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INFORMAL FALLACIES: RELEVANCE



A. In fallacies of relevance the premises are logically irrelevant to the conclusion. However, they are psychologically or emotionally relevant to the conclusion. Therefore, the conclusion appears or seems to follow from the premises although the premises in fact provide no genuine evidence for the conclusion.

I) Emotional Appeal: Some fallacies of relevance exploit or take advantage of various human emotions (fear, desire, pity, prejudice, bigotry, gullibility, insecurity, vanity, snobbery, modesty, guilt, admiration, loyalty, patriotism, hatred, etc.) rather than present reasoned and relevant evidence. To the extent that one is susceptible to these emotions, he/she is vulnerable to the ‘persuasive power’ of these exploitive fallacies. In general, the use of emotion in an argument is logically fallacious if the emotional appeal is used in place of relevant reasons or support.

II) Deception: Some fallacies of relevance try to deceive us by a sleight-of-hand trick that is most often intentional, deliberate, or calculated. A popular method of deception is distraction or diversion, leading the reader/listener away from the real and relevant issue(s) at hand.

NOTE: The fallacy of Accident is included here because Hurley characterizes it as such, but it would probably be more appropriate to consider it a fallacy of presumption since the arguer who commits this fallacy seems to uncritically presume, in opposition to the intended limits of the rule, that it is without exceptions.

B. TYPES OF INFORMAL FALLACIES OF RELEVANCE

1. APPEAL TO FORCE
(argumentum ad baculum)

DEFINITION: The arguer substitutes direct or insinuated threats to the R/L’s physical or psychological well-being rather than provide logically relevant evidence. The audience or addressee may be a single individual or a group. The literal meaning of the Latin baculum is “big stick,” hence an argument based on force or fear.

B
. EXAMPLES
1. Prosecuting attorney to jury: You must believe with me that this individual is guilty of murder, for if you do not find him guilty, upon his release, you will probably be his next victim.

2. School administrator: This university does not need a teacher’s union, and faculty members who think it does will discover their error at their next tenure review.

3. CVS executive: Mr. Editor, I hope you will agree that this little escapade by my son has no real news value. I’m confident you’ll agree since my firm buys thousands of dollars worth of advertising space in your newspaper every year.

4. Avid O. J. fan: For the life of me Joe, I simply can’t comprehend why you stubbornly continue to believe that O. J. was guilty. After all, as Johnnie Cochran said, “if the hat does not fit, you must acquit.” Now Joe, if you continue your stubborn prejudice toward an innocent man I will be forced to seriously reconsider our relationship.

2. APPEAL TO PITY

DEFINITION: Attempting to persuade or argue, not by presenting legitimate reasons or evidence, but by evoking pity from the reader/listener. Typically, this pity is directed toward the arguer but may also be directed toward a third party. Quite often, the appeal to pity involves an attempt to avoid responsibility and may include references to being a victim of circumstances.

EXAMPLES
1. Teenager to state trooper: Please officer, don’t give me a ticket. My parents will take the car away from me and my life will be miserable. Besides, it’s not my fault Prof. Leclerc dismissed us later than usual and made me rush to get to work on time.

2. Student to teacher: I realize that this essay is six weeks overdue and the final exam is over, but I have many personal problems. I have a part-time job that I need to scrape together enough money to stay in school, and I have been having emotional problems. The person I’ve been living with has just left me, my dog just died, my grandmother is very ill, and I’ve recently broken out with ugly warts. Since this is the last course I need to graduate, and it’s obvious I’m a victim of circumstances, perhaps you could kindly make an exception in my case?

3. Attorney to jury: My client comes from a poor, hard-working family in the poorest part of town. As you can see, he is only a young man, and his physical disabilities and traumatic emotional scars have made life a cruel struggle out there in the crime-ridden streets. He is clearly a victim himself, having been crushed by forces beyond his control. Consequently, ladies and gentleman of the jury, my client is obviously not guilty of armed robbery.

4. Tenant to landlady: Ms. Helmsley, I know I’m three months behind in the rent and that my biker friends occasionally punch holes in the apartment walls. But please reconsider your decision to evict me. After all, I’m an 18-year-old single mother, just lost my job at CVS, and have no employment background or education to fall back on. And my alcoholic mother and abusive boyfriend have already refused to take me in. As a decent human being with a good heart, I hope you can appreciate my desperate situation.

3. APPEAL TO THE PEOPLE (argumentum ad populum)

GENERAL DEFINITION: Substitutes an exploitive and manipulative appeal to peoples’ emotional weaknesses (passions, prejudices, insecurities, etc.) for logically relevant evidence.

VERSIONS:
Both exhibit the same basic structure: You want to be accepted, included, loved, esteemed, respected, etc., by the group. Therefore, you should accept X (particular thesis or conclusion) as true.

A. DIRECT APPROACH:
Mob appeal, appeal to the masses, appeal to the gallery, or appeal to the crowd. The arguer excites or elicits the enthusiastic passions of a group or crowd in order to gain acceptance for his/her conclusion.

EXAMPLES
1. Vietnam veteran addressing American Legion convention: I’ll tell you why I still believe we were right to fight in Vietnam. Because I love my country. And if you love our great homeland of freedom, you’ll agree with me.

2. Revolutionary rally: I appeal to you as the most downtrodden and abused people on the earth. Rise up, cast aside the unjust shackles imposed by your capitalist oppressors, and follow me in this moment of historic struggle!

3. Reform party convention: Are you tired of politicians who are afraid to speak their mind? Do you want a candidate who believes in the value of hard work and self-improvement? Someone willing to take on a biased and politically correct media? Then, you certainly will agree with me, our country needs the great governor of Minnesota, Jesse "the mind" Ventura!

4. Adolph Hitler, addressing an Aryan youth rally: You are the children of destiny, the greatest generation of racial purity ever witnessed on earth. You are the blood of our revered forefathers and the guardians of the fatherland. Your great destiny, however, carries an equally great responsibility. You must rise up, claim your rightful position as masters of the earth, and conquer the enemies of racial purity—the Jews, Catholics, gypsies, homosexuals, and other degenerate subhumans. Embark on your appointed crusade with the joy of cruelty in your heart!  With a steel-like romanticism in your soul for the glorious Reich!

B. INDIRECT APPROACH:
The arguer aims his/her appeal, not at the crowd as a whole, but at one or more individuals separately, focusing on some aspect of their relationship to the crowd.

B.1 BANDWAGON ARGUMENT:
Appeals to our need or desire to identify with the majority or with what is popular. The fact that the majority of people accept a thesis as true is presented as a premise for concluding that the thesis is in fact true.

EXAMPLES
1. Advertising commercial: Of course you want to wear Nike gear. Dude, 90% of America is down with Nike. Do you really want to be the only person not wearing Nike?

2. Congressman on the floor of the House of Representatives: Every other advanced, progressive nation has already adopted a program of government-provided health care. Therefore, the United States should likewise abandon its outmoded system of private medicine.

3. TV evangelist: Since time immemorial, every culture and society has believed in the existence of our great God, using different names but signifying the one, true deity nevertheless. Hence, given this universal consent of mankind, only a deluded fool and stubborn sinner would claim that there is no God.

4. Teen to father: Dad, will you get real! Everybody at Solipsism High knows that baseball, tennis, golf, and those other ridiculous activities you call "sports," are a total joke. Like, you know, the WWF, extreme games, and gravity games are real sports for us generation-X dudes.

B.2 SNOB APPEAL:
The arguer appeals to the R/L’s sense of superiority to the common masses, to his/her flattering self-image, and sense of exclusivity (financial, appearance, intellectual, physical, etc.).

EXAMPLES
1. Inskip Motors representative: The Mercedes-Benz 666 is clearly not for just anyone. But, if you qualify as one of the select few who simply must have the best, this distinguished classic may be reviewed in our posh showroom. Call Elitist Auto for an appointment, we’ll have the champagne chilled and waiting.

2. Secret computer research mtg.: Since you all have IQ ratings far beyond the normal human ape, I’m sure you’ll agree with my thesis that in the relatively near future computers will surpass the flawed human on the evolutionary ladder.

3. Commercial on NPR: As loyal listeners of The Connection, you are undoubtedly highly educated, affluent, and individuals of impeccable taste. Therefore, as the exceptional few, you will want to avail yourself of our limited edition of Shakespeare’s newly discovered play: Putting on Airs. We at Narcissus Press are proud to be the exclusive publishers of this satirical masterpiece that belongs in the library of the classically cultured and intellectually refined.

4. Bruce Bias, President of the Warwick Country Club: Dear members of the board, you should not be concerned over the public outcry following our rejection of Dr. Pablo Rodriguez’ application for membership. And why do I say this? Because, between us, we know we’re intellectually and morally superior to the ignorant masses who are simply incapable of comprehending our wise decision. After all, they don’t listen to NPR or watch PBS like us, but prefer the vulgarity of local radio talk shows like John DiPetro and Arlene Violet; that is when they’re not watching Entertainment Tonight in their trailer-park homes.

4.
PERSONAL ATTACK (argumentum ad hominem)

DEFINITION
: This fallacy always involves two (2) arguers. One of them advances (either directly or indirectly) an argument, and the other then responds by directing his/her attention not to the first person’s argument but to the first person himself. It is the second person that commits the fallacy. There are three (3) versions of the ad hominem (in Latin, against the man) fallacy:

A. ABUSIVE AD HOMINEM: The second person responds to the first person’s argument by verbally abusing, insulting, or attacking him/her (sometimes referred to informally as Name calling). The character, credibility, or both of arguer #1 are cited as the reason(s) for rejecting his/her thesis. On this specific basis, arguer #2 commits the fallacy of abusive ad hominem. This fallacy utilizes emotions evoked (disgust, revulsion, hatred, etc.) by the alleged character of arguer #1 to divert attention from the real issues. Among other reasons, it often works in contemporary American society because of the mind-numbing, competitive contest mentality that pervades TV (game shows, Survivor, etc.), radio talk shows, newspaper editorials, political and commercial advertisements, etc.

NOTE WELL
: Insulting or verbally abusing someone for sheer pleasure, or any other reason, does not qualify as an example of an ad hominem fallacy. The abusive treatment must be presented, directly or indirectly, as the reason or basis for rejecting another’s argument. Hence, in the comic strip below, the signs are clearly abusive but do not commit an abusive ad hominem.

EXAMPLES
1. RI Rep. Patrick Kennedy: Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host, has argued in favor of maintaining current gun laws, including the NRA position that the constitution guarantees our right to own rapid-fire automatic weapons. But any intelligent person knows that Limbaugh is a pseudo-intellectual who appeals to the fear and paranoia of common folk. Given Rush’s dark-age rhetoric and complete lack of credibility, we may confidently reject his reactionary thesis.

2. Bill Bennett, cultural conservative and moralist: Former President Clinton’s foreign policy in the Middle East was misguided, confused and indecisive. Need I remind everyone that ‘Bubba’ abused the power of the Presidency and committed adultery when he engaged in cigar-smoking ‘afternoon delight’ with an intern young enough to be his daughter. And then he lied to the country, put us through months of tabloid sex stories, and cost the taxpayer millions of dollars in legal costs. Finally, and this may be the worst of his character traits, he’s married to Hilary the carpetbagger, that pompous pretender with the plastic smile! Aren’t you glad George W. Bush is now directing Middle East policy?

3. Jim Rome, nationally syndicated sports radio talk show host: Welcome to the jungle. Recently, Mike Tyson claimed he was one tough hombre on a par with Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Now, even the stupid clones know that is an utterly ignorant assertion. Let’s remember that Tyson is a barbarian who raped a beauty contestant from Coventry, RI some years ago. He also used to abuse his former wife Robin Givens. And once, while in prison, he threw a TV at his cell bars when he wasn’t given his Prozac. Last, but not least, the dude threatened to eat the children of Lennox Lewis during a post-fight, manic tirade. Clones, the guy is simply not credible!

4. Rev. Louis Farrakhan, Leader of the Nation of Islam: Oppressed brothers and sisters, I bring you the holy word of Allah. Beware of false prophets who claim to represent the interests of the outcast and disenfranchised. Case in point: the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Have you not heard, brothers and sisters, that he fathered an illegitimate child through an adulterous affair with a co-worker? Furthermore, I have it on reliable sources that he plays golf with rich white guys who know nothing of our plight. Needless to say, Jesse doesn’t really care about the suffering of the poor and disadvantaged. To conclude our meeting, Deacon Rabinowitz will now pass the collection plate so you can give us fat cats the little money you do have.

B. CIRCUMSTANTIAL AD HOMINEM: Here the respondent (Arguer #2) attempts to discredit the opponent’s argument by alluding to certain circumstances that allegedly affect the opponent. By doing so the respondent hopes to show that arguer #1 is predisposed to argue the way he/she does because he/she has a vested interest (stands to gain) in having their argument accepted. Or the arguer is portrayed as biased due to profession, ethnicity, religion, gender, place of residence, political affiliation, etc. This fallacy is often referred to as guilt by association.

EXAMPLES
1. Pro-Choice Activist: Of course John Paul II claims that birth control and abortion are immoral. He’s the Pope! What else would we expect from the leader of the Roman Catholic Church?

2. O. J. Simpson: I reject Patricia Ireland’s claim that males are aggressive predators who view women as objects to be conquered and possessed. Any self-respecting, traditional American male would do likewise, since Ms. Ireland is the radical feminist leader of the National Organization of Women. And, by the way, she better watch her step; you never know when you might encounter some deranged misogynist wielding a large knife!

3. Billy Bob Straitguye, incensed southerner: I am so sick and tired of Rep. Barney Frank’s long-winded arguments about civil rights for gays and lesbians. Could someone be more wrong? To hell with the political correctness thought police, Barney boy is a flaming queer who simply wants legal recognition for his perverted and unnatural lifestyle. Clearly, his weak arguments may be dismissed without examination.

4. Fidel Castro, President of Cuba: Mr. Rather, I must disagree with your President’s position on terrorism. It is clear that ‘Dubbya,’ being a good ole Texas boy, has his greedy little capitalist eyes on the abundant oil resources in the Middle East. His self-righteous rhetoric about justice is just a pretext for his real goal of financial gain. Dan, please inform the American people they can conscientiously reject Mr. Bush’s arguments against terrorism since they are a thinly veiled justification for his economic opportunism.

C. TU QUOQUE ("You Too")

DEFINITION: Arguer #2 attempts to make arguer #1 appear hypocritical by drawing attention to a conflict or inconsistency between the behavior and thesis of arguer #1. Whether an individual is actually acting consistently with their argued thesis is logically irrelevant to the merits, or lack thereof, of that thesis. Sometimes referred to as the fallacy of Two Wrongs Make A Right, this fallacy typically rationalizes that the opposition has no basis to criticize them because they themselves do not “practice what they preach.”

EXAMPLES
1. William Jefferson Clinton: TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart preaches that we should lead holy, moral lives of chaste sexual self-control. That thesis is clearly erroneous since Mr. Swaggart, some years ago, himself was arrested for soliciting prostitutes on the streets.

2. Teen to parent: How can you tell me not to go to all-night Raves, roll with a little XTC, and put a pacifier in my mouth! I’ve looked through your high school yearbook, and in case you’ve conveniently forgotten, you were addressed as ‘Jenny Joint,’ ‘the Bong Queen,’ and ‘O’Leary the Tripster.’ You must have been a big hit with the Grateful Dead groupies! So much for your argument!

3. Patient to physician: Doctor, your argument that I should lose weight in order to lower my blood pressure is simply not credible. Your three chins and protruding beer belly reveal your real views on this matter. Maybe you should think about your patients the next time you stuff a cheesecake in your mouth!

4. Roger Williams university student: Don’t you love these administrators? Just last year the President of the school argued authoritatively about the dangers of driving under the influence. Well, a few months later he was arrested for drunk driving and then unceremoniously canned by the board of trustees! So much for our former President’s impassioned plea for student responsibility. Hey, lets down half a dozen mudslides and drive along the rocky coast in my Corvette?

5. ACCIDENT

DEFINITION: Sometimes called sweeping generalization or Dicto simpliciter, the fallacy of accident mechanically misapplies a general rule to a specific case. The case in question is an exception to the rule or was never intended to be covered by the rule. This fallacy may result from an inflexible or overly strict interpretation of the general rule, a kind of rigorous literalism insensitive to the limits of the rule and to the circumstances that are its exception. Or it may result from deliberately ignoring the peculiarities of the case.

EXAMPLES
1. Exercise enthusiast: Strenuous physical activities like skiing, mountain climbing, and long-distance running are excellent for your health. Therefore, Vice-President Cheney should start pumping iron a few hours a day or skydive over DC every morning if he really wants to recover from his serious heart problems.

2. Principled CCRI student: I completely agree with the famous golden rule of Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Accordingly, if I were perplexed by one of Prof. Leclerc’s tricky exam questions I would want my neighbor to help me. So, adhering strictly to the logic of the golden rule, it is my moral duty to help my neighbor who asks for assistance on an exam question.

3. B. ‘Al’ Zebub, founder of the Church of the Holy Fire: Brothers and sisters of the Holy Flame, we are gathered here today in Salem, Massachusetts to exercise our constitutional right of religious freedom. As God’s chosen remnant, we bear witness to the weakening of old-time religion perpetrated by warm and fuzzy New Age spiritualism. Accordingly, Mrs. Cleaver, please bring your virgin teenage daughter forward to the altar of sacrifice so that the sweet cent of her burnt flesh may find favor with the Lord.

4. Moral absolutist: Son, remember, honesty is always the best policy. Let me illustrate the rigorous requirement of this moral norm. It is Germany, circa 1943, and you’re hiding Jewish children under the floorboards. When the Nazi SS troops knock at your door, asking if you are harboring any Jews, you should answer truthfully without delay. The fact that the innocent children will probably be cruelly exterminated in gas chambers is of no consequence whatsoever. Strict adherence to moral principle is all that matters.

6. STRAW MAN

DEFINITION:
The arguer distorts or misrepresents an opponent’s argument for the purpose of more easily attacking it, proceeds to demolish the distorted position, and then concludes that the opponent’s actual argument has been destroyed. By so doing, the arguer has set up a straw man (easily refuted position) and knocked it down, only to conclude that the real man (opponent’s genuine thesis) has been knocked down as well. Politicians utilize this fallacy frequently, primarily because many voters are insufficiently informed to notice that a given position has been unfairly characterized or depicted.

This fallacy is directly related to the Principle of Charitable Interpretation: If the goal is to search for truth by striving for the most reasonable position (or interpretation of something, like a text) possible, rather than winning the argument as if it were a contest, then it’s best to consider the strongest possible opposition to one’s position (rather than the weakest or easiest to defeat).

EXAMPLES
1. CEO of major logging corporation: The environmentalists contend that, if we adopt their principles of conservation, we will be better prepared to deal with future planetary problems than if we do not adopt them. They couldn’t be more wrong, for it is beyond doubt that the conservation they recommend will not produce a new Garden of Eden on earth.

2. Character in Voltaire’s Candide: Dr. Pangloss confidently contends that this world is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created. What a ridiculous assertion! As if everything in this world were as good as it could be!

3. ACLU lawyer:  Various citizens and legislators have argued for the constitutionality of prayer in public schools. As the guardians of civil liberties, we strenuously reject their position. Do we really want to abolish the constitutional separation of church and state? Do we want to regress back to a theocratic state where our every move is governed by religious rules? We may safely conclude that prayer in public schools is clearly unconstitutional.

4. Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense:  There are some misguided and naïve college students who argue that we should not engage in military attacks against terrorism. Rather, we should pursue the peaceful path of diplomatic dialogue. In marked contrast, I refuse to lay down our arms and allow the enemy to walk into Washington without a fight. What a ludicrous position, as if we should relinquish our right to self-defense by unilaterally disarming.

7. MISSING THE POINT 
(Ignoratio Elenchi)

DEFINITION
: Sometimes called irrelevant conclusion, the fallacy of missing the point exhibits a specific type of logical irrelevance. It occurs when the premises of an argument support a particular conclusion, but the arguer draws a different conclusion that is usually vaguely related to the correct conclusion. The Latin Ignoratio Elenchi, meaning “ignorance of the proof.” refers to the fact that the arguer misinterprets the logical implications of his/her premises and consequently draws a conclusion that misses the point. However, one may deliberately employs this fallacy in order to persuade others to accept a conclusion that only appears to be supported by the premises.

EXAMPLES
1. Prosecuting attorney: Members of the jury, the defendant is clearly guilty of child abuse. You and I realize that child abuse is a heinous crime against our most vulnerable population. Immediate and long-term psychological trauma follows the victims of this demonic behavior. And recent statistics indicate an increase in this subhuman atrocity. We need to curb the tide now before matters get out of hand. Do your civic duty; convict this savage aggressor and send a message to the community that such behavior will be promptly punished.

2. Presidential candidate on the campaign trail: I strongly endorse the proposed construction and deployment of the F-99 jet fighter designed by Lockheed Martin. National security is still a crucial issue for our country in the post-cold war era. Look at the disturbing trend of terrorist bombings around the world and domestically, the persistent problem of rogue regimes like Iraq, and the nuclear instability posed by nations like North Korea.

3. Director of human resources, Pfizer pharmaceutical company: I am very pleased to announce that Fifa Farrell is our employee of the month. Ms. Farrell is well qualified to receive this award, for she is a wonderful person who is well liked by everyone in the Pfizer family. She always has a kind word for her colleagues around the water cooler. Moreover, her witty sense of humor keeps everyone in a good mood. Finally, her pleasant smile and radiant face light up the office and give everyone a lift when work becomes burdensome. For these reasons I’m sure you’ll agree that she is well deserving of this award.

4. Congressman on the floor of the House of Representatives: Colleagues, you should join me in voting for Bill 2772, which will build new housing in the South side of Chicago. For you will agree that all people should have decent housing. As the greatest country in the world, we should not have homeless people roaming our cities. In addition, there should be no need for 12 people to live in a 2-room apartment, as some families do. So, I’m sure you’ll join me in passing Bill 2772.

8. RED HERRING

DEFINITION:
Also called Diversion, the fallacy of Red Herring is closely related to the fallacy of Missing the Point. It is committed when an arguer diverts the attention of the reader/listener away from the issue at hand by raising some other, seemingly related issue. In so doing, the arguer attempts to sidetrack the reader/listener from the real issue. The fallacy gets its name from the practice of using a herring, a particularly smelly fish with a potent scent, to divert hunting dogs from the scent of a fox.

EXAMPLES
1. Concerned citizen at a town meeting: Friends and neighbors, I urge you to defeat the proposal to make jail sentences mandatory for drunk drivers. But if we really want to reduce traffic accidents, then we should stand behind those men and women whose chief responsibility is our safety. I am referring, of course, to our valiant police officers. What we need to do is increase their salaries, beef up the police force, and, most importantly, stop butting into their business with troublesome proposals!

2. Richard Gere, Hollywood actor: I agree with my opponent that pornography is a national problem, and I am almost persuaded by his argument that women are being degraded and victimized by pornography. I say, almost persuaded…until I remember what my opponent obviously overlooks: namely, that the people of Tibet are not merely degraded and victimized, they are deprived of every right due a human being. And what I don’t understand is how we convince ourselves that our so-called national problem takes precedence over genuine oppression and suffering.

3. Technology activist: We should definitely continue to build nuclear power plants, despite what the environmental wackos say. Just imagine where we would be if we ceased to advance technologically. We’d be living in caves like Osama bin Laden!

4. Senator Ted Kennedy:  I must argue against the antiabortion amendment proposed by the radical right. I just don’t understand why the pro-life people get so worked up about the lives snuffed out by abortion but don’t have the same feelings about the thousands of lives taken every year by an indiscriminate use of handguns. Is not the issue of the sanctity of human life involved in both cases? Why have you not supported us in our efforts at gun-control legislation?


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