It can be approached traditionally: in which case one defines, explains, and exemplifies ways in which unsound arguments can be made to appear sound. Or it can be approached deeply, in which case one relates the construction of fallacies to the pursuit of human interests and irrational desires. Using the first approach, students gain little by memorizing the names and definitions of fallacies. They soon forget them. Their minds are left largely untouched and therefore unmoved.

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Nevertheless, it is useful to have some sense of what the common fallacies are and of how to distinguish them from sound reasoning. All fallacies result from an abuse of a way of thinking that is sometimes justified. For example, generalization is one of the most important acts of human thinking. Making comparisons by analogy and metaphor is another. As we begin to focus on fallacies, we will begin with a detailed emphasis on generalizations and comparisons and the errors of thought that emerge from their misuse.

We will then focus in detail on some of the most widely used fallacies. We do not have the space to approach all fallacies in this same detailed way. In total, we focus on 44 fallacies which we introduce as 44 Foul Ways to Win an Argument.

We view these fallacies as unethical strategies for winning arguments and manipulating people. They are the dirty tricks of intellectual life. Those who use them with success are able to do so precisely because, at some level, they deceive themselves into believing that their reasoning is sound. Faulty Generalizations As humans, we live in a world of abstractions and generalizations. All words that name or characterize what we think about are products of the mental act of generalizing.

Each and every existing thing is unique. Bishop Butler put this point in a memorable way in remarking, Everything is itself and not another. A parallel point can be made about virtually every word. The point is that we cannot live a human life except with the tools of linguistic abstraction. They enable us to do virtually all uniquely human activities. So, being indispensable, abstractions cant be all bad in and of themselves. The function of generalizations is quite simple.

Without generalizations we could not explain anything. Things would occur around us for no reason that we could fathom. We would stand around in a stupor, unable to relate anything to anything else, for a generalization is simply a way to take some set of things that we dont understand and compare them with something we do understand by means of some abstract words.

How does critical thinking help us with the forming of generalizations and abstractions? Again, the answer is quite simple. Critical thinking enables us to take command of the abstractions we create in our own minds, the generalizations we make about the world, and therefore, ultimately, the quality of our reasoning.

So why, then, do so many people mishandle abstractions and misuse generalizations? Once again, the answer is simple. Having very little understanding of them, most people are uncomfortable with abstractions. They dont understand reasoning. The whole notion of things intellectual is reallyif truth be toldpretty much of a puzzle to them. Without critical thinking skills, one doesnt know how to form reasonable and useful abstractions and generalizations.

One does not know how to bring them alive in the mind or apply them with discipline in the world. As such, we talk in general terms about tables, chairs, cows, crows, people, poems, and social movements. Despite the fact that there are useful things we can say about individual tables, chairs, cows, crows, people, poems, and social movements, we are nevertheless forced to generalize in countless ways. We talk in general terms about nearly everything that interests us: life and death, love and hate, success and failure, war and peace.

We must remember that generalizing is integral to the foundations of communication. It enables us to construct the concepts through which we conduct all our thinking. For example, if we meet three amusing Italians while on a visit to Rome, we are not justified in making the generalization that all or most Italians are amusing there is no reason to think that the three we met were representative of all or most Italians.

On the other hand, determining whether a generalization is justified is not merely a matter of counting instances. For example, if you touch a hot stove and burn your hand, one instance should be enough to convince you of the wisdom of the generalization, Never touch a hot stove with your bare hand.

On the basis of very few experiences you would be justified in making the even wider generalization, Never touch extremely hot objects with your naked flesh.

Well, then, how can we ensure that we are making justifiable generalizations? The answer is that we need to make sure we have sufficient evidence to justify our generalizations. For example, the more diverse the group we are generalizing about, the harder it is to generalize in a justifiable way about it. Thus, it is easier to make generalizations about frogs given the consistency in frog behavior than it is about domesticated dogs whose behavior varies more, from dog to dog and dog species to dog species.

In a like manner, it is easier to generalize about domesticated dogs than it is about humans whose behavior varies along many parameters. Humans behavior is highly diverse. Consider yourself as an example. You were born into a culture European, American, African, Asian. You were born at some point in time in some century in some year.

You were born in some place in the country, in the city, in the North or South, East or West. You were raised by parents with particular beliefs about the family, personal relationships, marriage, childhood, obedience, religion, politics, 3 As an exercise you might re-read this paragraph noting as you go how many general ideas are in it, each with a range of generalizations behind them.

You might also notice that in this section of the text, we are making generalizations about generalizations.


Fallacies:: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation

Appeal to Pity or sympathy It is a center of consciousness and action. It forms a unique identity. It creates a view of the world. Rich experience emerges from its interactions with the world.


The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation



The Thinker's Guide to Fallacies: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation


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