Tag Archives: Argumentum ad populum

Factions & Fallacies

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In general, human beings readily commit to factions and then engage in very predictable behavior: they regard their own factions as right, good and truthful while casting opposing factions as wrong, evil and deceitful. While the best known factions tend to be political or religious, people can form factions around almost anything, ranging from sports teams to video game consoles.

While there can be rational reasons to form and support a faction, factionalism tends to be fed and watered by cognitive biases and fallacies. The core cognitive bias of factionalism is what is commonly known as in group bias. This is the psychology tendency to easily form negative views of those outside of the faction. For example, Democrats often regard Republicans in negative terms, casting them as uncaring, sexist, racist and fixated on money. In turn, Republicans typically look at Democrats in negative terms and regard them as fixated on abortion, obsessed with race, eager to take from the rich, and desiring to punish success. This obviously occurs outside of politics as well, with competing religious groups regarding each other as heretics or infidels. It even extends to games and sports, as the battle of #gamergate serving as a nice illustration.

The flip side of this bias is that members of a faction regard their fellows and themselves in a positive light and are thus inclined to attribute to themselves positive qualities. For example, Democrats see themselves as caring about the environment and being concerned about social good. As another example, Tea Party folks cast themselves as true Americans who get what the founding fathers really meant.

This bias is often expressed in terms of and fuelled by stereotypes. For example, critics of the sexist aspects of gaming will make use of the worst stereotypes of male gamers (dateless, pale misogynists who spew their rage around a mouthful of Cheetos). As another example, Democrats will sometimes cast the rich as being uncaring and out of touch plutocrats. These stereotypes are sometimes taken the extreme of demonizing: presenting the other faction members as not merely wrong or bad but evil to the extreme.

Such stereotypes are easy to accept and many are based on another bias, known as a fundamental attribution error. This is a psychological tendency to fail to realize that the behavior of other people is as much limited by circumstances as our behavior would be if we were in their shoes. For example, a person who was born into a well off family and enjoyed many advantages in life might fail to realize the challenges faced by people who were not so lucky in their birth. Because of this, she might demonize those who are unsuccessful and attribute their failure to pure laziness.

Factionalism is also strengthened by various common fallacies. The most obvious of these is the appeal to group identity. This fallacy occurs when a person accepts her pride in being in a group as evidence that a claim is true. Roughly put, a person believes it because her faction accepts it as true. The claim might actually be true, the mistake is that the basis of the belief is not rational. For example, a devoted environmentalist might believe in climate change because of her membership in that faction rather than on the basis of evidence (which actually does show that climate change is occurring). This method of belief “protects” group members from evidence and arguments because such beliefs are based on group identity rather than evidence and arguments. While a person can overcome this fallacy, faction-based beliefs tend to only change when the faction changes or if the person leaves the faction.

The above-mentioned biases also tend to lean people towards fallacious reasoning. The negative biases tend to motivate people to accept straw man reasoning, which is when a when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. Politicians routinely make straw men out of the views they oppose and their faction members typically embrace these. The negative biases also make ad hominem fallacies common. An ad homimen is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting). For example, opponents of a feminist critic of gaming might reject her claims by claiming that she is only engaged in the criticism so as to become famous and make money. While it might be true that she is doing just that, this does not disprove her claims. The guilt by association fallacy, in which a person rejects a claim simply because it is pointed out that people she dislikes accept the claim, both arises from and contributes to factionalism.

The negative views and stereotypes are also often fed by fallacies that involve poor generalizations. One is misleading vividness, a fallacy in which a very small number of particularly dramatic events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence. For example, a person in a faction holding that gamers are violent misogynists might point to the recent death threats against a famous critic of sexism in games as evidence that most gamers are violent misogynists. Misleading vividness is, of course, closely related to hasty generalization, a fallacy in which a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is not large enough to justify that conclusion. For example, a Democrat might believe that all corporations are bad based on the behavior of BP and Wal-Mart. Biased generalizations also occur, which is a fallacy that is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is biased or prejudiced in some manner. This tends to be fed by the confirmation bias—the tendency people have to seek and accept evidence for their view while avoiding or ignoring evidence against their view. For example, a person might hold that his view that the poor want free stuff for nothing from visits to web sites that feature Youtube videos selected to show poor people expressing that view.

The positive biases also contribute to fallacious reasoning, often taking the form of a positive ad hominem. A positive ad hominem occurs when a claim is accepted on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author or person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, something positive (but irrelevant) about the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made. Second, this is taken to be evidence for the claim in question. For example, a Democrat might accept what Bill Clinton says as being true, just because he really likes Bill.

Nor surprisingly, factionalism is also supported by faction variations on appeals to belief (it is true/right because my faction believes it is so), appeal to common practice (it is right because my faction does it), and appeal to tradition (it is right because my faction has “always done this”).

Factionalism is both fed by and contributes to such biases and poor reasoning. This is not to say that group membership is a bad thing, just that it is wise to be on guard against the corrupting influence of factionalism.

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76 Fallacies

In addition to combining the content of my 42 Fallacies and 30 More Fallacies, this book features some revisions as well as a new section on common formal fallacies.

As the title indicates, this book presents seventy six fallacies. The focus is on providing the reader with definitions and examples of these common fallacies rather than being a handbook on winning arguments or general logic.

Available now at Amazon: United States and United Kingdom

 

 

 

 

 

The book presents the following 73 informal fallacies:

Accent, Fallacy of

Accident, Fallacy of

Ad Hominem

Ad Hominem Tu Quoque

Amphiboly, Fallacy of

Anecdotal Evidence, Fallacy Of

Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief

Appeal to Authority, Fallacious

Appeal to Belief

Appeal to Common Practice

Appeal to Emotion

Appeal to Envy

Appeal to Fear

Appeal to Flattery

Appeal to Group Identity

Appeal to Guilt

Appeal to Novelty

Appeal to Pity

Appeal to Popularity

Appeal to Ridicule

Appeal to Spite

Appeal to Tradition

Appeal to Silence

Appeal to Vanity

Argumentum ad Hitlerum

Begging the Question

Biased Generalization

Burden of Proof

Complex Question

Composition, Fallacy of

Confusing Cause and Effect

Confusing Explanations and Excuses

Circumstantial Ad Hominem

Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Division, Fallacy of

Equivocation, Fallacy of

Fallacious Example

Fallacy Fallacy

False Dilemma

Gambler’s Fallacy

Genetic Fallacy

Guilt by Association

Hasty Generalization

Historian’s Fallacy

Illicit Conversion

Ignoring a Common Cause

Incomplete Evidence

Middle Ground

Misleading Vividness

Moving the Goal Posts

Oversimplified Cause

Overconfident Inference from Unknown Statistics

Pathetic Fallacy

Peer Pressure

Personal Attack

Poisoning the Well

Positive Ad Hominem

Post Hoc

Proving X, Concluding Y

Psychologist’s fallacy

Questionable Cause

Rationalization

Red Herring

Reification, Fallacy of

Relativist Fallacy

Slippery Slope

Special Pleading

Spotlight

Straw Man

Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

Two Wrongs Make a Right

Victim Fallacy

Weak Analogy

 

The book contains the following three formal (deductive) fallacies:

 

Affirming the Consequent

Denying the Antecedent

Undistributed Middle

 

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Fallacy Interview

On Thursday I did an interview about fallacies. You can hear it here: http://twobeerswithsteve.libsyn.com/

The direct link is http://bit.ly/sidT4N

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42 Fallacies for Free

As a free gift to the readers of the Talking Philosophy blog, I offer my 42 Fallacies. It is a PDF book containing definitions and examples of 42 common fallacies. I assure you that it is worth every penny. For Kindle fans, it is also available for 99 cents (or the equivalent in other countries) in the US, the UK and elsewhere. 

Perhaps the best (and meanest) use was suggested by a friend of mine: email the file to someone with the subject “You really need this.” This could lead to a discussion on the ethics of using a philosophy book in an act of cruelty.

 

 

 

 

The book contains the following fallacies.

Ad Hominem
Ad Hominem Tu Quoque
Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief
Appeal to Authority
Appeal to Belief
Appeal to Common Practice
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Popularity
Appeal to Fear
Appeal to Flattery
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Pity
Appeal to Popularity
Appeal to Ridicule
Appeal to Spite
Appeal to Tradition
Begging the Question
Biased Generalization
Burden of Proof
Circumstantial Ad Hominem
Fallacy of Composition
Confusing Cause and Effect
Fallacy of Division
False Dilemma
Gambler’s Fallacy
Genetic Fallacy
Guilt by Association
Hasty Generalization
Ignoring a Common Cause
Middle Ground
Misleading Vividness
Peer Pressure
Personal Attack
Poisoning the Well
Post Hoc
Questionable Cause
Red Herring
Relativist Fallacy
Slippery Slope

 

 

 

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