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I've been thinking for a while of creating a thread on common logical fallacies, with a focus (at least initially) on ones that you see a lot of in debates on ShiaChat. Most of my examples will be taken from debates I've been involved in, and so naturally will appear biased against certain positions. However, this doesn't always mean those positions are themselves necessarily faulty, just that the arguments in their favour are. I'm making this thread as much for myself as anyone else, so that we can all reflect on the arguments we use in debate, and try to raise our level insha'Allah.

To save myself time, I'm just going to give the Wikipedia definition of the fallacy, along with my own examples. For further details on the fallacies, read the Wikipedia page, or search on Google. I will also try to avoid posting too many in one post, since it makes it less likely that anyone will read it.

To start with, here is a definition of what a logical fallacy is:

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In philosophy, a formal fallacy (also called logical fallacy) is a pattern of reasoning rendered invalid by a flaw in its logical structure that can neatly be expressed in a standard logic system, for example propositional logic.[1] An argument that is formally fallacious is always considered wrong. A formal fallacy is contrasted with an informal fallacy, which may have a valid logical form and yet be unsound because one or more premises are false.

The presence of a formal fallacy in a deductive argument does not imply anything about the argument's premises or its conclusion. Both may actually be true, or even more probable as a result of the argument, but the deductive argument is still invalid because the conclusion does not follow from the premises in the manner described. By extension, an argument can contain a formal fallacy even if the argument is not a deductive one; for instance an inductive argument that incorrectly applies principles of probability or causality can be said to commit a formal fallacy.

"Fallacious arguments usually have the deceptive appearance of being good arguments."[2] Recognizing fallacies in everyday arguments may be difficult since arguments are often embedded in rhetorical patterns that obscure the logical connections between statements. Informal fallacies may also exploit the emotional, intellectual, or psychological weaknesses of the audience. Having the capability to recognize fallacies in arguments is one way to reduce the likelihood of such occurrences.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formal_fallacy

In this post, I'll restrict myself to three very common examples, with many more to come insha'Allah.

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Argument from authority (Latin: argumentum ad verecundiam) also appeal to authority, is a common form of argument which leads to a logical fallacy.

In informal reasoning, the appeal to authority is a form of argument attempting to establish a statistical syllogism. The appeal to authority relies on an argument of the form:

A is an authority on a particular topic
A says something about that topic
A is probably correct
Fallacious examples of using the appeal include any appeal to authority used in the context of logical reasoning, and appealing to the position of an authority or authorities to dismiss evidence, as authorities can come to the wrong judgments through error, bias, dishonesty, or falling prey to groupthink. Thus, the appeal to authority is not a generally reliable argument for establishing facts.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

 

Extremely common on here, for obvious reasons. Most commonly you will see one side present evidence in favour of their position from logic and textual sources. Initially the other side will try to fight fire with fire, only to realise things are not going well, so they fall back on 'Well, it doesn't matter what some e-scholar on the internet says, these scholars agree with me'.

 

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An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attack on an argument made by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the argument directly. When used inappropriately, it is a logical fallacy in which a claim or argument is dismissed on the basis of some irrelevant fact or supposition about the author or the person being criticized.[2] Ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact or when used in certain kinds of moral and practical reasoning.[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

 

Sadly, perhaps the most common logical fallacy on ShiaChat. You see it in pretty much any debate where someone is defending a minority position in a sensitive topic. Often involves calling the other person a Wahhabi, Nasibi, and/or CIA/MI5/Mossad agent, rather than dealing with the arguments they are making.

 

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A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument which was not advanced by that opponent.

The so-called typical "attacking a straw man" argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and then to refute or defeat that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the original proposition.[

This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged emotional issues where a fiery, entertaining "battle" and the defeat of an "enemy" may be more valued than critical thinking or understanding both sides of the issue.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

 

Happens so often that it's hard to choose just one example. I think the following explanation given on wikipedia are sufficient to give everyone a good impression of how common this fallacy is though:

 

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The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:

Person 1 asserts proposition X.
Person 2 argues against superficially similar proposition Y, falsely, as if an argument against Y were an argument against X.
This reasoning is a fallacy of relevance: it fails to address the proposition in question by misrepresenting the opposing position.

For example:

Quoting an opponent's words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent's actual intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).
Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then denying that person's arguments—thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.
Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
Oversimplifying an opponent's argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.

 

Edited by Haydar Husayn

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A few more...

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 Argument to moderation (Latin: argumentum ad temperantiam)—also known as [argument from] middle ground, false compromise, gray fallacy, and the golden mean fallacy—is an informal fallacy which asserts that the truth can be found as a compromise between two opposite positions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_to_moderation

Often seen with those who are on the verge of becoming Sunnis. Their arguments commonly assume that the truth must be half-way between Shi'ism and Sunnism, or they will assert that the 'objective' view should conform with neither the Shia or Sunni one, without giving any real evidence for why it should be so. In most cases, such people either end up becoming Sunnis or stay mired in a state of confusion.

 

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 A false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, false binary, black-and-white thinking, bifurcation, denying a conjunct, the either–or fallacy, fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses, the fallacy of false choice, the fallacy of the false alternative, or the fallacy of the excluded middle) is a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which only limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma

Quite common, and has many forms. One I have come across a few times is along the lines of someone saying that you either believe that the Ahlulbayt [a] have X, Y, Z powers and attributes, or you believe they are just ordinary scholars.

 

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 Equivocation ("to call by the same name") is an informal logical fallacy. It is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time). It generally occurs with polysemic words (words with multiple meanings).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivocation

Happens a lot in debates on 'intercession', where defenders of the practice of calling on the Imams [a], will equivocate between all the various possible meanings of intercession, including intercession on the Day of Judgement, asking Allah by the right of the Ahlulbayt, asking the Imams to pray to ask Allah on our behalf, and directly calling on the Imams. Often the weakest statement is defended (i.e. the permissibility of asking Allah by the right of an Imam, or asking an Imam to ask Allah on our behalf), while hoping to convince people of the stronger statement (calling on the Imams directly).

 

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Appeal to tradition (also known as argumentum ad antiquitatem,[1] appeal to antiquity, or appeal to common practice) is a common fallacy in which a thesis is deemed correct on the basis that it is correlated with some past or present tradition. The appeal takes the form of "this is right because we've always done it this way."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_tradition

Rarely explicitly stated, but underlines a lot of beliefs and arguments (various traditional rituals, duas, etc). However, because most people realise the argument is absurd, they try to find other more convincing means of defence.

 

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 An appeal to probability (or appeal to possibility) is the logical fallacy of taking something for granted because it would probably be the case (or might possibly be the case).[1] Inductive arguments lack deductive validity and must therefore be asserted or denied in the premises.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_probability

I've most often come across this in debates on the 'powers' of the Imams. Usually in the form of someone asking the rhetorical question 'Do you deny that Allah could have given them these powers?' See also  http://www.shiachat.com/forum/topic/235030606-words-of-wisdom-from-an-early-christian-scholar/

Edited by Haydar Husayn

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I haven't added to this thread in a long time, so here is another common one, that is absolutely rampant among modernists.

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Chronological snobbery is an argument that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior to that of the present, simply by virtue of its temporal priority. The term was coined by C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield.

As Barfield explains it, it is the belief that "intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century."[1] The subject came up between them when Barfield had converted to Anthroposophy and was seeking to get Lewis (an atheist at the time) to join him. One of Lewis's objections was that religion was simply outdated, and in Surprised by Joy (chapter 13, p. 207–208), he describes how this was fallacious:

“Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.    ”
A manifestation of chronological snobbery is the usage in general of the word "medieval" to mean "backwards".

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronological_snobbery

How many times have you heard someone say that such-and-such a thing is unacceptable in the 21st century, or in 2016 (or whatever the year happens to be)? Well, now you know what to call it, and why it is a stupid argument.

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Chronological snobbery is also likely affected by human psychology.

The near/recent past has a relatively large impact on our view of the world. For example, when oil was US$140 a barrel, most people imagined a world of oil prices that were in that ballpark.

Oil prices around US$40 were unimaginable.

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7 minutes ago, Haji 2003 said:

Chronological snobbery is also likely affected by human psychology.

The near/recent past has a relatively large impact on our view of the world. For example, when oil was US$140 a barrel, most people imagined a world of oil prices that were in that ballpark.

Oil prices around US$40 were unimaginable.

I definitely think that people find it incredibly hard to imagine how anyone could think differently to the way they do. Part of the problem is that most people are completely ignorant of the concept of a worldview. They don't know what this is, why everyone has one, and what their own worldview is. Until people start reflecting on that, they will always find it difficult to understand to viewpoints that differ radically from their own. Part of the problem a lot of Muslims have these days is that they are raised in probably the most secular environment that has ever existed, but are trying to follow a religion that presupposes a worldview that is absolutely not secular. As the start of Surah al-Baqarah says:
 

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This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah

Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them,

And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith].

 

I'm not sure how many can truthfully get past these verses.

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1 minute ago, Haydar Husayn said:

I definitely think that people find it incredibly hard to imagine how anyone could think differently to the way they do.

And as well as that people find it impossible to imagine a world or circumstances that are radically different to the ones that they are living in.

I feel that this inability explains why people have such a one sided view of slavery, it's incomprehensible for them to imagine a world where anyone would choose this as a means of survival. For them everything is a matter of lifestyles.

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This is the Logical Fallacies Handlist by Wheeler: https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/fallacies_list.html

Some of the fallacies were mentioned in this thread already but I think a lot were not - and imo its a great read (its a mandatory reading in a class i teach xD)

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28 minutes ago, ice unicorn said:

This is the Logical Fallacies Handlist by Wheeler: https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/fallacies_list.html

Some of the fallacies were mentioned in this thread already but I think a lot were not - and imo its a great read (its a mandatory reading in a class i teach xD)

I really like the link you provided, Ice. It's a big, eye-opening help.

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