Practice In Identifying Fallacies
Each of the following contains one or more of the informal or formal fallacies discussed in class, or may contain no fallacies. The answers are at the end of this page.
1. Letter to editor responding to another letter criticising President Clinton: "What is it about "conservatives" that makes them think that this type of ranting, raving opinion is relevant, insightful or even humurous? What makes them so pitiful [so] that they choose to be misinformed by relying on "bait and hate" radio with their "sneer, smear and jeer" philosophy"?" - Fresno Bee, May 2, 1998
2. "Consider this sequence: Do-gooders and activists want to stop teens from smoking. Good! Government puts $1.50 extra tax on cigarettes. [...] Blackmarket and bootlegging develops to circumvent high tax. Organized crime takes over distribution of black market tobacco products. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and FBI try to control organized crime. Unsuccessful. More taxes to fund ATF and FBI. [...] Need more courts and prisons. Congress screams for more taxes. [...] Program a total failure. Gee, that reminds me of the Prohibition era 1917-1933. Doesn't Congress ever learn? Do we have to go through all that again, except for it being tobacco instead of alcohol?" - letter to editor, Fresno Bee, May 4, 1998
3. "Anyone who believes for a moment that the state would honor a pledge to replace the revenue lost to local government would believe pledges of fidelity made in a brothel. Eliminating the vehicle license fee is an election-year buzz-word scam touted by an Assembly member who salivates over the thought of no government to impede his motivations, and a governor who flat out hates counties." - letter to editor, Fresno Bee, May 12, 1998
4. This is an example from an actual trial in which the defense attorney, acting on behalf Johnny Sayres who was accused of shooting to death a man named Leander in a bar, very subtly commits the fallacy. The attorney, Seymour Wishman, is questioning a very large woman who witnessed part of the crime, but got scared and jumped over the bar. See if you can pick out the complex question the lady (and the opposing attorney!) falls for:
ATTORNEY SEYMOUR WISHMAN: How high was the bar you say you jumped over?
LADY: (indicates it's about four feet tall)
WISHMAN: And you're telling us you jumped over this bar?
LADY: That's a fact.
WISHMAN: You must have been mighty scared.
LADY: Ain't that the truth.
WISHMAN: They must have been arguing pretty bad, the two of them, for you to have been that scared.
LADY: And how! I ain't ordinarily what you would call no high jumper.
The jury and attorney laugh.
WISHMAN: So I guess being so scared, you didn't see, with your jumping over this bar and hiding behind it and all, whether Leander reached for his gun before Johnny reached for his?
LADY: That's right.
5. Government ownership of utilities is dangerous because it is socialistic and anything socialistic is dangerous.
6. President Bush's spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, when asked what he thought about an investigation of charges that the 1980 Reagan campaign made a deal with Iran to delay the release of American hostages until after the Presidential election: "There's no reason to investigate something that never happened."
7. "Either President Clinton and his cronies must go, or our country will. There are no other options." - letter to the editor, Time, October 19, 1998.
8. "The last election saw the Democrats doing better than the Republicans. The Democrats, led by President Clinton, is [sic] on record supporting abortion, same-sex marriages, homosexuality, lying under oath and all kinds of perverted sexual acts - and yet this ... nation voted to give this party more power." - letter to the editor, Daily Iberian, Nov. 12, 1998.
9. "So this Thanksgiving Day I hope all Christians thank God for this country and vow to get involved to save it from this hell-bound slide it is on. Pray hard and learn to fight for what is right or we may well not have a country to be thankful for - and this wrath of God would be justified because our refusal to stand up and be counted." - letter to the editor, Daily Iberian, Nov. 12, 1998.
10. "You'd better watch out,
You better not cry,
You'd better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He knows when you are sleeping,
He knows when you're awake;
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good, for goodness sake."
11. Tom Brokaw: "Premier Gorbachev, what has the Soviet Union done to demonstrate its concern for the rights of dissenters to emigrate from the Soviet Union?"
Mikhail Gorbachev: "And what has the United States done to demonstrate its concern for the rights of Americans to economic security?"
12. "God is love.
Love is blind.
Ray Charles is blind.
Ray Charles is God."
- restroom graffiti at the Ohio State University
13. from Reagan's closing statement at the 1984 Mondale/Reagan presidential debates:
"The question before [us] comes down to this: do you want to see America return to the policies of weakness of the last four years, or do we want to go forward marching together as a nation of strength and that's going to continue to be strong?"
14. In 1987, televangelist Oral Roberts announced that he was $1.3 million short of his goal of raising $8 million to send missionaries to Third World countries. Roberts wrote his followers: "I'm going to be in and out of the prayer tower praying and fasting until victory comes or God calls me home."
15. How can we explain the remarkable ability of some psychics to forsee the future?
16. [Ken Brickman is a businessman who pays students to take notes in classes and then sells them to other students.] "Professors and deans bemoan Brickman's lack of morals. They even use the word "cheating." They'd be more credible if their complaints - and the university's legal resources - were directed equally at Brickman's competitor in the note selling business a few blocks away. The difference: The competition pays professors for their notes; Brickman pays students. Morals are absent, it seems, only when professors aren't getting their cut." - editorial from USA Today
17. [Arguing against medical research utilizing human embryos:] "We are confident that most people, to the extent that they are aware of the Panel's recommendation [favoring embryo research], experience an immediate and strong revulsion. This is not to be dismissed as an irrational reaction. It signals a deep, intuitive awareness of lines that must not be crossed if we are to maintain our sometimes fragile hold upon our own humanity." - The Ramsey Colloquium, Jan. 1995
18. "One of the myths about the rise of P. C. (politically correct) is that, coming from the left, it is primarily intimidating conservatives on campus. Quite the contrary. At almost every college I've been, conservative students have their own newspaper, usually quite lively and fired by a muckracking glee at exposing "politically correct" follies on campus." - Nat Hentoff
19. "Both man and woman might be outraged at the description of their candlelit dinner as prostitution, but the radical feminist argues that this outrage is due simply to the participant's failure or refusal to perceive the social context in which their dinner date occurs. This context is deeply sexist: the chances are that the man has much more economic power than the woman; and it is certain that much of woman's social status depends on her attractiveness as defined by men." - Allison Jagger, "Prostitution"
20. "But [Samuel] Johnson was dead right in insisting - as did Plato and Rousseau - that what we encounter in literature and as entertainment has a strong effect on us, not just on our feelings and imagination but also on our behavior." - Roger Shattuck, The Atlantic Monthly, January 1999, p. 76.
21. "I think it is a sad case when a woman would write to a magazine, declare homosexuality "wrong" and basically refuse gays the right to have their strong commitments to each other recognized [through legal marriage]. Does this woman think a person would make a conscious decision to put themselves through hell by choosing to be gay? I think not. People are born gay - it's not an acquired trait! Cyndi Camp should be ashamed to sign her name to such an absurd statement!" - letter to editor, People, 11/23/98
22. In response to the question of whether a woman who was caught in the act of adultery should be stoned to death for her sin, as Moses stated in the Old Testament, Jesus states: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." - Bible, King James Trans., John 8:7.
23. Jesus, encouraging several Galileans to repent, states: "... except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." - Bible, King James Trans., Luke 13:5.
24. "But I say unto you, That whosever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery ... " - Jesus, Bible, King James Trans., Matthew 5:32.
25. "One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said "The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies." This witness is true, wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith." - St. Paul, Epistle to Titus 1:13-14.
26. "'Please your Majesty,' said the Knave, 'I didn't write it, and they can't prove I did: There's no name signed at the end.'
'If you didn't sign it,' said the King, 'that only makes the matter worse. You must have meant some mischief, or else you'd have signed your name like an honest man.'" - Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
27. "Macbeth shall never be vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him." - William Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 4, scene 1.
Macbeth assumed that since the forest at Great Birnam could never be moved to Dunsinane hill, he would never be vanquished. But he was vanquished when attackers camouflaged themselves with greenery at Birnam Wood and attacked at Dunsinane hill. What fallacy did Macbeth commit?
28. from the 1988 Quayle/Bentsen debates:
Dan Quayle: "Senator Bentsen talks about recapturing the foreign markets. Well, I'll tell you one way we're not going to recapture the foreign markets, and that is if in fact we have another Jimmy Carter grain embargo."
29. "Freedom of speech is when you talk." - former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda arguing before a congressional committee why the First Amendment should not protect flag burning, Newsweek, July 20, 1998, p. 21.
30. "Richard Baker: The best friend the big banks ever had." - televised political ad, Lafayette, LA, 9/26/98
31. "If he [the embryo or fetus] is not a child, why is he sucking his thumb?" - "She's A Child, Not A 'Choice'", published by the Human Life Alliance of Minnesota Education Fund, Inc., p. 8
32. "The only 'choice' in an abortion is between a dead baby or a live baby." - "She's A Child, Not A 'Choice'", published by the Human Life Alliance of Minnesota Education Fund, Inc., p. 2
33. "Claim: If public money (tax money) is not available to pauy for abortions "poor" women will be denied access to abortion. They will be discriminated against. Answer: Arewe obligated to provide cigarettes and alcohol to poor people if they cannot afford them? On the contrary, government is very explicit about which items may be purchased with food stamps. Is this considered discrimination?" - "She's A Child, Not A 'Choice'", published by the Human Life Alliance of Minnesota Education Fund, Inc., p. 2
1. two complex questions, each containing a personal attack.
2. slippery slope.
3. personal attack.
4. the last question is a complex question - it supposes that Leander had a gun.
5. begs the question as to whether socialism is dangerous.
6. begs the question as to whether anything happened.
7. false dilemma.
8. straw man - the Democrats record is misrepresented, and it's implicit that their purported record is problematic and that people shold not have voted for it.
9. appeal to force ("wrath of God")
10. appeal to force
11. tu quoque on the part of Gorbachev
12. possibly a fallacy of equivication on 'love', clearly the last three sentences are an example of affirmning the consequent
13. false dilemma, contained in a complex question
14. appeal to pity
15. complex question
16. tu quoque and circumstantial ad hominem against professors in the last sentence
17. appeal to popularity
18. genetic fallacy ("muckracking" aimed at the newspapers)
19. red herring - there's no apparent connection between the social context as described and acts of prostitution
20. fallacy of appeal to unqualified authority - Plato, Rousseau and Johnson may have been very observent and insightful, but this is no substitute for a well controlled study on the causes of human behavior.
21. red herring - opposition to homosexuality and homosexual marriage need not have anything to do with whether people choose to be homosexual
22. tu quoque
23. appeal to force
24. post hoc
25. fallacy of appeal to unqualified authority - it's quite unlikely that any single Cretan is in a position to know this. (the passage also contains a paradox: if the Cretans are always liars, and a Cretan claims that all Cretans always lie, was he lying or telling the truth? either way, a contradiction ensues.)
26. begging the question
27. fallacy of equivocation on 'wood'
28. red herring
29. fallacy of equivocation on 'speech'
30. guilt by association
31. complex question
32. false dilemma
33. red herring