Common Fallacies to Avoid

A collection of common logical fallacies which occur in discussions.

Background for this Article

The page is instructive of fallacies in reasoning that occur in any discourse, not just that pertaining to the ethical treatment of animals. In any case, examples of logical fallacies are drawn from arguments that reflect liberated views and also speciesist views.

This is a short reference to thirteen of the more frequently committed fallacies. They are useful in making one's own writing more persuasive, and knowing them also sharpens one's ability to criticize the arguments of others.

When we try to present our views convincingly (instead of just trying to sway people emotionally), we present arguments. Simply stated, arguments involve trying to show that a given conclusion is true (or probably true) by appealing to other propositions (called the premises). In constructing valid arguments, we would do well to avoid several common errors in reasoning, some of which are described, with illustrations, below. It is important to recognize that fallacies are specifically errors in reasoning. They are not falsehoods, which apply to statements or propositions (which are generally either true or false). An error in reasoning occurs when one misinfers a conclusion from a premise. Interestingly, these errors in inference often occur in many characteristic forms. Hence many fallacies are distinguished by using special names, as in the following dozen common fallacies.

  1. Ad hominem fallacy fallacy. Trying to refute another's view by attacking the person who holds that view (with insults, say) instead of addressing the view itself. Example: "What Smith says is false, because he is a [insert insult here]."
  2. Hasty generalization fallacy. This involves inferring that because some things are a certain way, therefore all such things are that way. Example: "Many animals exploiters only care about making money. Therefore all animal exploiters only care about accumulating personal wealth."
  3. Begging the question fallacy. This involves assuming the view that one is setting out to prove or support. It is one of the most common but often the most difficult to detect. Example 1: "PETA's tactics are foolish. I know this because I have observed them at work and have noted that they are misguided." Example 2: "We should stop criticizing fur wearers." "Why?" "Because it is wrong!"
  4. Ignoratio elenchus (the fallacy of irrelevance). This error occurs where a consideration is introduced to support a conclusion but is actually irrelevant to the conclusion itself. Example: "Some leaders of the bigger pro-animal organizations make huge, six-figure salaries. So we should not try to raise money to help animals in distress."
  5. Tu quoque fallacy fallacy. When someone is accused of wrongdoing, and the person criticized shoots back that the accuser is guilty of the same thing, this is wrongly thought to dissipate the original criticism. Example: "Your wearing of fur causes needless suffering." "So, I see you're sporting leather shoes!"
  6. Inappropriate appeal to authority fallacy. This involves citing a famous person who holds an opinion as an argument in favour of the opinion's truth. Example: "Albert Schweitzer said we must have reverence for all life, so we must never even swat a mosquito." Note that some appeals to authority may be legitimate, such as introducing the Pope's views on abortion and concluding from this what is the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church on this issue.
  7. Ad populum fallacy. Trying to uphold a view by appeal to what people widely believe. Example: "Most people say that animal rightists are somehow associated with violence, so there must be a lot of truth to that idea."
  8. Genetic fallacy. A view is judged based on a view about the origin of the statement, but not an assessment of the justification of the view itself. Example: "These statistics come from the Fur Institute of Canada, so they must be biased or mistaken."
  9. Fallacy of false cause. One infers from one event following another that the first event was the cause of the second. Example: "I wrote a letter to a prominent entertainer once that he should stop using animals in his acts. Ever since then, I haven't seen any animals in his acts. It just shows you what one letter can do!"
  10. Complex question fallacy. One expresses a question involving an untrue presupposition. Example: "So have you stopped slandering legitimate users of animals, or are you still at it?"
  11. Fallacy of Equivocation fallacy. The conclusion is argued for by someone who uses the same key term differently in the argument. Example: "Life is sacred, as Albert Schweitzer believed. So all pro-lifers on the abortion issue, who also claim that life is sacred, must be vegetarians."
  12. Fallacy of accident. This tricky reasoning applies a rule or principle that holds in general to some inappropriate special case. Example: "It is wrong to lie. So if a Nazi comes knocking at your door, and a Jew or some other refugee is hiding in your attic, you should tell him the truth when asked about the whereabouts of the fugitive."
  13. Fallacy of converse accident is just the reverse, taking a special case and generalizing inappropriately to a general rule. Example: "We use highways paved by slaves. So it is with anything that is produced unjustly: the injustice is all in the past, and should not influence our actions in the present. This makes nonsense of any campaign to boycott products that have been tested on animals."