Avoiding logical fallacies in your writing: “Argument to logic”

One of the best ways to ensure your manuscript stands out from the competition is to verify that your arguments are free of logical fallacies. What are logical fallacies, you ask? According to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), “Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim.”1 The fallacy I’ll be discussing in this post is the argument to logic (argumentum ad logicam).

According to Glen Whitman at California State University Northridge, the argument-to-logic fallacy assumes that a standpoint is false because the standpoint uses flawed reasoning.2 Now, normally, flawed reasoning is a great reason to discredit an argument, right? As Whitman notes, the problem with the argument to logic, though, is that while the standpoint you’re deconstructing may be based on a false premise, another argument based on solid proof may actually support the original standpoint.3 You’ll notice there are two key elements in this definition: (1) we assume a standpoint is false because the reasoning is flawed; however, (2) this false reasoning doesn’t necessarily discredit the standpoint.

Let’s say a library has just suffered a budget cut, and the director has to explain why staff members won’t be getting pay raises this year. The director says that because staff members have received generous raises in the past, they won’t be receiving raises this year. Furthermore, if staff members did receive a raise this year, the library wouldn’t have enough money for circulation materials, equipment, etc. A disgruntled staff member accuses the director of being “cheap” because the library has been able to give staff members raises in past years. The staff member assumes the director’s standpoint is flawed because the director’s reasoning is flawed. The director was bring truthful when he said he wouldn’t be able to afford needed resources if he also gave raises, but his rationale for not giving raises is flawed.

Specifically, the budget was slashed this year in response to a cut in city funding, as opposed to generosity with staff raises in the past. Thus, the library director’s conclusion is based on the false premise that the library can’t afford to give staff raises this year due to generosity with raises in the past. However, this false premise is not sufficient evidence for the disgruntled staff member to say the library can afford to give its staff members a raise this year. In other words, the disgruntled staff member has committed the fallacy of argument to logic. The solution, then, would be for the director to make it clear that the library can’t afford raises because of government funding cuts, rather than relying on the false premise that pay raises would cause budget issues.

Identifying fallacies in your writing can be deceptively difficult. Taking some time to familiarize yourself with the types of logical fallacies, as well as having another person read over your paper (preferably someone who’s familiar with philosophy), can help alleviate this difficulty.

Next week, we’ll look at some more fallacies, specifically, “appeal to authority” and “either/or.”


Image via Ron and Joe.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. “Logical Fallacies,” Purdue University, accessed April 25, 2018, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/659/03/
  2. Glen Whitman, “Logical Fallacies and the Art of Debate,” California State University Northridge, accessed April 25, 2018, http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/fallacies.html
  3. Glen Whitman, “Logical Fallacies and the Art of Debate,” California State University Northridge, accessed April 25, 2018, http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/fallacies.html
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