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| Cogito ergo sum|
Logic and rhetoric
A formal fallacy is a logical fallacy that violates a particular rule of propositional calculus, such as modus ponens. These fallacies can be determined to be invalid simply by the inspection of the form or structure of the argument — at heart, a formal fallacy contains some sort of non sequitur. This doesn't necessarily mean that a conclusion is wrong, but it does mean that we will need a better reason or argument to derive the conclusion.
For example, given the syllogism of:
- P1: X implies Y.
- P2: Y implies Z.
- C: X therefore Z.
It doesn't matter what X, Y and Z actually are. If the statement is incorrect because of the content of X, Y or Z, it would be an informal fallacy, not a formal fallacy because the logic works out. The difference can often be difficult to spot because we may have trouble splitting the content of an argument from its form.
Consider the following proposition:
- P1: Some men are doctors.
- P2: Some doctors are tall.
- C: Therefore, some men are tall.
Some people immediately want to say "yes" in response to this, and take the proposition to be correct because this is what reality reflects. However, this is actually an inference beyond what the logical set up allows us to make, which being either that some men who are doctors are tall or that some tall men are doctors, since the height and gender of doctors are separate traits; neither would make the argument more valid than the other as there is a Phantom distinction between the two phrasings, as the mode III or IEE has an undistributed middle though it may draw a possible conclusion. Saying that "some men are tall" or technically even that either some men who are doctors are tall or that some tall men are doctors given the first two premises is a formal logical fallacy. Why this is so can be more easily highlighted by replacing "tall" with a different property, such as "are women" to yield:
- P1: Some men are doctors.
- P2: Some doctors are women.
- C: Therefore, some men are women.
This doesn't change the logical structure of the argument, but the fallacy is easier to spot because the content changes it to a more obvious absurdity and still would even if the inference were within what the logical set up allows us to make.
More formally, this is not a valid rule of inference in predicate logic:
while this is:
because the first and second x are different bound variables.