= Logical Fallacies #=

Ad Hominem: Personal Attack

{{:wiki:blog:archive:ad-hominem.jpg?400 |}}This logical fallacy is the most familiar and the most used of informal fallacies. The expression of ad hominem means in Latin "to the man" or "to the person." In this form of Appeal to Emotions, there is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out negative characteristics of the person supporting it. It is based on a human mental bias: when we perceive unfavourable trait in a person; we link it to the perception of other bad traits. In general, we tend to believe an attractive person rather than an ugly individual. We are likely to consider an eloquent speaker as intelligent and more honest then he really is. People are inclined to see others as either all too good or all too bad which is a known cognitive distortion. Therefore, it is easy to attribute a bad feature or characteristic to opponents and this makes the audience doubts the quality of their arguments, though such traits are irrelevant to the arguments proposed.

Personal attack, as a way to disqualify the opposite argument, uses different tactics. One of them is personal abuse or ridicule. This is known as "Abusive Ad Hominem." In this tactic, the speaker tries to point out facts, which may be true, of flaws in the character of the opponent, though this has no relevance to the actual argument. For example, "Those who argue that God doesn't exist are selfish hedonists who are incapable of perception of realities beyond the concrete sensory world."

Circumstantial Ad Hominem is another tactic in which the argument is attacked because it comes from a particular position or circumstances of the speaker. This is similar to The Genetic Fallacy, which claims that an argument is incorrect due to its source. Therefore, someone who defends socialism or communism is attacked because he comes from a deprived background and poor family and he may have a grudge against the wealthy classes.

Ad hominem Tu Quoque is another form of argumentum ad hominem. Tu Quoque means "You also". In this argument, the speaker attacks the views proposed by exposing what seems to be hypocritical attitude of the opponent. He claims that the person making the argument has spoken or acted in some way in the past, which is inconsistent with the argument he is proposing now. For example, someone arguing for social justice and equal distribution of wealth is attacked because he is the son of a wealthy banker. Another example, when a father tells his son not to start smoking as he will regret it when his older, the son may point out that the father himself is still a smoker. This has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the argument itself.

A third tactic used in "argumentum ad hominem" is "Guilt by Association." It is an attempt to discredit a proposal by suggesting that people or groups that are unfavourable and have a bad reputation share the same view. McCarthyism was a specific version of guilt by association. Any individual, organisation, or group sharing common view with communism were labelled as Anti-American and Communist during that period in American history. In the 1960s, civil rights campaigners were discredited because the Communist Party of the United States also supported the civil rights movement. If we analyse this fallacy, we find a Syllogistic Fallacy: if all communists are civil rights supporters, and Martin Luther king is a civil rights supporter, therefore, Martin Luther King is a Communist. Those who disapproved The Patriotic Act in the United States, because they believed it infringes upon the rights of the Americans without helping to prevent terrorism, where attacked because Osama Bin Laden was claimed to applaud their position.

The fallacy of personal attack is related to similar fallacies. In some aspects, the negative irrelevant claim directed at the source is some form of "Poisoning the Well". When the opponent feels that he has to defend himself, he becomes distracted from the main topic of the debate. In this way, such personal attacks are effective distractions or a form of the "Red Herring's Fallacy".

{{:wiki:blog:archive:adhominem.jpg?400 |}}Attacking the person, rather than the argument itself, is easier psychologically and intellectually for those who are unable to give evidence to support their counter-argument. Such people see things as black and white. They divide the world into two classes: those who are good and right and agree with their views and those who are evil and wrong and disagree with what they propose. It is a tactic of the clever manipulator of crowd and the experienced demagogue. It is a tool for those who know how to play on the emotions of people to discredit the views of his opponents. It is attractive to lazy thinkers who ridicule a serious argument because of its source, instead of seriously examining the opponent's viewpoint.

The Fallacy of Authority

We commit common fallacy when we consider true a certain statement supported by a person who is an authority in his field, but not in the issue under discussion. The fallacy arises from the fact that an authority in a certain fiend is not an authority in all fields. On the other hand, we cannot prove the truth or falsity of a given statement merely because someone, even an authority, says so. It is not the prestige of an authority, which makes a statement true or false, but it is the evidence given to confirm or refute such statement.

The fact that an authority has made a statement cannot be by itself regarded as evidence. What constitutes evidence are the facts which the authority produces and these are quite different from the verbal statements. Sometimes, we may be ready to accept the statement of an expert on some matter within his expertise but we never have any good reason to accept these assertions in other fields.

For an argument to be considered valid and strong when an authority makes the statement, we have to ask if the authority is a legitimate expert on the subject and if there is a consensus among many of the legitimate experts on the matter. For example, an authority in nuclear physics cannot be an expert in matters related to spirituality and religion. Any opinion expressed by such an authority represents his own personal view about the matter which is beyond his field of expertise.

People have a tendency to believe authorities and this is acceptable if the statements of a particular authority are within their area of expertise. However, the reasoning becomes fallacious when we assume that an authority has to be believed because of its prestige and status rather than because of the facts and evidence given.

This fallacy is common in advertising and politics. Sometimes a famous actor or a sports celebrity endorses certain products like cars, food or beauty products. Clearly, being a good actor or a good sportsman does not makes a person an expert on food, cars or beauty. Sometimes, a person may claim expertise in certain areas because of divine inspiration or a special gift. The gullibles would believe such person without establishing his expertise and without any true credentials. It may take a long time before such self-proclaimed experts are exposed as charlatans or mentally ill.

A publication is used, sometimes, as evidence to support a statement. Someone may argue that a book has mentioned facts that support his argument. However, a book written by someone is not an authority in itself and we have to question the expertise of the person who wrote the book and the relevance of his expertise to the subject under discussion. There is a lot of false information broadcast day and night on mass media or published on the Internet without much support or evidence for criteria of the authors. Popularity of a book or a publication and the widespread belief in a certain statement is not in itself a proof that it is valid.

Appeal to flattery:

This logical fallacy is commonly seen when someone tries to win support for his side of the argument by praising and excessively complementing the character or some features of the listener. This fallacy is sometimes known as Apple-polishing or Wheel greasing. The praise acts as a way of momentary personal distraction while the speaker tries to hide the true intent of his idea or proposal. The flattery weakens the ability of the listener to judge rationally on the proposed argument.

Appeal to flattery is some form of Appeal to Emotions, at the same time it's a tactic of distraction similar to other Fallacies of Irrelevance. It also represents a cunning form of Appeal to Consequences. The audience is flattered as long as they comply with the flatterer. No one wants to appear stupid or lacking in good character, either the person accepts the proposal or if it is rejected this would imply a tacit admission of stupidity.

Appeal to flattery is used extensively in advertising. Beauty ads for perfume and other products are designed to flatter women with complements on their beauty if they choose to buy these products. If they rejected that product, they would feel ugly or not as beautiful as the model in the advert.

This tactic appeals to how people feel about themselves. Therefore, it is more successful with people who lack self-confidence and have poor self- image. Sometimes, this logical fallacy is called Appeal to Vanity.

Dictators in totalitarian regimes use such rhetoric in their speeches when they address their people by praising their history and making excessive claims about that special character of the nation and unique place in history. A dictator speaks to the people about the miracles they have achieved in the economic, social or political revolution, followed by a warning of the reactionaries, traitors and enemies of the people (i.e. the opposition that is arrested, detained and tortured for "the Great Nation and Revolution to go forward").

Another tactic appeals to the character of "plain folks" and the masses while criticising the intelligentsia who are detached from the aspirations of common people and the average person. This is a flattery of the uneducated and the socially deprived to justify some oppressive measures against intellectuals. We still see Appeal to flattery in political speeches, when the speaker claims that his decisions are based upon common sense, which "every intelligent clear-minded person would choose". Another politician may address "all decent, God-fearing and patriotic citizens" to accept his claims.

When someone addresses you as "an intelligent person who shouldn't have problem understanding these facts clearly", you have to be suspicious that he is making a claim and wants you to accept it by flattering you. This should not weaken your ability to analyse his claim critically. Adverts, which try to imply that only intelligent, strong, beautiful, or popular people would buy the product, are deceptive. Sentences which start with "surely even an idiot cannot deny that...", or "obviously, it is true that....." should be dealt with care as they may imply that if you don't think what follows is true, you may be missing the obvious or you may not be intelligent enough.

Appeal to Pity (Argumentum ad Misercordiam)

Someone may try to win an argument by exploiting emotions of the opponent (Appeal to Emotions). We all have feelings of pity, guilt, sympathy and empathy. We feel compassion for others. This is an essential part of our social support, and development of moral values and ethics. However, use of these feelings is not a proof of an argument whether true or false as the proof should be based on rational thinking. The argument may be fallacious or non-fallacious regardless of our emotions.

Charities sometimes use pictures of innocent deprived or suffering children to appeal for the generosity of donors. Although it is a great cause in most occasions, it is important to ask questions about the charity organisation itself rather than being moved by the feeling of pity and guilt. Emotions are powerful social force, and appeal to pity is about being good and it can lead to further commitments. Emotions can be a tool to achieve compliance. Appeal to pity is frequently exploited successfully to deceive as a tactic to win an argument.

During the Gulf War, one of the arguments used to get public support for the decision to send U.S. forces to liberate Kuwait was the story of "baby incubators". Douglas Walton in his book " Appeal to Pity" details the story. In this book, John Walton differentiates between empathy, compassion, sympathy, and pity.

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq took place on August 2, 1990. Not long afterwards, there were rumors of a shocking incident. In a letter circulated at the U.N. on September 6, 1990, Kuwait charged that Iraqi soldiers had removed hospital equipment that resulted in the deaths of many patients,including premature infants, in intensive care . On October 10, 1990, in a hearing before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl identified only as 'Nayirah' testified, while crying, that Iraqi soldiers had pulled babies from incubators in Kuwait. Nayirah reported while in tears that she just came out of Kuwait and while she was there, she saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the children to die on the cold floor.

After this testimony, it was reported that George Bush repeated the story at least ten times in the following weeks, using the words 'Babies pulled from incubators and scattered like firewood across the floor.' This story was widely publicized. Portions of a video release featuring Nayirah's testimony eventually reached a total estimated audience of thirty-five million. On January 10, 1991, the U.S. Senate voted to authorize going to war against Iraq. The measure passed by five votes. Seven senators cited Nayirah's testimony in speeches backing the use of force. Then in March, 1991, after the invasion of Kuwait, a number of revelations came out that threw doubt on Nayirah's story. These developments were precipitated by the investigations of John Martin of ABC, who interviewed Kuwaiti hospital officials who said that the incubator story was a falsehood. It also came out that America's preeminent public relations firm, Hill and Knowlton, had promoted the story. The Times article by MacArthur revealed in January, 1992, that Nayirah was the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, and a member of Kuwait's royal family.

Although we sympathise with the situations of the unfortunate and suffering of others, our sympathy does not create a reasonable basis for believing a claim related to that situation. However serious the situation is, that does not make the claim any truer. In a court hearing, the prosecution may claim that a victim was killed when he was still very young and he never really had a chance to live and enjoy life, his mother was devastated as he is the only child, the family will suffer their loss for the rest of their life. This does not make their claim that the murderer should be executed any more valid. The opposite argument may claim that the murderer grew up in terrible poverty. He was raised in a troubled family with lack of love, violence, abuse and neglect. His mother was absent doing menial work while his father was drunk and abusive. He had little education and did not experience any real loving and caring experience. His mother will be devastated by his death as all her children have left home and she does not know their whereabouts, her husband died.

Guilt or innocence is determined by facts and does not depend on how much the accused or his family will suffer. If capital punishment is moral and justified, it should be applied regardless of the emotional outcome on the loved ones; otherwise, we will find that someone with no family will be executed while another killer with big family will not face the death penalty. This means unequal punishments for the same crime. However, the Appeal to Pity is still used in court cases to request a less severe punishment if it is within the power of the Judge.

Sometimes, a person may invoke pity on himself to support his argument. For example, he may say: "I may not be as smart as you are - I couldn't afford to go to college and I can't understand the fancy arguments you find in books. But I have read my Bible and I know what it says. More than that, I know it is true because you do not have to be a highly educated person to get its truth; it is simple and clear for any human mind regardless of his wealth, education or class. Even a poor person like me, with little education and reading, can see that God exists - so why don't you?"

The above argument invokes pity and guilt in the opponent. Although we may have sympathy and respect for a poor person who has had a little chance of education and who does not read difficult books, this does not make us believe his argument that God exists. It is not relevant and it does not give any good and rational evidence.

Appears to Consequences

In any argument, there are always one or two premises or a belief which is under investigation for forming judgement that it is true or false. In the fallacy of Appeal to Consequences, the judgement is made about the premise or the belief is mainly based on the consequences of such belief, whether desirable or undesirable, favourable or unfavourable.

This is a form of Appeal to Emotions and it is an Informal Logical Fallacy. The consequences do not deal with the main judgement about the truth or falsehood of the premises. On the other hand, consequences can be desirable in or undesirable, depending on the subjective points of view, and how such consequences would affect the listener personally.

Appeal to consequences, as a form of logical argument, is valid in ethics and many moral theories, which base their conclusions on the consequences of the human action. For example, "unlawful killing is evil because it leads to loss of human life". However, moral theories take in consideration the collective benefit of the whole humanity rather than the individual's interests.

The Appeal Consequences is related to wishful thinking. It takes the form of : if the premise will be followed by consequences that are desirable to me, the premise is true, while if the consequences are undesirable, the premise is false. For example, someone may argue that "free will must exist otherwise, human would be like robots which is a horrible feeling". This is a false dilemma, since the presence or absence of free will is a different matter from believing that humans are like Robots or machines.

Another person may argue "God must exist, if this is not true, everything would be permissible and then there are no moral values to control human actions and evil desires, and the whole world would be like a jungle". Again, this is a false dilemma, because the assumption that morality is based on religious belief is false. There are believers who lack in moral values and there are atheists or nonbelievers who are of high moral values.

Another religious argument: "we have to believe in the existence of God. Without that belief, the whole life would be meaningless and it would be better for us to commit suicide. The belief in God would give meaning to our life and save us from depression and despair." This argument simply states that if we believe in God we would feel better and so such belief is true. It claims that we have to accept it as true as we do not have any other alternative: another false dilemma. There are other beliefs or no belief in God, which would give a meaning to life.

The argument from Appeal to Consequences is epitomised in what is known as Pascal's Wager. This argument states that if God exists, there is an afterlife, and Paradise. If we believe in this, we will be happy in the afterlife. If there is no God and no afterlife, we would lose nothing, no pain nor gain, and we would win either way. Therefore, it is better to believe in God. Of course, this is fallacious, because it doesn't deal with the main premise that God's existence is true or false. It only deals with the consequences of the premises.

At some stage in the history of science, opponents of evolution based their arguments on the consequences of such belief. Anti-evolutionists argued that such theory would make us believe that our fathers were just apes which is a horrible idea to believe in. Such argument did not deal with the main issue: whether the theory of evolution is true or false based on rational and scientific evidence. Another argument to refuse the theory of evolution was based on the consequences of belief in such theory on human morals and values. As the theory postulates that evolution progressed through survival of the fittest, opponents of evolution assumed that such belief would make us selfish, violent and immoral.

It is important in logical debates to prove the truth or falsehood of arguments regardless of the emotions or feelings evoked by such arguments. Our emotions, feelings and values are important to motivate us towards a certain action, however our values should be based on rational thinking and on our knowledge of reality without distortions caused by emotions and personal feelings. Whether the consequences of such premises are pleasant or unpleasant is not relevant to the validity of an argument.

Appeal to Force:

This form of informal fallacy is also known in Latin as Argumentum ad baculum, which translates into appeal to the stick or the club. In Appeal to Force the person who propose his argument does not do defend it logically but resort to using the threat of force instead of a rational justification for his conclusion. The threat of force does not need to be physical force, but sometimes psychological, financial or social harm is used.

Many dictators have used appeal to force implicitly to pass their views and decisions on the masses. The threat is usually unrelated to the truth or falsity of the proposition. This fallacy relies on intimidation and scare tactics. It is a special form of Appeal to Consequences. At the same time, it is one of the types of Appeal to Emotions, as such threats evoke fear in the listener.

Someone may argue that belief in God is an Argumentum ad baculum or some form of this fallacy of Appeal to Force. In Christianity, refusal to accept such belief is equated with damnation while accepting it would result in salvation. Many cases of Appeal to Force may not be fallacious. In many legal systems, punishment is threatened if a certain violation of the legal code is committed, e.g., being drunk and driving would result in prosecution. However, this is not a fallacious argument, as punishment is not the logically related to an argument being made. The threat of punishment has nothing to do with the falsity or the truth of the proposition.

In oppressive regimes, people are intimidated and pushed into pretending that they accept the propaganda and claims of the ruling dictatorship to avoid the threat of detention and sometimes torture or killing. The harsher the measures taken to suppress opposition, the more people try to convince themselves of the dogma of the tyrant. In certain situations, even after such regimes have fallen and the threats are lifted, a number of people who used to live under such ongoing threat remain adherent to the beliefs of the fallen dictator.

Terrorists have used force against those who do not accept their beliefs. They have given various justification for such horrible acts, although they never succeeded in convincing anyone logically and rationally off their propositions. A domineering mother may use Appeal to Force to make her children submit to her views. The threat of losing one's job may be used by a boss who believes that his employees should accept his line of management. Even a protester who wants to force his propositions may threaten a hunger strike to force authorities into accepting his views. Any threat of force or harm is not a way to win a debate or an argument.

Appeal to Fear

This is a logical fallacy, which depends on manipulation of emotions. The fallacious argument takes the form of: either A or B is true, since B is frightening, then A is true.

The speaker exploits some fears in the listener to gain support for his proposal or argument. The appeal to fear is related to the fallacy of false dilemma, which proposes that there is no other alternative but the one presented, either you accept A or B and nothing else. The well-known argument which states that if you believe in God you will go to paradise as the only alternative if you do not believe, you will face in the horrors of hell.

The appeal to fear can be valid if based on good evidence that the action can lead to frightening consequences. For example, the argument that alcohol drinking over - a long period - can lead to liver failure and consequently death is based on scientific evidence. However, someone may argue that as long as the drinking is not excessive and within acceptable range, it does not necessarily lead to such frightening result. Similarly, smoking has been known to cause a lot of health problems including cancer and the argument is in favour of cessation of smoking for a better health. Each of these arguments is not "either-or", and it is much better to debate the issue based on scientific evidence and factual knowledge rather than relying on fear.

Fear is used in marketing when a competitor starts an implicit campaign of disinformation about a brand. This is some form of unethical marketing technique and it depends on fear, uncertainty and doubt (F U D). Fear is also used in social policy as a method of persuasion of the public to avoid a certain action or practice, for example, the campaign to encourage the public to use a seatbelt while driving to reduce the number of fatal accidents or to stop smoking.

Appeal to fear is common in advertising, politics and conspiracy theories. Anyone who wishes to influence the behaviour of others find such tactics are useful tool. Scaremongers work by exploiting the natural fear and insecurities, which are prevalent in a certain group or community at a critical time when they are most vulnerable to manipulation by fear.

The appeal to fear is used common in politics and propaganda, in particular in "hate preaching", when a small group is used as a scapegoat. Propaganda uses scare tactics to make the majority act violently against such a group or exclude it from the society. Internal political oppression uses appeal to fear to justify such injustices because of external danger such as a threat of war with a neighbour. Hitler during the Nazi regime in Germany used such scare tactic to argue that the Jews are responsible for German economic failure during World War I.

During the Cold War, political propaganda used fear of nuclear annihilation and the Soviet Union was portrayed as the Reign of Evil, which would destroy life on Earth. Communists were considered a threat to world peace and perpetrators of acts of terrorism. Even today that danger of Islamic fanatics and Al Qaeda is used as scare tactic to convince the American public of certain internal and external policies of the American administration.

Issues about health and medicine are particularly vulnerable areas in the consciousness of the population. So, those trying to promote alternative medicine depend on lack of knowledge and fear about health to promote their preparations. At a certain time, vaccination of children received a campaign of fear, which made parents quite frightened about the future health of the children.

To counter act the fallacy of appeal to fear and avoid falling victim to such manipulation by fear, it is important to be certain first if such claimed threat is an actual real threat or just an imaginary fiction. It is also important to find out what is the real level of risk faced rather than if there is a risk or not (the white and black thinking). Most human actions involve some degree of risk and there is no absolute risk or complete safety. It is also important to consider if there are preventative measures, which would reduce such risk or avoid it. It might be important to think of alternatives. When the threat is not real, the fear is imaginary and the argument is fallacious. Even when the argument is based on a truth, the appeal to fear can be fallacious as it depends on emotions rather than on rational thinking.