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While this is a comfortable and natural tendency for humans, such appeals cannot tell us which things are true and which are false. All appeals to authority are a type of genetic fallacy. Experts do not have the characteristic of producing absolute truth. To determine truth from untruth we must rely on evidence and reason.

However, appeals to relevant authority can tell us which things are likely to be true. This is the means by which we form beliefs. The overwhelming majority of the things that we believe in, such as atoms and the solar system, are on reliable authority, as are all historical statements, to paraphrase C. It is fallacious to form a belief when the appeal is to an authority who is not an expert on the issue at hand.

A similar appeal worth noting is the appeal to vague authority, where an idea is attributed to a vague collective. For example, Professors in Germany showed such and such to be true. Another type of appeal to irrelevant authority is the appeal to ancient wisdom, where something is assumed to be true just because it was believed to be true some time ago. For example, Astrology was practiced by technologically advanced civilizations such as the Ancient Chinese.


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Therefore, it must be true. One might also appeal to ancient wisdom to support things that are idiosyncratic, or that may change with time. Such appeals need to weigh the evidence that is available to us in the present. Equivocation exploits the ambiguity of language by changing the meaning of a word during the course of an argument and using the different meanings to support some conclusion. A word whose meaning is maintained throughout an argument is described as being used univocally. Consider the following argument: How can you be against faith when we take leaps of faith all the time, with friends and potential spouses and investments?

In one context, it may be used as a word that seeks cause , which as it happens is the main driver of science, and in another it may be used as a word that seeks purpose and deals with morals and gaps, which science may well not have answers to.


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  • For example, one may argue: Science cannot tell us why things happen. Why do we exist? Why be moral? A false dilemma is an argument that presents a set of two possible categories and assumes that everything in the scope of that which is being discussed must be an element of that set. If one of those categories is rejected, then one has to accept the other. For example, In the war on fanaticism, there are no sidelines; you are either with us or with the fanatics. In reality, there is a third option, one could very well be neutral; and a fourth option, one may be against both; and even a fifth option, one may empathize with elements of both.

    In The Strangest Man , it is mentioned that physicist Ernest Rutherford once told his colleague Niels Bohr a parable about a man who bought a parrot from a store only to return it because it didn't talk. You wanted a parrot that talks. Please forgive me. I gave you the parrot that thinks.

    The fallacy assumes a cause for an event where there is no evidence that one exists. Two events may occur one after the other or together because they are correlated, by accident or due to some other unknown event; one cannot conclude that they are causally connected without evidence. The recent earthquake was due to people disobeying the king is not a good argument. With the latter, because an event happens at the same time as another, it is said to have caused it. Here is an example paraphrased from comedian Stewart Lee: I can't say that because in I did a drawing of a robot and then Star Wars came out, then they must have copied the idea from me.

    Here is another one that I recently saw in an online forum: The attacker took down the railway company's website and when I checked the schedule of arriving trains, what do you know, they were all delayed!

    How to use rhetoric to get what you want - Camille A. Langston

    The fallacy plays on the fears of an audience by imagining a scary future that would be of their making if some proposition were accepted. Rather than provide evidence to show that a conclusion follows from a set of premisses, which may provide a legitimate cause for fear, such arguments rely on rhetoric, threats or outright lies.

    For example, I ask all employees to vote for my chosen candidate in the upcoming elections. If the other candidate wins, he will raise taxes and many of you will lose your jobs. Here is another example, drawn from the novel, The Trial : You should give me all your valuables before the police get here. They will end up putting them in the storeroom and things tend to get lost in the storeroom. Here, although the argument is more likely a threat, albeit a subtle one, an attempt is made at reasoning. An appeal to fear may proceed to describe a set of terrifying events that would occur as a result of accepting a proposition, which has no clear causal links, making it reminiscent of a slippery slope.

    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.

    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.

    Rhetorical Choices: Analyzing and Writing Arguments, 2nd Edition

    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. 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. 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.

    Description:

    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. Homo rhetoricus is irreducible by any social or psychological theory.

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    Billig is very charming and entertaining in his presentation, and it is hard not to share his glee. But there is a dark side. In the absence of Right moral or logical , reason is nondecisive. It is reduced to a rhetorical device.

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    Arguments will progress infinitely through point and counterpoint and will be decidable only through passion, force, or exhaustion of energy or wit. This is, admittedly, pretty much the way of the world, the hard sciences being the only partial exception. Billig is confronting us, ultimately, with our own imperfectability. The Enlightenment has not been doing well of late. But, then, perfectability is not high on his list of virtues. If there is a master principle, it is evolution, not reason. Billig presents himself as an "antiquarian psychologist.

    His references to classical texts on rhetoric seem to me, with the exception of Protagoras, to be less profitable. In this regard, we might say that modern psychology has not gotten very far in the study of persuasive communication and that classical rhetoricians were greatly in advance of modern psychology, having long ago not gotten very far. But the theories of modern psychology are much more interesting than the discussions of the classical rhetoricians, and consequently, it is in his evaluations of modern social science and of "common sense" that Billig is most interesting.

    Billig himself relies mainly on his own incisive common sense. His book is an extended exercise in what he, following Ralph Lever, a 16th century rhetorician, calls "witcraft. This, if my understanding of Russell's theory of logical types is correct, is not self-contradictory. Billig leaves in his wake the debris of shattered theories and generalizations. But for me, the book has an unstated message. It emerges from every page like the hidden picture in a work of optical art.

    Hold the book at a certain distance, squint your eyes just so, and you will see "Enough theorizing. Work with texts. Read online or offline with all the highlighting and notetaking tools you need to be successful in this course. He teaches courses on writing, graphic books, science fiction, and sexuality—sometimes all at the same time. The author, editor, or co-author of nine books, his work focuses primarily on the use of emerging communications technologies in the teaching of writing.

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    After shaking up writing classrooms at more than colleges and universities, Understanding Rhetor ic, the comic-style guide to writing that instructors have told us gets "nothing but positive responses from students," has returned for a second edition!