Thirty-eight dishonest tricks commonly used in arguments
Thirty-eight dishonest tricks
Thirty-eight dishonest tricks which are commonly used in argument, with the methods of overcoming them
This is taken from "Straight and crooked thinking" by Robert H. Thouless, Pan Books, ISBN 0 330 24127 3, copyright 1930, 1953 and 1974.
In most textbooks of logic there is to be found a list of "fallacies", classified in accordance with the logical principles they violate. Such collections are interesting and important, and it is to be hoped that any readers who wish to go more deeply into the principles of logical thought will turn to these works. The present list is, however, something quite different. Its aim is practical and not theoretical. It is intended to be a list which can be conveniently used for detecting dishonest modes of thought which we shall actually meet in arguments and speeches. Sometimes more than one of the tricks mentioned would be classified by the logician under one heading, some he would omit altogether, while others that he would put in are not to be found here. Practical convenience and practical importance are the criteria I have used in this list. If we have a plague of flies in the house we buy fly-papers and not a treatise on the zoological classification of Musca domestica. This implies no sort of disrespect for zoologists; or for the value of their work as a first step in the effective control of flies. The present book bears to the treatises of logicians the relationship of fly-paper to zoological classifications. Other books have been concerned with the appraisal of the whole of an argumentative passage without such analysis into sound and unsound parts as I have attempted. Undoubtedly it is also important to be able to say of an argued case whether it has or has not been established by the arguments brought forward. Mere detection of crooked elements in the argument is not sufficient to settle this question since a good argumentative case may be disfigured by crooked arguments. The study of crooked thinking is, however, an essential preliminary to this problem of judging the soundness of an argued case. It is only when we have cleared away the emotional thinking, the selected instances, the inappropriate analogies, etc, that we can see clearly the underlying case and make a sound judgement as to whether it is right or wrong.
The thirty-eight dishonest tricks of argument described in the present book are the following
(1) The use of emotionally toned words (pp 10-25)
Dealt with by translating the statement into words emotionally neutral
(2) Making a statement in which "all" is implied but "some" is true (pp 27-38)
Dealt with by putting the word "all" into the statement and showing that it is then false.
(3) Proof by selected instances (pp 32-37)
Dealt with dishonestly by selecting instances opposing your opponent's contention or honestly by pointing out the true form of the proof (as a statistical problem in association) and either supplying the required numerical facts or pointing out that your opponent has not got them.
(4) Extension of an opponent's proposition by contradiction or by misrepresentation of it (pp 39-43)
Dealt with by stating again the more moderate position which is being defended.
(5) Evasion of a sound refutation of an argument by the use of a sophistical formula (pp 41-44)
Dealt with by analysis of the formula and demonstration of its unsoundness.
(6) Diversion to another question, to a side issue, or by irrelevant objection (pp 44-48)
Dealt with by refusing to be diverted from the original question, but stating again the real question at issue.
(7) Proof by inconsequent argument (pp 49-50)
Dealt with by asking that the connection between the proposition and the alleged proof may be explained, even though the request for explanation may be attributed to ignorance or lack of logical insight on the part of the person making it.
(8) The argument that we should not make efforts against X which is admittedly evil because there is a worse evil Y against which our efforts should be directed (pp 50-52)
Dealt with by pointing out that this is a reason for making efforts to abolish Y, but no reason for not also making efforts to get rid of X.
(9) The recommendation of a position because it is a mean between two extremes (pp 52-54)
Dealt with by denying the usefulness of the principle as a method of discovering the truth. In practice, this can most easily be done by showing that our own view also can be represented as a mean between two extremes.
(10) Pointing out the logical correctness of the form of an argument whose premisses contain doubtful or untrue statements of fact (p 58)
Dealt with by refusing to discuss the logic of the argument but pointing out the defects of its presentations of alleged fact.
(11) The use of an argument of logically unsound form (pp 58-64)
Since the unsoundness of such arguments can be easily seen when the form of the argument is clearly displayed, an opponent who does this can be dealt with by making such a simple statement of his argument that its unsoundness is apparent. For one's own satisfaction when reading an argument of doubtful soundness, it will often be found useful to make a diagram.
(12) Argument in a circle (p 64)
(13) Begging the question (pp 65-66)
Both 12 and 13 can be dealt with in the same way as 11; by restating your opponent's argument in such a simple way that the nature of the device used must be clear to anyone.
(14) Discussing a verbal proposition as if it were a factual one, or failing to disentangle the verbal and factual elements in a proposition that is partly both (pp 67-77)
This is really an incompetent rather than a dishonest way of arguing. The remedy is to point out how much of the question at issue is a difference in the use of words and how much (if at all) it is a difference as to fact or values.
(15) Putting forward a tautology (such as that too much of the thing attacked is bad) as if it were a factual judgement (pp 71-72)
Dealt with by pointing out that the statement is necessarily true from its verbal form.
(16) The use of a speculative argument (pp 78-83)
Rebutted by pointing out that what is cannot be inferred from what ought to be or from what the speaker feels must be.
(17) Change in the meaning of a term during the course of an argument (pp 88-94)
Dealt with by getting the term defined or by substituting an equivalent form of words at one of the points where the term in question is used and seeing whether the use of this form of words will make true the other statements in which this term is used.