The Making of Arguments

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It may also provide one and only one alternative to the proposition being attacked, that of the attacker, in which case it would be reminiscent of a false dilemma. This fallacy is committed when one generalizes from a sample that is either too small or too special to be representative of a population.


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For example, asking ten people on the street what they think of the president's plan to reduce the deficit can in no way be said to represent the sentiment of the entire nation. Although convenient, hasty generalizations can lead to costly and catastrophic results. For instance, it may be argued that the engineering assumptions that led to the explosion of the Ariane 5 during its first launch were the result of a hasty generalization: the set of test cases that were used for the Ariane 4 controller were not broad enough to cover the necessary set of use-cases in the Ariane 5 's controller.

Signing off on such decisions typically comes down to engineers' and managers' ability to argue, hence the relevance of this and similar examples to our discussion of logical fallacies. Such an argument assumes a proposition to be true simply because there is no evidence proving that it is not. Hence, absence of evidence is taken to mean evidence of absence. The burden-of-proof always lies with the person making a claim.

Moreover, and as several others have put it, one must ask what is more likely and what is less likely based on evidence from past observations. Is it more likely that an object flying through space is a man-made artifact or a natural phenomenon, or is it more likely that it is aliens visiting from another planet? Since we have frequently observed the former and never the latter, it is therefore more reasonable to conclude that UFOs are unlikely to be aliens visiting from outer space. A specific form of the appeal to ignorance is the argument from personal incredulity, where a person's inability to imagine something leads to a belief that the argument being presented is false.

For example, It is impossible to imagine that we actually landed a man on the moon, therefore it never happened. Responses of this sort are sometimes wittily countered with, That's why you're not a physicist. A general claim may sometimes be made about a category of things. When faced with evidence challenging that claim, rather than accepting or rejecting the evidence, such an argument counters the challenge by arbitrarily redefining the criteria for membership into that category.

For example, one may posit that programmers are creatures with no social skills. The ambiguity allows the stubborn mind to redefine things at will. The fallacy was coined by Antony Flew in his book Thinking about Thinking. An argument's origins or the origins of the person making it have no effect whatsoever on the argument's validity.

A genetic fallacy is committed when an argument is either devalued or defended solely because of its history. Edward Damer points out, when one is emotionally attached to an idea's origins, it is not always easy to disregard the former when evaluating the latter. Consider the following argument, Of course he supports the union workers on strike; he is after all from the same village. Here, rather than evaluating the argument based on its merits, it is dismissed because the person happens to come from the same village as the protesters.

Building an Argument // Purdue Writing Lab

That piece of information is then used to infer that the person's argument is therefore worthless. Here is another example: As men and women living in the 21st century, we cannot continue to hold these Bronze Age beliefs. Why not, one may ask.


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Are we to dismiss all ideas that originated in the Bronze Age simply because they came about in that time period? Conversely, one may also invoke the genetic fallacy in a positive sense, by saying, for example, Jack's views on art cannot be contested; he comes from a long line of eminent artists. Here, the evidence used for the inference is as lacking as in the previous examples. Guilt by association is discrediting an argument for proposing an idea that is shared by some socially demonized individual or group.

For example, My opponent is calling for a healthcare system that would resemble that of socialist countries. Clearly, that would be unacceptable. Another type of argument, which has been repeated ad nauseam in some societies, is this: We cannot let women drive cars because people in godless countries let their women drive cars.

Essentially, what this and previous examples try to argue is that some group of people is absolutely and categorically bad. Hence, sharing even a single attribute with said group would make one a member of it, which would then bestow on one all the evils associated with that group. One of several valid forms of argument is known as modus ponens the mode of affirming by affirming and takes the following form: If A then C, A; hence C. More formally:. Here, we have three propositions: two premisses and a conclusion. A is called the antecedent and C the consequent.

Such an argument is valid in addition to being sound. The error it makes is in assuming that if the consequent is true, then the antecedent must also be true, which in reality need not be the case. For example, People who go to university are more successful in life.

The Making of Arguments

John is successful; hence he must have gone to university. Clearly, John's success could be a result of schooling, but it could also be a result of his upbringing, or perhaps his eagerness to overcome difficult circumstances. More generally, one cannot say that because schooling implies success, that if one is successful, then one must have received schooling.

Also known by its Latin name, tu quoque , meaning you too , the fallacy involves countering a charge with a charge, rather than addressing the issue being raised, with the intention of diverting attention away from the original argument. On an episode of the topical British TV show, Have I Got News For You , a panelist objected to a protest in London against corporate greed because of the protesters' apparent hypocrisy, by pointing out that while they appear to be against capitalism, they continue to use smartphones and buy coffee.

That excerpt is available here. A slippery slope 7 attempts to discredit a proposition by arguing that its acceptance will undoubtedly lead to a sequence of events, one or more of which are undesirable. Though it may be the case that the sequence of events may happen, each transition occurring with some probability, this type of argument assumes that all transitions are inevitable, all the while providing no evidence in support of that. The fallacy plays on the fears of an audience and is related to a number of other fallacies, such as the appeal to fear, the false dilemma and the argument from consequences.

For example, We shouldn't allow people uncontrolled access to the Internet. The next thing you know, they will be frequenting pornographic websites and, soon enough our entire moral fabric will disintegrate and we will be reduced to animals. Also known as the appeal to the people, such an argument uses the fact that a sizable number of people, or perhaps even a majority, believe in something as evidence that it must therefore be true. Some of the arguments that have impeded the widespread acceptance of pioneering ideas are of this type.

Galileo, for example, faced ridicule from his contemporaries for his support of the Copernican model. More recently, Barry Marshall had to take the extreme measure of dosing himself in order to convince the scientific community that peptic ulcers may be caused by the bacterium H.

Luring people into accepting that which is popular is a method frequently used in advertising and politics. For example, All the cool kids use this hair gel; be one of them. Politicians frequently use similar rhetoric to add momentum to their campaigns and influence voters. An ad hominem argument is one that attacks a person's character rather than what he or she is saying with the intention of diverting the discussion and discrediting the person's argument.

For example, You're not a historian; why don't you stick to your own field. Here, whether or not the person is a historian has no impact on the merit of their argument and does nothing to strengthen the attacker's position. This type of personal attack is referred to as abusive ad hominem. A second type, known as circumstantial ad hominem, is any argument that attacks a person for cynical reasons, by making a judgment about their intentions.

For example, You don't really care about lowering crime in the city, you just want people to vote for you. Circular reasoning is one of four types of arguments known as begging the question, [Damer] where one implicitly or explicitly assumes the conclusion in one or more of the premisses. In circular reasoning, a conclusion is either blatantly used as a premiss, or more often, it is reworded to appear as though it is a different proposition when in fact it is not.

5 Steps To Win Any Argument

For example, You're utterly wrong because you're not making any sense. Here, the two propositions are one and the same since being wrong and not making any sense, in this context, mean the same thing. A circular argument may at times rely on unstated premisses, which can make it more difficult to detect.

It's like a hippie threatening to punch you in your aura. Composition is inferring that a whole must have a particular attribute because its parts happen to have that attribute. If every sheep in a flock has a mother, it does not then follow that the flock has a mother, to paraphrase Peter Millican.

Here is another example: Each module in this software system has been subjected to a set of unit tests and has passed them all. Therefore, when the modules are integrated, the software system will not violate any of the invariants verified by those unit tests. The reality is that the integration of individual parts introduces new complexities to a system due to dependencies that may in turn introduce additional avenues for potential failure.

Division, conversely, is inferring that a part must have some attribute because the whole to which it belongs happens to have that attribute. For example, Our team is unbeatable. Any of our players would be able to take on a player from any other team and outshine him. While it may be true that the team as a whole is unbeatable, one cannot use that as evidence to infer that each of its players is thus unbeatable.

A team's success is clearly not always the sum of the individual skills of its players. Many years ago, I heard a professor introduce deductive arguments using a wonderful metaphor, describing them as watertight pipes where truth goes in one end and truth comes out the other end. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use. These sections describe in detail the assignments students may complete when writing about literature. These resources build on the Writing About Literature materials. One of the great struggles for writers in literature is making and sustaining coherent arguments in their papers.


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Although argument is an essential part of all papers, the literary paper has aspects of rhetoric that are all its own. When a statement is challenged by making an ad hominem attack on its author, it is important to draw a distinction between whether the statement in question was an argument or a statement of fact testimony.

In the latter case the issues of the credibility of the person making the statement may be crucial. It should also be noted that an ad hominem fallacy occurs when one attacks the character of an interlocutor in an attempt to refute their argument. Insulting someone is not necessarily an instance of an ad hominem fallacy. For example, if one supplies sufficient reasons to reject an interlocutor's argument and adds a slight character attack at the end, this character attack is not necessarily fallacious.

Making Arguments: Reason in Context

Whether it is fallacious depends on whether or not the insult is used as a reason against the interlocutor's argument. Canadian academic and the author known as Doug Walton has argued that ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, and that in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc. The philosopher Charles Taylor has argued that ad hominem reasoning discussing facts about the speaker or author relative to the value of his statements is essential to understanding certain moral issues due to the connection between individual persons and morality or moral claims , and contrasts this sort of reasoning with the apodictic reasoning involving facts beyond dispute or clearly established of philosophical naturalism.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the policy on Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:No personal attacks. See also: List of fallacies.

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Main article: Tu quoque. Main article: Bulverism. Main article: Association fallacy. Logic portal Philosophy portal. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 19 February Michael C. Labossiere — Retrieved Quaderni in French 72 : 59—



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