Essay:Beyond logical fallacies

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I can imagine only three ways of how can a statement of any kind be "wrong": it's reasoning might be incomplete (it doesn't take into account everything it should), it may be based on a false data or it is logically fallacious. I've noticed that while people can usually handle the first two pretty well, there are always some problems coming up with the third one. Some of the problems come up repeatedly (including this website) and they are actually quite disturbing.

Confusing fallacies for something else[edit]

Often times when people talk about "logical fallacies", you can see they really' aren't questioning the logic behind someone's reasoning. What they are talking about are facts; they call something illogical because it is based on a lie or false information. But, obviously, being based on false information doesn't make your argumentation logically fallacious, because logical fallacies strictly refer to errors in logic and not to any other kind of errors. To say that all Americans are immortal because all men are immortal and Americans happen to men is completely logical, although it's far from truth.

You may think that you surely wouldn't make such mistakes, but your nice little website is filled with examples. For example, this one:

"Fetal pain, although disputed among the scientific community, is a key argument among pro-lifers who insist that fetuses feel pain. It is commonly used within the pro-life movement as an appeal to emotion. Pro-lifers claim that /.../ fetuses /.../ must not be made to suffer, which few in the pro-choice movement disagree with."

In the latter sentence RW says that there is nothing wrong with saying that fetuses should not be made to suffer, and yet you label the argument as a logical fallacy known as "appeal to emotion". You say so only because you don't believe that fetuses feel pain - but that means you're questioning the fact and not the logic.

Misuse of fallacies[edit]

Many people like to "shout" the names of the fallacies, but often times I doubt if they really get what is it what makes an argument logically fallacious. Just knowing the basic structure of a logical fallacy isn't nearly enough.

Coming back to previous example - if you were forced to explain the illogicalness of an emotional appeal in your own words, how would you do it? It seems to me that an average "rationalist", who has learned all fallacies by heart, "shouts" this name every time when a text is emotional. It means that he shouts it every time he wants to.

It is illogical to base conclusions on emotions. It is illogical to say that abortion is wrong because a picture of it made me feel bad. But it doesn't mean that showing a picture of an aborted fetus is itself illogical: picture can't be a logical fallacy by any means. Using picture in your argumentation may be fallacious, but there isn't anything illogical about simply presenting one. Just as there isn't anything illogical about informing people about the consequences of abortion, even if they are emotional.

Another favorite target of misusing the fallacies is quote-mining, "Fallacy of quoting out of context". And you guys take it to the absurd: you proudly and loudly scream it every time when a quoted text happens to be different from the original, rarely asking whether the differences really mean something or not. In some cases you take it to the quote-mine even if you haven't really seen the original, just because you don't like a particular quote or it simply seems to be too short or whatever. The same goes for "no true Scotsman" fallacy.

Beyond logical fallacies[edit]

The truth is that you can point to any text and point to dozens of fallacies. For example, I started the last sentence with words "the truth is", without giving any evidence.

What I want to say is that world isn't divided into "pure truth" and "fallacies". Many times an argument is technically fallacious, but still has a point. And everyone knows it. And it often happens that someone, who doesn't like the argument, points it out and pretends that it is the end of discussion, because one side failed to present a fallacy-free argumentation. That is a sign of intellectual dishonesty.