Fallacies are errors in logic and/or reasoning. You should avoid the use of fallacies in your arguments because they detract from your credibility and the legitimacy of your message. However, without prior knowledge of fallacious arguments and careful attention to the details of your argument, you might accidentally use fallacies. Below, you will find a list and description of popular ones. As you form arguments, avoid this list to ensure your arguments are logical and reasonable:
Ad Hominem: Latin for "against the person," an ad hominem fallacy happens when someone is personally attacked. Also known as "name-calling," this fallacy does not use strong reasoning of ideas and positions, it is only directed at a person. If you disagree with someone, be sure to understand and articulate why.
Appeal to Misplaced Authority: It's common for companies to use celebrities to endorse their products, but this authority given to the celebrity is usually misplaced. Justin Bieber isn't actually an expert on facial cleansers, but he is still a voice for Proactive. For a presentation, be sure to use credible sources. Remember, even though it may look or sound good, don't use it in your argument unless it is reliable, objective, and accurate.
Bandwagon: You may have heard the expression, "jumping on the bandwagon" associated with sports teams. As soon as a team has a good season, many new fans "jump on the bandwagon" and suddenly support the team for the first time. Ensure your argument has more substance than appealing to what is widely excepted for your current time and situation.
Either-or: Often, people present issues as though there are only two possible positions. In reality, there are multiple positions that can be taken on most issues. Don't ignore the middle ground. After all, that's where most of your audience is likely to be found.
False Cause: If you claim that one event caused another event to happen, but sure to establish a clear and causal connection. Remember to examine the causal links thoroughly because cause-effect relationships are more complicated than they seem.
Hasty Generalization: A hasty generalization happens when you use limited, personal experiences to make larger assumptions about groups of people. While large, numeric research allows some generalizations to be made, avoid generalizing from limited knowledge or experience. Each person has unique life experiences, so be careful to not ignore individuality just to make your argument.
Red Herring: Red herrings happen when irrelevant information is used to distract someone from the issue at hand. Be sure to stay on track and focus on relevant information when creating arguments.
Slippery Slope: Slippery slope fallacies skip logical connections and make drastic conclusions. Gay marriage leading to the downfall of America, or marijuana legalization resulting in a nation of drug addicts are both examples of slippery slope fallacies. It's true that each action has a reaction, but be aware of making extreme claims.
This is not a complete list of fallacies that you are likely to find, and possibly use, in arguments. In fact, more complete lists include well over 100 hundred types of fallacies. Remember to examine your own arguments using both logic and common sense. If something seems like it is not right, it may need to be revised. If you are unsure if your argument includes fallacies, make an appointment at the GV Speech Lab today. We will be happy to listen to your arguments and collaborate with you on strengthening them.
Prepared by Carl J. Brown
Information partially adapted from Stephen Lucas' The Art of Public Speaking, Tenth Edition; Beebe, Beebe, & Ivy's Communication Principles for a Lifetime, Fourth Edition