Author Topic: Watching out against the material fallacies – 1  (Read 15301 times)

Joe Carillo

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Watching out against the material fallacies – 1
« on: July 20, 2017, 12:39:04 AM »
Practically every language textbook cautions us against the logical fallacies, which have bedeviled mankind from the very beginning and even long after Aristotle had painstakingly classified them and cautioned us against them over 2,400 years ago. Logical fallacies are those errors in our judgment that often result from fuzzy thinking, errors that—on hindsight—we sometimes can correct not long after. For political ends, however, some propaganda practitioners have developed the art of using language to deceive and to deliberately trap us into making such judgment errors. This is the danger that logical fallacies foist on our everyday lives.

Logical fallacies are of three broad categories: material or informal fallacies, fallacies of relevance, and verbal fallacies. Let’s see how they operate to befuddle the minds of even supposedly rational thinkers, including ourselves.

Like that paper clip linking the steel chain above, a logical fallacy
is an illogical statement that weakens an argument

Material or informal fallacies        

We present an argument through two basic tools of language: premises and presuppositions. Our premises are what we start our arguments with; to be believable, of course, these arguments must be self-evident or already part of so-called “common knowledge.” For instance, everybody accepts as true—as a “given”—that the sun rises from the east. What we should be wary about such presuppositions is that we often take them for granted based on blind faith alone. They generally cannot be proved or disproved at the moment they are presented.

Take this sweeping statement: “More people die in cities than anywhere else. Therefore, living in the city will hasten your death.” The material fallacy here is assuming that one outcome is caused by another just because one happens after the other, but the two outcomes could be both caused by another event, or, as in this case, they could be totally unrelated. Indeed, a conclusion isn’t adequately proven when the premises of an argument contain wrong presuppositions—a wrongness that could be artfully obscured by astute propagandists or by well-versed academic debaters.

Taking these caveats into account, let’s now formally look into nine of the most common kinds of material or informal fallacies: false cause, hasty generalization, misapplied generalization, false dilemma, compound question, false analogy, contradictory premises, circular reasoning, and insufficient or suppressed evidence.


False cause. The first example of material fallacy given above is of this kind—it assumes that an event is caused by another event simply because it happens after the latter: “More people die in cities than anywhere else. Therefore, living in the city will hasten your death.” Statistically, because of the denser populations of cities, more people do die in cities than in the countrysides. However, this is only because there are much more numerous city dwellers than countryside dwellers who will eventually die whether from natural or other causes. It doesn’t follow though that living in the city will hasten your death. For instance, if you are a sickly person, the modern medical facilities of city hospitals could very well prolong your life rather than hasten your demise.

The most common false-cause fallacies are superstitions. Despite being well-educated, for instance, many people fall prey to this absurd false-cause belief: “Never proceed on your way when a black cat crosses your path. It is bad luck and many people actually died when they ignored that omen.” It just could have happened that sometime in the past, perhaps one or two people died from one cause or another after proceeding when a black cat crossed their path, but this doesn’t mean that this is a sure outcome of that eventuality.

Also common is the false-cause fallacy of chain letters like this one: “Juan de la Cruz didn’t forward his copy of this particular e-mail to three other people, and three days later Juan died.” Who among us has not been taken in by this veiled threat?

We will continue this discussion of the material fallacies next week.

(Next: Watching out against the material fallacies - 2)  July 27, 2017

This essay, 1049th of a series, appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of The Manila Times, July 20, 2017 issue (print edition only), © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2020, 01:49:16 PM by Joe Carillo »