Pseudo-Logical Fallacies

Recall my test for what qualifies as a logical fallacy:
  1. It must be an error in reasoning, not a factual error.
  2. It must be commonly applied to an argument either in the form of the argument or the interpretation of the argument.
  3. It must be deceptive in that it often fools the average adult.

There are many so-called logical fallacies that can be found on the Internet that don’t meet one or more of these criteria, yet people will still refer to them as logical fallacies. Since there are no objective criteria for most logical fallacies, people can call anything a logical fallacy if they want. But we are better than “people;” we are logical fallacy elitists. So those that aren’t worth of the name “logical fallacy” we will call pseudo-logical fallacies. If these pseudo-logical fallacies were celebrities, none of them would be invited to the Oscars, but they might be invited on the Hollywood Squares. Just like Hollywood Squares can sometimes be entertaining to watch (as long as that lady with the stupid sock puppet is not on), this list can be well worth the read. For each item in the following list, I have added my comments as to why the pseudo-logical fallacy did not make the prime-time list.

Abductive Fallacy: The fallacy of applying an inadequate simulation methodology to a given simulation task. This appears in one academic paper and mentioned just a couple of times on the Internet. It is unclear if this can be applied to an argument. In addition, the failure to apply adequate simulation methodology sounds more like a lack of specialized knowledge rather than a deficiency in reasoning.

Absence of Evidence: This is the idea that based on an absence of evidence, we can form a reasonable conclusion. Sometimes we can if we expect to see evidence and we don’t. This is a complex topic in epistemology and too nuanced to call simply label a fallacy. See argument from ignorance for a more fallacious version of this.

Alternative Fact/Alternative Truth: Another word for “fiction” or “lie.” This is more about lying than errors in reasoning. Perhaps it might qualify as fallacious reasoning if a person believes that alternative facts are the same things as facts.

Appeal to Convenience: Accepting an argument because its conclusion is convenient, not necessarily true. This fallacy is not common enough. This falls under appeal to consequences, which is very similar except that consequences could be positive or negative and convenience is only positive.

Appeal to Envy (Argumentum ad invidiam): Attempting to persuade by making one envious, rather than by evidence. This fallacy is not common enough, plus, as a deliberate persuasion technique, there is no error in reasoning on the part of the arguer.

Appeal to Mystery: The argument proposes, in place of an explanation, the assertion that there can be no explanation, i.e. that the fact to be explained is unexplainable. I don’t see this as an error in reasoning because there is no claim that because of the mystery, the argument must be true or false. There are things that cannot (presently) be explained. If we assert that because it can’t be explained and therefore it must be true, then we are appealing to ignorance.

Appeal to Privacy: Refusing to open a topic for discussion because it is deemed “private,” thus by default acceptable. Sometimes referred to as the Mind Your Own Business Fallacy. I don’t see an error in reasoning here. If a topic is personal or private, then it is to that person. Besides, this is not common enough.

Appeal to Snobbery: An attempt to make one feel part of the elite if they accept the claim. This is more of a marketing/persuasion technique than a fallacy. It is rarely used in argument form, but more to get someone to want something.

Appeal to the Stone (argumentum ad lapidem): This is dismissing a claim as absurd without demonstrating proof for its absurdity. This is a classic example of simply not giving a clear reason for rejecting an argument or proposition. It is not an error in reasoning; it is the refusal to use it. We can also say an argument is “crazy,” “stupid,” “non-sensical,” “idiotic,” “f’ed up,” etc. Each possible adjective does not require its own fallacy.

Appeal to Utility: (see Appeal to Convenience)

Argument by Dismissal: An argument is rejected without saying why. The person who is rejecting the argument may have a good reason; they just refuse to share it. So we cannot assume that this is an error in reasoning. It could better be described as a conscious choice not to participate in the argument.

Argument by Laziness: Making an argument without bothering collecting support for the claims being made. Laziness implies that the person knows they should be collecting support for their claims, so it is not a problem with reasoning.

Argument by Rhetorical Question: Setting up questions in such a way to get the answers you want. This is a name for an argumentation strategy covered by both the loaded question and leading question fallacies.

Argument by Uninformed Opinion: (see Argument by Laziness)

Argument from Design: Assuming because something looks designed, it probably was. This is more of an argument than a fallacy since it stems more from a lack of knowledge (i.e., evolution, natural selection, emergence, etc.) than reason.

Argument from Final Consequences: Confusing cause and effect, starting with an effect and then assuming a cause. This is rarely used and is covered by the questionable cause fallacy (cum hoc ergo propter hoc).

Argument to the Future: Arguing that someday, evidence will be discovered to justify your conclusion. This could be fallacious or not, depending on the reasons that one has to think that evidence will one day be discovered to justify the conclusion. If one has no reasons, then it would fit under other fallacies such as the appeal to faith or wishful thinking.

Argumentum ad Captandum: Any specious or unsound argument that is likely to win popular acceptance. This is a general style of rhetoric rather than a specific fallacy.

Argumentum ad Exemplum (Argument to the Example): Arguing against a particular example cited rather than the question itself. This is rarely used, and when it is, it is used in different ways that match other fallacies.

Bad Seed: Attempting to undermine someone’s reasoning or argument by pointing our their “bad” family history, when it is an irrelevant point. This is a very specific form of the genetic fallacy. It is rarely used.

Barking Cat: Demanding that a problem should not be solved before other, more important problems are solved. As long as one has good reasons for this, there is no fallacy.

Blood is Thicker than Water (Favoritism): Assuming truth because of a close connection with the one making the statement. This is not quite an error in reasoning. If anything, it is a natural bias where we tend to give those we like the benefit of the doubt.

Bribery (Material Persuasion, Material Incentive, Financial Incentive): Paying someone to agree with your position, or accepting payment to agree. This is not an error in reasoning.

Canceling Hypotheses: The argument defends one hypothesis by proposing a second hypothesis to explain the lack of evidence in support of the first hypothesis. That is, the second hypothesis cancels or undermines the predictions made by the first hypothesis.

Chronological Snobbery: Thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present. This is more of bias, and when used in argument form, is covered by the appeal to novelty or argument from age.

Confesses Under Torture: Assuming what one confesses under torture must be true. It is difficult to determine how much the torture affected the truth of the confession. This is not an error in reasoning.

Damning with Faint Praise: To attack a person by formally praising him, but for an achievement that shouldn’t be praised. This is more of a rhetorical device than a fallacy.

Digression: A temporary departure from the main subject in speech or writing. This is not fallacious in itself.

Disregarding Known Science: Ignoring scientific facts that are inconvenient to a position. This is better characterized as a cognitive bias or perhaps even a form of lying.

Dogmatism: The tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others. This is a broad pattern of thinking, rather than a more specific error in reasoning. There are many already mentioned fallacies that cover this category.

Double Bind: Setting up a situation in which no matter what the person does or answers, he or she is wrong. This is relatively rare.

Double Counting: Counting events or occurrences in probability or in other areas where a solution counts events two or more times, resulting in an erroneous number of events or occurrences which is higher than the true result. This is a specific statistical fallacy.

Essentializing Fallacy: Suggesting that something is what it is and it will always be that way when in fact, that is not the case. This is simply factually incorrect.

Exception That Proves the Rule: Exceptions to rules are evidence against rule, never for the rules. This is quite rare.

Failure to State: Never actually stating a position on the topic, rather constantly being on the attack or asking questions. This protects the person from attack. This is not really an error in reasoning. One can argue against a bad argument without having to hold a position on the argument.

Fallacy of Multiplication: The assumption that if work Y can be accomplished with N resources, that if N*X resources were available, then work Y*X could be accomplished. This is a statistical error.

Fallacy of the Crucial Experiment: Claiming some idea has been proved by a pivotal discovery. This is too subjective. What is “pivotal” to one person might not be to another. Also, something could be “pivotal” in one of many ways.

Faulty Sign: Incorrectly assumes that one event or phenomenon is a reliable indicator or predictor of another event or phenomenon. This is very similar to many of the fallacies related to causality. This name is rarely used.

Furtive Fallacy: When outcomes are asserted to have been caused by the malfeasance of decision makers. This is very rare.

God Wildcard Fallacy: Excuses a contradiction in logic or reason by “divine mystery.”  The God wildcard comes in many forms and is played when honest questioning leads to absurd or illogical conclusions. This is a very specific form of the appeal to mystery.

Golden Hammer Fallacy: Proposing the same type of solution to different types of problems. This is more of an error in creativity or knowledge than reasoning.

Hifalutin’ Denunciations: Denouncing an argument or opponent with vague, pretentious, and grand-sounding generalized accusations. This is more of a type of rhetoric.

Historical Fallacy: A logical fallacy originally described by philosopher John Dewey in The Psychological Review in 1896. The fallacy occurs when a person reads into a process the results that occur only because of that process. This is rarely used.

Hoyle’s Fallacy (the Junkyard Tornado): An argument used to derive the probability of both abiogenesis and the evolution of higher life forms as comparable to “the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747.” The “fallacy” is an argument against this idea. This is a specific instance of fallacious reasoning rather than a common fallacy.

I Wish I Had a Magic Wand: Erroneously proclaiming oneself powerless to change a bad or objectionable situation, thinking there is no alternative. Not an error in reasoning.

In a Certain Respect and Simply (secundum quid et simpliciter): Take an attribute that is bound to a certain area and assume that it can be applied to a wider domain than was originally intended. Rarely used.

Insignificance: Making a minor cause seem major. Not really a fallacy.

Intentional Fallacy: A term used in 20th-century literary criticism to describe the problem inherent in trying to judge a work of art by assuming the intent or purpose of the artist who created it. This is a very specific fallacy and not common.

Knights and Knaves: Treating information coming from other persons as if it were always right or always wrong, based on the person. This is very similar to the genetic fallacy.

Lack of Proportion: Exaggerating or downplaying evidence important in the argument. Extreme cases could actually be a form of suppressed evidence. This is more of a form of deception where a lack of reasoning cannot be blamed.

Latino Fallacy: Finding an argument, fallacy, or claim that has a Latin translation more credible than it would be without the translation. This is a specific form of the argument from age.

Lip Service: Pretending to agree when it’s clear that you don’t really agree. This is more of a form of deception where a lack of reasoning cannot be blamed.

Lump of Labor Fallacy (Lump of Jobs Fallacy): The contention that the amount of work available to laborers is fixed. This can be debatable, depending on the economist asked. This is not a problem with reasoning.

Mind Projection Fallacy: Coined by physicist and Bayesian philosopher E.T. Jaynes, the mind projection fallacy occurs when one believes with certainty that the way he sees the world reflects the way the world really is. This is more of a cognitive bias than a fallacy.

Monopolizing the Question: Asking a question and then immediately giving the answer, in a way “forcing” your answer on the audience. This is more of a rhetorical device than a fallacy.

Motte-and-bailey Fallacy: When an arguer advances a controversial position, but when challenged, they insist that they are only advancing a more modest position.

Needling: Attempting to make the other person angry, especially by continual criticism or questioning. In previous editions, I had this listed as a form of the ad hominem fallacy. However, it is more of a tactic and not an error in reasoning.

Norm of Reciprocity: A technique used to exploit people’s natural tendency to want to repay debts. In an argument, one may concede a point causing an unwarranted concession from the other side, out of the desire to repay the favor. This is more of a technique than an error in reasoning. When used in argumentation, it can be an effective counter to the cognitive bias the backfire effect.

Not Invented Here: Ideas and arguments are not evaluated equally if they come from outside a social sphere. This is a specific form of the genetic fallacy.

Outdated Information: If outdated information is used in an argument, it would technically be more of an error in the truth of the premises than in reason, but be aware of this when doing your fact checking.

Over-Fitting: When a statistical model describes random error or noise instead of the underlying relationship. This is specific to statistics.

Packing the House: Filling the audience with friends, shills, or others who will cheer incessantly after you speak or make an argument, badger your opponent, and otherwise make for an unfair environment that will make your arguments appear much stronger and your opponent’s much weaker. Related to Pomp and Circumstance. This is more of a strategy than having to do with reasoning or directly with an argument.

Paralogism: Can generally refer to any fallacious or illogical argument. Not a fallacy in itself.

Paralysis of Analysis (Procrastination): Reasoning that since all data is never in, no legitimate decision can ever be made and any action should always be delayed until forced by circumstances. Not necessarily fallacious.

Pigeonholing: A term used to describe processes that attempt to classify disparate entities into a small number of categories. This usually covers a wide variety of more specific fallacies.

Pious Fraud: A fraud done for a good end, on the theory that the end justifies the means. Not necessarily fallacious.

Pragmatic Fallacy: (see Appeal to Convenience)

Probabilistic Fallacy: When inferences from the premises to the conclusion violate the laws of probability. This is rarely seen in everyday usage.

Psychologist’s Fallacy: A fallacy that occurs when an observer presupposes the universality of his or her own perspective when analyzing a behavioral event. This is rarely seen in everyday usage. Also, since the time of William James (the psychologist who first described this fallacy), it is well understood that this is problematic in research, thus not deceptive.

Reductionism: This is more of a philosophy than a fallacy, although those who don’t subscribe to the philosophy will often refer to it as a fallacy. It is reducing things to the interaction of their parts. For example, if one claims we are just biochemistry, then those who believe we are also a “soul” will consider this claim a fallacy.

Referential Fallacy: A theory of language that claims that the meaning of a word or expression lies in what it points to out in the world. This is rarely seen in everyday usage.

Retrospective Determinism: Assuming that because something happened, it necessarily had to happen, i.e. that it was the only possible outcome. Irrespective of a deterministic worldview, this fallacy explains nothing.

Sanctioning the Devil: Avoiding debate with someone because debating him would give him undue credit. Really not a fallacy, but can be considered one by the flat-earther you are refusing to debate.

Scope Fallacy: There are many specific fallacies detailed in this book that fit the under the category of “scope fallacy.” These have to do mostly with ambiguity.

Sealioning: A subtle form of trolling involving “bad-faith” questions. You disingenuously frame your conversation as a sincere request to be enlightened, placing the burden of educating you entirely on the other party. This is not a fallacy; it is more of a form of deception. As always, be careful in assuming you know the other person’s intent. On the surface, “sealioning” looks a lot like legitimate and honest Socratic inquiry.

Self-Deception: The process or fact of misleading ourselves to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid. This is more of a cognitive process that underlies fallacies.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The process of prophesying will itself produce the effect that is prophesied, but the reasoner doesn’t recognize this and believes the prophecy is a significant insight. This is not commonly applied to an argument.

Sherlock Holmes Fallacy: Remember that Sherlock Homes was a fictional character, even if based on a real one. His method of deduction was often stated as “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” There are many flaws with this method in real life. This claim is not common in argumentation.

Sly Suggestions: Suggesting that your ideas may be true without making solid statements that can be proven wrong. “You may be our next millionaire! Just subscribe to this service and you will find out if you are or not.” This is a marketing gimmick, not commonly used in argumentation.

Sour Grapes: Denigrating something just because you can’t have it. “Your new Lamborghini is okay, but the seats are too low to the ground. I prefer my Chevy.” Not commonly used within argumentation.

Snow Job: There are several uses of this phrase: 1) “Proving” a claim by overwhelming an audience with mountains of irrelevant facts, numbers, documents, graphs and statistics that they cannot be expected to understand. 2) A strong effort to make someone believe something by saying things that are not true or sincere. Or 3) an attempt to deceive or persuade by using flattery or exaggeration. All of these uses are closer to lying than a fallacy.

Syllogistic Fallacy: This is a general category of formal fallacies that occur in syllogisms.

Taboo: Refusing to examine critically a belief or argument because it’s not acceptable to do so, for whatever reason. This is the refusal to reason.

Tautology: Using different words to say the same thing, even if the repetition does not provide clarity. Tautology can also refer to a series of self-reinforcing statements that cannot be disproved because the statements depend on the assumption that they are already correct (a form of begging the question). This is generally not deceptive in argument form.

Testimonials: Statements from, “authorities,” in the sense that they are said to know about what they are testifying. In business, vendor-provided testimonials should not be taken too seriously as they can easily be exceptions to the norm or just made up—as in, “John G. from Ohio says...” While testimonials could be arguments, they are generally not. If they are, they fall under the appeal to authority fallacy.

There Is No Alternative: Discouraging critical thought by announcing that there is no realistic alternative to a given standpoint, status or action, ruling any and all other options irrelevant, or announcing that a decision has been made, and any further discussion is simply a waste of time (or even insubordination or disloyalty).

Too Broad: The definition includes items which should not be included. This is more of an error of fact than reason.

Too Narrow: The definition does not include all the items which should be included. This is more of an error of fact than reason.

Vacuous truth: In mathematics and logic, a vacuous truth is a statement that asserts that all members of the empty set have a certain property. This is beyond the scope of fallacies.

Undoability: Claiming something is not possible rather than you (or someone else) cannot do it. This is very similar to the argument from ignorance.

Weasel Wording: Using ambiguous words in order to mislead or conceal a truth: “Save up to 50% or more!” This is more of a marketing gimmick than a fallacy.

Word Magic: Assuming just because there is a word for it, it must exist. This is questionable as a deceptive argument. For example, there is the word “unicorn” but most people aren’t tricked into thinking they must exist because of the word.

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