Author Topic: Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 2  (Read 13449 times)

Joe Carillo

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Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 2
« on: August 17, 2017, 04:50:16 PM »
In last week’s column we started discussing the fallacies of relevance, which are arguments that attempt to persuade people to accept evidently nonlogical propositions. We already took up the first two of its 13 most common kinds, namely the fallacies of irrelevance (ignoratio elenchi) and personal ridicule (ad hominem). Now we’ll take up the next five: appeal to the people (ad populum), appeal to authority (ad verecundiam), appeal to ignorance (ad ignorantiam), appeal to pity (ad misericordiam), and appeal to force (ad baculum).

Appeal to the people (ad populum). This is the fallacy of using the presumed feelings, actions, and prejudices of the general population to support an invalid argument, as in this assertion: “67.8% of our TV texters say that high official couldn’t be guilty of corruption. He really must be innocent!” Two insidious varieties of this fallacy are mainstays in product advertising and religious belief: the bandwagon, as in “Nine out of every 10 doctors use X toothpaste. High time you did!”, and appeal to belief: “All of us in this town are true believers. You must be the son of the Devil if you aren’t.”

Appeal to authority (ad verecundiam). This is the fallacy of supporting dubious or patently false premises with the opinion of a leader, authority, or expert in a field outside the field being discussed: “Our beloved Brother Y got a message from Heaven that M should be our next president. We’ve got no choice but to vote for M.” It may sound ridiculous, but the danger to modern society is that fanaticism of all stripes almost always makes this kind of fallacy work with people of certain persuasions—especially clueless believers.

Appeal to ignorance (ad ignorantiam). This is the fallacy of assuming that a premise is correct because it can’t be disproved. Here’s its basic form: “There’s no proof that what you say is true; therefore, what you say isn’t true.” The same illogic runs in this assertion: “We have no evidence that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, so no intelligent life must exist elsewhere in the universe.”

The same faulty reasoning props up the “guilty until proven innocent” fallacy, in which police authorities make suspects wear the orange garb of prisoners and then parade them before the broadcast and print media. They score media and political points in doing this, of course, but they are actually engaging in a blatant appeal to ignorance, running roughshod over the legal presumption that someone is “innocent until proven guilty.”
Appeal to pity (ad misericordiam). This is the fallacy of trying to get support for one’s premises not on logical grounds but on compassion. In Philippine parlance this is the “paawa” (“have mercy on me”) effect; elsewhere it is known as the “victim mentality.” This form of illogic marks many court pleadings, as when a defense lawyer asks for leniency towards his self-confessed client: “Your Honor, he may have killed the winning candidate but he is a highly intelligent law graduate whose conviction will forever ruin what could be a most illustrious legal and political career.”

Appeal to force (ad baculum). When the usual means of persuasion fail, some people use threat and intimidation to compel others to accept their argument. This is the most insidious fallacy of all because it marks the end of civility and the beginning of belligerence: “Park here at your own risk.” “If I hear that line from you again, you better start looking for another job.” “If they convict me of treason, the government will have a bigger rebellion in their hands.” “Mr. Senator, you’ve just called me a crook. Say that again without parliamentary immunity and I’ll slap you with a twenty-million-peso libel suit!”

We’ll continue this discussion next week.

(Next: Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 3)   August 24, 2017


This essay, 1053rd of a series, appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of The Manila Times, August 17, 2017 issue (print edition only), © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

July 20, 2017: Watching out against the material fallacies – 1
July 27, 2017: Watching out against the material fallacies – 2
August 10, 2017: Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 1
August 17, 2017: Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 2
August 24, 2017: Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 3
August 31, 2017: Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 4
September 7, 2017: Watching out against the verbal fallacies – 1
September 14, 2017: Watching out against the verbal fallacies – 2

« Last Edit: July 20, 2020, 07:51:13 AM by Joe Carillo »