why. So stop it. Further attempts to prove yourself "right" will be wasted.

Caissa

Can we call that title an example of synecdoche?

http://grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/synecdocheterm.htm

Sven Sven's picture

Caissa wrote:

Can we call that title an example of synecdoche?

Interesting suggestion, Caissa.

Although, as stated in the page you linked to, a "synecdoche works only if the part really does stand for the whole."

Caissa

This was an example of the whole standing for a part.

Sven Sven's picture

Caissa wrote:

This was an example of the whole standing for a part.

I'm sorry.  I'm not following that (maybe I haven't had enough coffee yet).  In both the fallacy and in the example, the example is being asserted to represent the whole (not "the whole standing for a part").  The "whole standing for the part" would be: Here's a block of cheese (the whole) and if I cut off a piece of that block of cheese, then that piece (the part) will have the same characteristics as the whole from which it was cut.

Caissa

It's a literary device. In this case "hockey" can stand for the aspect of hockey being discussed ie. national anthem singer. My point is if it is synecdoche it can't be a rhetorical fallacy.

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