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.
- 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
- 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
- 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!"
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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."
- 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."
- 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!"
- 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?"
- 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
- 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
- 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."