Here in Thinking About Thinking, we’ve spent a lot of time
talking about logical fallacies. We’ve peeled back the layers and thought “What’s
wrong with this argument?”
These types of bad arguments are so common that there are
names for them, and yet you still find them in the wild. Why is that?
Well, simply put… they (logical fallacies) work (in terms of fooling people).
There’s a saying that every athlete has probably heard at
some point, “It’s not cheating if the ref doesn’t see it.” It’s kinda the same
deal when it comes to logical fallacies.
See, our brains tend to take these cognitive shortcuts.
Something that’s easy to parse, sounds authoritative, and is memorable tends to
seem right to us. It’s why companies have slogans.
It’s also why logical fallacies work. Sure, they fall apart
under scrutiny, but you’re not supposed to scrutinize them.
I call this “logic vs rhetoric.” In that terminology, I mean
no insult toward rhetoricians, plenty of whom are ethical people who only want
to make sound ideas more persuasive. Rhetoric – the art of persuasive language –
is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good or evil, depending on who
is wielding it and for what purpose.
But rhetoric is also an effective tool for sneaking in bad
arguments. Logical fallacies may be wrong, but to the untrained eye or ear,
they sure do seem persuasive – and all the person using them tends to care
about is persuading you.
Now of course, a good rhetorician will avoid fallacious
reasoning, because rhetoric is about making the strongest, most persuasive
argument possible, and putting forward a bad argument is counterproductive to that
goal. Indeed, a good rhetorician should be able to build a case for something
they don’t even believe in – or against something they do! – without using any
logical fallacies in the process.
But what happens when you’re not trying to persuade one
person, or even a small group of people, but to persuade a bunch of people?
What if most of those people aren’t trained in either rhetoric or formal logic,
and are therefore unlikely to spot these sneaky arguments? What happens if the “ref”
in this scenario is each individual, and the person making the argument knows
that whole some refs will see the cheating, most of them won’t, and therefore
they can pretty much get away with it?
Well, in that scenario you have a lot of people being duped (sound like any political campaign language / messaging you’ve heard lately?) .
That’s why Thinking About Thinking explores and exposes logical fallacies.
There’s a tendency to see fallacies as this list of abstract rules, something that annoying people bring up in internet debates when they’re cornered and can’t challenge on substance so they go to the rulebook. Nothing could be further from the truth. Understanding fallacious logic, and knowing WHY it’s bad logic, means you’re more likely to catch the cheaters. That’s what it’s all about.
Until next time… keep thinking!