Logical Fallacies, Formal and Informal
Formal logic defines, in rigid terms, the exact form in which statements must be made and arranged to lead to conclusions which are true.
In, "real life," almost none of our thinking takes the strict form which formal logic describes. While almost all reasoning can be reduced to those strict logical forms, it is a tedious chore none of us are inclined to. In some cases, however, that is exactly what we must do to insure our reasoning is correct.
Nevertheless, most errors in thinking and the origin of most fallacies are not as likely to be the result of violating logical rules as are mistakes in our original assumptions or premises. Two of the most common contributors to these mistakes are confusion of context and vagueness of meaning.
The meanings of words, the appropriateness of actions, and the nature of consequences, except for certain absolutes, all vary depending on the conceptual and material context in which they occur. Ignoring or evading contexts nearly always results in a fallacy.
The richness and idiomatic nature of the English language, (and many other languages, as well), allows for great variation in the precise intent and meaning of both specific words and phrases. When the precise intended meaning of such words and phrases are accidentally or intentionally obscured, a fallacy is likely.
Oddly, there is a fallacy arising out of formal logic itself (especially symbolic logic) which is a result of both these types of confusion.
For example, the following is a valid argument in formal logic:
(\ is the common symbol for "therefore.")
All men are green.|
Paul is a man.
\ Paul is green.
Is this a valid argument? To the logician, the answer is yes, because it is made according to the rules of logic. Unfortunately, there is among logicians a view that a, "formally valid," argument, that is, one that does not violate any rule of logic, being without "formal" fallacy, is therefore true. This is partly due to those ideas arising from Boolean Algebra and other forms of symbolic logic, where the word, "true," is defined to mean a specific "logical state." But the view is a fallacy, however, for the same reason the "green man" example is a fallacy, one of the premises (all men are green) is untrue. The false premise the logicians hold is the result of both a confusion of context (kind of logic) and vagueness of meaning (how truth is defined). We call this particular kind of fallacy, the "formally correct
," or "according to the rules," fallacy.
Formal fallacies are arguments (called syllogisms) that fail to result in the truth because they violate the formal rules of logic. Formal fallacies assume the premises are true, so the fallacy results from drawing a conclusion, (an inference) not supported by the premises, even when the premises are true.
- Four terms fallacy - (quaternio terminorum) The formal syllogism specifies that exactly three and only three "unambiguous categorical terms" be used in the argument. A term is what we called a "simple idea."
In the argument:
All cats are mammals|
Puddens is a cat.
\ Puddens is a mammal.
The three terms are cat, mammal, and Puddens. If there are more than three "significant" terms (terms actually used in the argument) the argument commits a formal fallacy. For example:
All cats are mammals|
Puddens is our pet.
\ Our pet is a mammal.
is fallacious because it has four terms, cat, mammal, Puddens, and pet. In this case the fallacy is obvious. The arguer assumes Puddens is a cat, but for all anyone else knows, Puddens might be a kangaroo.
The fallacy in this case is obvious, but it is not always. For example:
All roses have thorns.|
My favorite shrub is the rose of Sharon
\ My favorite shrub has thorns.
The four terms in this argument are rose, thorns, shrub, and rose of Sharon, because the rose of Sharon is not a rose, (and does not have thorns).
While this is technically a fallacy because it violates the three term rule, it is the result of a confusion in the meaning of the words, in this case, between rose, and rose of sharon.
- Undistributed middle fallacy - This fallacy is impossible to describe without knowing what is meant by "middle," and "distributed." Consider this example:
All humans are mortal|
Morgan is human.
\ Morgan is mortal
The terms in this argument are humans, mortal, and Morgan. There are two terms in the conclusion (the third or "\" proposition) of any argument, the subject term (in this case Morgan) and the predicate term (in this case mortal). Since there are only three terms in any argument of formal logic, the third term, which is never in the conclusion, must be in both premises (in this case, humans). The third term is called the "middle term," because it logically lies in the middle, as a connector, between the subject and predicate terms.
Now, what does "distributed," mean? In classical logic, the two words "distribution," and "extension," mean almost the same thing. They both refer to that aspect of an idea (concept) that we variously call its referents, particulars, or, in Ayn Rand's epistemology, units.
The "distribution" of "extension" of the concept, "mankind," for example, means all possible humans, past, present, and future, and every human being is a "unit" or "particular" of the concept "mankind." The concept, "dog," as another example, means all possible dogs, of all possible 'breeds' past, present, and future, and every dog that has ever been or ever will be is a "unit" or "particular" of the concept dog.
In our example, the "middle" term, humans is "distributed" because the premise, "all human beings are mortal" indicates "mortal" is a quality or characteristic of all the concept's particulars or units (all humans). In other words, there is something stated in some premise about the middle term (human) that is true of (distributed to) every possible example of what the middle term designates, which in this case is every possible human.
This example illustrates the fallacy of an undistributed middle:
All dogs are mammals.|
Some mammals are whales.
\ Some dogs are whales.
While the falseness of this argument may be obvious, the reason it is false is not so obvious. Notice the middle term mammals is not distributed because there is nothing stated in either premise about the middle term that is true (distributed to) every possible example of what the middle term designates (every possible mammal).
- Illicit major and illicit minor fallacies - This fallacy is impossible to describe without knowing what is meant by "major," and "minor" terms. Repeating the example used to explain "middle," and "distributed":
All humans are mortal|
Morgan is human.
\ Morgan is mortal
The subject of the conclusion, (in this case Morgan) is called the minor term; the predicate of the conclusion, (in this case mortal) is called the major term. The premise that contains the major term is called the major premise. (While, in classical logic, the major premise is always stated first, it is not logically required to be first.) The premise that contains the minor term is called the minor premise.
If either the major or minor premise identifies the middle term with only some of the major or minor term's "units" or particulars, no valid conclusion can be supported about all of that terms "units" or particulars.
In this example of an illicit major:
All dogs are mammals|
No cats are dogs.
\ No cats are mammals.
...only some mammals (major term) are identified with the middle term, dogs.
In this example of an illicit minor:
All poodles are mammals|
All poodles are pets
\ All pets are mammals.
...only some pets (minor term) are identified with the middle term, poodles.
- Exclusive premises fallacy - A premise that asserts a negative identity between the major or minor term and the middle term is called a negative premise. If both premises are negative, no valid conclusion can be drawn, because each premise excludes any identity with the other, as in this example:
No fish are mammals.|
No whales are fish.
\Some whales are not mammals.
(This fallacy is extremely rare.)
- Drawing an affirmative conclusion from negative premises fallacy - If either premise is negative, the conclusion must also be negative or is invalid. This is true because when the minor premise is negative it says something negative about the subject of the conclusion and if the major premise is negative it says something negative about the predicate of the conclusion, which makes either the subject or predicate of the conclusion, and thus the whole conclusion negative, as in this valid example:
All fish are aquatic animals.|
Some fish have no scales.
\Some aquatic animals have no scales.
...or, in this example of the fallacy:
All fish are aquatic animals.|
Some aquatic animals have no scales.
\Some fish have scales.
Though the conclusion makes a true statement, that truth is not established by the argument, as illustrated in the following:
All sharks are aquatic animals.|
Some aquatic animals have no scales.
\Some sharks have scales.
The fallacy is apparent in this example, because sharks do not have scales.
- Existential fallacy - The logical rule this fallacy violates says, "if both premises are universal, the conclusion must be universal." But what does universal mean?
In the proposition "all dogs are mammals," the term "dog" is used "universally," because it refers to every actual or possible dog. But universal does not mean, "collective," that is, the universal concept "dog" is not just a term for the collection of all possible dogs; it means that nature which is common to all dogs as dogs, or the qualities that differentiate all dogs from all other existents, and therefore refers to all possible existents with that nature or those qualities.
(Every concept includes in its comprehension, all qualities and characteristics possible to any unit of the concept, both those which are "essential" [without which an existent could not be a unit of the concept], all those that are possible [which any unit may have but no unit must have] and excludes all those that are impossible [those which are incompatible with the essential qualities, which, if any existent has, it cannot be a unit of the concept].)
If both premises of an argument are universal, it is the concepts themselves that is meant by the major and minor terms, and not any specific particulars or units of those concepts. For example:
All fish are aquatic animals.|
All animals are sentient.
\All fish are sentient.
In this valid argument, the conclusion is not about any particular fish, and even if there were no fish, the conclusion would still be valid. In the following, however, the conclusion is invalid:
All trespassers will be shot.|
All survivors will be prosecuted.
\Some trespassers will be prosecuted.
If the two premises were on a sign, its purpose would be to ensure there are no trespassers, and to indicate, if there are, they will be dead. (We assume the shooter does not miss.) Since the intent is that there be no trespassers, or at least no live ones, the conclusion about "some" of them cannot be valid. The universal premises includes all possible trespassers and survivors, whether or not there ever are any trespassers. The particular conclusion, "some" refers to actual trespasser, of which the premises assume there will not be any.
(Note: Some might question how the following can be a fallacy:
All dogs are mammals.|
All mammals are animals.
\Some dogs are animals.
Since the correct conclusion, "All dogs are animals," means every possible dog, certainly some dogs are animals. But, "some," in logic is ambiguous, meaning what is true of "some" might not be true of "some others."
In this case, the conclusion appears true, but is invalid. The formal logic fallacies indicate those forms that always or sometimes lead to wrong conclusions, and therefore, can never be depended on to produce correct conclusions, even if they sometimes do.
We noted, most of or our thinking, reasoning, and arguing seldom resembles the neatly ordered syllogisms of classical logic. Our thinking is both more complex, often involving many terms and many propositions, and more casual, where terms and propositions are often assumed.
Since our natural way of reasoning and arguing is much richer and more interesting than the dry and formal methods of classical logic, it is not surprising, the fallacies of informal argument are also richer and more interesting, and that there are great many more of them.
Over time, logicians and philosophers have identified many informal fallacies. No list of such fallacies, however, is exhaustive. We have attempt to include as many as possible of those any of us are likely to encounter.
- Accent fallacy - (ambiguity of accent). A subtle shift in the meaning or intention of an argument caused by changing the emphasis (accent, tone) of certain words, phrases, or statements.
Example: "We must always be honest with our friends," seems to say nothing more than we should be honest, which of course includes being honest with our friends. "We must always be honest with our friends." By emphasizing, "friends," implies it is only our friends we need to be honest with.
- Accident fallacy - (See Converse accident fallacy) Applying a general rule or principle to particular cases the generality does not cover or applying a general statement to cases it was not intended to include.
"Since freedom of speech means everyone has the right to say whatever they want, if I want to yell, "fire!" in a crowded theater, I have the right to do so." We include this dubious example because, as it is generally understood, it illustrates that a general principle (free speech) does not apply to all cases (as when harmful to others), and because, the "general understanding," itself, is an example of the Consensus gentium fallacy.2
"Since you promised to always keep your cats indoors when you adopted them from the Humane Society, you must not install a cat door or allow them out, even if your house is on fire." Assumes one should never break a promise, even if it requires violating the purpose of the promise.
- Ad antiquitam Fallacy - (Appeal to the old) Asserting something is more correct or better simply because it is older. (See Ad novitam, (opposite), and Ad verecundiam, (similar), fallacies.)
Example: "The problem with America is that the older European sense of community and cohesiveness has been destroyed by that divisive independent spirit spawned by the capitalist mentality." It is true, Americans do not like communes.
- Ad baculum fallacy - (argument from power or force.) (The Latin means, "according to the stick," or "by means of the rod.") (See Argument from intimidation fallacy) Arguing to gain acceptance or agreement by a threat, or use of force. Since the use of force essentially ends logical argument, some might doubt this is a fallacy, but frequently force or the threat of it, is used in conjunction with "reason" (if people don't comply, we have to use force for their own good) convincing people that something quite false is true.
Example: "These new speed limits will make our highways safer." Where the agents of force are ubiquitous, such as the police, and people are accustomed to arbitrary rules being enforced by them, explicit threats of force are not necessary; they are understood.
Most people will drive within the new speed limits, convinced they are only doing it because it is right and it is, "safer," when in fact, if they knew they would never be stopped by the police, they would drive at the old speed limits which they formerly never thought were unsafe. They only way they are actually safer, if they drive within the new speed limits, is the reduced risk of having their money extorted by means of a speeding ticket.
- Ad crumenam fallacy - (See the opposite Ad lazarum fallacy) (Appeal to wealth) Basing an argument on the principle that having money is a criterion of correctness or that the rich are more likely to be right.
(Note: If the issue is about how to get or keep money, the rich are more likely to be right.)
Example: "Of course we ought to join the club. Tom Brook is the richest man in Plainville, and he belongs." Since there is almost never a good reason to join anything, this argument is no sillier than any other.
- Ad hoc hypothesis - The use of an unsubstantiated hypothesis to explain away facts that seem to refute one's theory.
Example: "The reason the clairvoyance tests seem to give less positive results when skeptics are observing them is because the skeptics themselves are projecting negative psy waves which interfere with the positive psy waves necessary for a successful clairvoyant transmission." As everyone knows, every experiment succeeds except when there is some troublesome skeptic around.
- Ad hominem fallacy - (against the man). Ad hominem is the attempt to impugn an argument by attacking the arguer's character, motives, personality, intentions, or qualifications.
(Note: Insulting, denigrating, or impugning the character or morality of an individual, in itself, however reprehensible, is not necessarily an "ad hominem," as is frequently and falsely alleged. It is an ad hominem only if the personal attacks are used within the scope of a logical argument.)
Example: "Harry couldn't possibly know what good food is, he was raised in England." The ad hominem is only implied, that being from England disqualifies someone from making good judgement about cuisine. The attacks are usually more vituperative than this example.
- Ad ignorantiam fallacy - (argument from ignorance). Asserting the truth of any proposition on the basis that what is asserted has never disproved or what is denied has never been proved; or that there is no evidence for the thing denied, or, against what is asserted.
Debate about the mystic, paranormal, or occult proceed largely by arguing ad ignorantiam. The fallacy also forms the basis for most medical quackery tricked up with a lot of medical jargon.
"It has never been proved, nor can it be, that clairvoyance does not exist, therefore, it must exist." "It has never been proved, nor can it be, that clairvoyance exists, therefore, it cannot exist."
"Studies show that many people using fibrilopymesium hypochloride recover completely from their diseases. No study has ever failed to show this." There is no proof it doesn't work, therefore it must work. "Studies show that some people using fibrilopymesium hypochloride never recover from their diseases. Every study shows this." There is no proof it does work, therefore, it must not work.
- Ad lapidem fallacy - (Throw stones) Dismissing an argument as absurd or false without demonstrating it is false, often with ridicule or in a bullying manner.
"It's not the taxes. He's just another ignorant farmer who can't see, 'what's so important about education,' because he hasn't any. Of course he's against this school appropriation bill." Ad hominem is frequently combined with Ad lapidem, as in this example.
"The oversimplified view that everyone can and therefore must be responsible for their own choices is childish and ridiculous." Certainly, in some ways, it is oversimplified, childish, and even ridiculous, but, nevertheless, it is true.
- Ad lazarum fallacy - (See the opposite Ad crumenam fallacy) (Appeal to poverty) Basing an argument on the principle that the poor are more likely to be right or virtuous than the wealthy.
Example: "Of course we ought to join the club. Tom Brook's family is the poorest in Plainville, and they belong." Since there is almost never a good reason to join anything, this argument is no sillier than any other.
- Ad misericordiam fallacy- (argument or appeal to pity). Attempts to reinforce or gain acceptance for an argument by appealing the people's sympathies or pity. The word, "compassion," is a frequent component of this fallacy, but more often, none of these words (pity, compassion, etc.) are used, rather the, "plight," or "tragedy," or "disaster," that will presumably result if the argument is not accepted are described in heart-wrenchingly pathetic terms.
This fallacy is extremely effective. It is the indispensible tool of defense lawyers, charitable organizations, fund raisers, and politicians campaigning for increases in social welfare or more foreign aid, for example. The term for the everyday use of this fallacy, at school, work, and home, is "manipulation." This fallacy, like the intimidation fallacy, is a variation of the ad personam fallacy.
Example: "Should this young women's single mistake be allowed to ruin her entire life and the lives of all those who depend on and love her? That is what a long sentence would do. Shouldn't we rather rescue a life, than ruin one?" Compassion is not only misplaced, (no mention is made of how the victim's life may have been ruined), it is irrelevant.
- Ad novitam Fallacy - (Appeal to the modern) Asserting something is more correct or better simply because it is newer. (See the opposite Ad antiquitam fallacy)
Example: "The old fashioned idea that only families could properly raise children has been replaced with the more enlightened, modern view, that rearing children is best accomplished by the community." No doubt the community will be just as successful raising children as it has been educating them.
- Ad personam fallacy - (appeal to personal interest) Usually described as appealing to the personal likes (preferences, prejudices, predisposition) in order to have an argument accepted, but includes appeals to anything that is not, "rational," such as feelings, sense of honor, pride, reputation, habits, and most frequently fears, which of course are all personal interests.
Arguments employing this fallacy frequently start like this: "Do you want people to think ... you are stupid? you hate children? you are a nerd? you are poor? you are a snob? you despise your country?" or, "If you really cared..., loved me..., wanted what was best for me, ...your children, ...your family, ...your country ..., then you would (whatever is being argued for)."
The intimidation and ad misericordiam fallacies are variations of this fallacy.
- Ad populum fallacy - (to the people). (Also, appeal to the gallery, appeal to the majority, appeal to what is popular, appeal to the multitude, appeal to the mob). Attempting to arouse popular acceptance of an idea by appealing to the emotions, biases, prejudices, enthusiasms, attitudes, popular opinion, moods, or fears of the multitude rather than rational arguments.
This fallacy is sometimes equated with demagoguery, and is frequently the tool of propaganda and advertising.
"Vote. It is your right. Use it or loose it. And remember, it is the ... (Democratic, Republican, Socialist, Libertarian, etc.) party that fights for your rights."
Ad populum is not the same as either the Democratic or Consensus gentium fallacies, which attempt to prove something is true (or right) based on the number of people who already agree with, desire, or choose it. Ad populum is the attempt to make a view or idea "popular," to win acceptance for it.
- Ad verecundiam fallacy - (to authority or veneration). The appeal to authority rather than logical argument and verifiable evidence to support an idea. Authorities include: experts, teachers, leaders, customs, traditions, institutions (religions or ideologies), individuals holding respected positions in government, business, or other organizations, or any individuals or groups whose opinions are regarded as authoritative.
Using authority in argument or reason is not itself a fallacy, it is when authority is used instead of reason, or when the supposed authority is not a valid one, that a fallacy is committed.3
The most common version of this fallacy is the appeal to "vague authority." Unspecified experts, masters, sages, adepts, studies, research, or documents are cited as though they were generally known and universally accepted. Always implicit in this version of the fallacy is the idea that anyone who does not know and accept the cited authority is stupid, ignorant, or "out of touch". Of course, if the authority is so well known, the arguer should have no trouble identifying it.
"Scientists say that drilling for oil in Alaska will be an environmental disaster." What scientists, in what field, and did they say it as scientists or as socialists?
"Psychologist's studies show that home schooling for children whose parents are never home may not be successful." This example only seems ludicrous to those who are not familiar with recent pyschologist's studies. Evidence from such "expert studies" are routinely used to repudiate facts. In this case, it would take the form, "Psychologist's studies show that home schooling for children ... may not be successful." Look for this headline in any liberal newspaper or magazine.
- Alternative syllogism fallacy - (See disjunctive syllogism fallacy) Implying that two possible characteristics of a thing are mutually exclusive, when the premises only require at least one of the characteristics to be true, without excluding the possibility the other also being true.
In classical logic, "A is either B or C" is not the same as "A is either B or C but not both" (alternatively, "A is either B and not C or C and not B") The fallacy is an argument that implies "A is either B or C but not both" when the premises only support "A is either B or C" (because it A could be both).
"If you are patriotic you will not be against this war," or "if you are patriotic, you will oppose this war." Being patriotic and being for or against any particular war cannot logically be mutually exclusive.
"If you really care about our children's future you will support this school appropriations bill." There is no doubt truth in the opposite of this, but if stated in this form, it would still be a fallacy.
- Ambiguity fallacy - An argument that has at least one ambiguous word or statement which leads to a false conclusion. (When this is done intentionally, it is called, obfuscation.)
There are many varieties of ambiguity. The most common are these:
Process-product, Semantical, Type-token, and Amphiboly (syntactical).
(Note: The examples of ambiguity that follow are called, "fallacies," but are only specific ways ambiguities arise. They do not become fallacies until they are actually used in an argument producing an incorrect or false conclusion. This is true for most of the other "fallacies" in this list.)
- Ambiguity, process-product - The ambiguity resulting from a statement could refer to either a process or to its product and it is unclear from the context which of the two is intended.
Example: "John is checking the new employee's work." The word work can refer to act of working (a process) or to the completed work (a product).
- Ambiguity, semantical - An ambiguity that results from using a word or words which can have more than one meaning in a statement when the intended meaning is in doubt.
Example: "Paul rented two rooms." It is unclear if Paul rented two rooms for himself (from someone else), or Paul rented two of his own rooms (to someone else).
- Ambiguity, syntactical - (See Amphiboly)
- Ambiguity, type-token - When a word can refer to either a type (tiger, lion, leopard) or token (any cats) is used in way that makes it unclear which it refers to, the statement is ambiguous.
Interviewer: "How many cats do you have in your zoo?"
Zoo spokesman: "At the moment, only two."
Which means they have only two animals (tokens) of the feline persuasion, possible two lions, or one tiger and one leopard, but could also mean two types of cats, ten tigers and five lions, in which case the tokens would total fifteen.
Instructions: "Please write the names of twenty cities in Utah on the board."
Students action: [To be on the safe side, since the instructions said cities, the student writes, "Beaver," and, "Bullfrog," ten times each on the board.
Since Beaver and Bullfrog are the names of cities in Utah, and they are each written ten times, that is certainly twenty names (tokens) of cities in Utah. If, as we suspect, the instructions meant twenty different (types) cities, the enterprising student might not quite have complied with the instructions.
- Amphiboly (syntactical ambiguity) - (Gk. amphibolos, "not regular speech," or "a sentence whose meaning is doubtful or confusing") An amphiboly results whenever incorrect grammar or syntax makes the meaning of a statement unclear.
Amphibolies abound, especially in newspaper headlines: "Man captured by police while running naked through the park," (dangling participial) and regularly in news stories and commentaries, "Politicians deceive their constituents who do not tell the whole truth." (Ambiguous antecedent.) (Even though we know, it is not clear from the sentence which do not tell the whole truth, the politicians or the constituents.)
Amphibolies can result from misplaced modifiers, loosely applied adverbs, elliptical constructions, omitted punctuation, and almost any other violation of the rules of grammar, syntax, and construction. (The first requirement for sound reason and clear thinking is a thorough command of one's own language.)4
- Anecdotal evidence fallacy - (Confabulation fallacy) Attempts to establish a proposition as fact or as a universal principle based solely on anecdotes, personal experience, and testimony, where no other evidence for the assertion or way to test it exists.
Example: "We could not be certain there are UFOs if so many people had not seen and described them, and if those who have actually been inside them had not provided us so many wonderfully detailed descriptions. We are thankful for this irrefutable evidence." Well all that is evidence of something, but it is more likely to be dementia than UFOs.
(Note: Sometimes anecdotes and common experience are evidence for something real. The so-called Murphy's Law, (whatever can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible moment), has some basis in a real law of physics called the second law of thermodynamics.5 It is generally conceded what we call Murphy's Law is the working out of this law of physics in the experience of our everyday lives. So the anecdotes and experiences of things "going wrong," are evidence of something factual.)
- Argument from intimidation fallacy - (See Ad Baculum) Both Ad Baculum and argument from intimidation use a combination of threat and "reasoning" to put over an argument. In Ad Baculum, the source of the threat is the arguer. Argument from intimidation always points to some other agency or "situation" as the threat, and often the whole argument is an attempt to prove a threat exists, is grave, and requires immediate action (is an emergency that justifies the required action).
"We must immediately outlaw the use of (some substance or action), because our environment is on the verge of being destroyed by (some presumed but totally unproven disaster)."6
In a variation of this fallacy the threat is more personal, such as to an individual's reputation, prestige, or their concern about the views and opinion of others.
"If you support this bill, people will believe you hate children (or, despise the poor, don't care about the elderly, cheat on your wife, or hate your mother), for example.
This version of the fallacy is the converse or the ad personam fallacy.
- Argumentum ad nauseam fallacy - Asserting something is true based on how often it is asserted or promoting the assertion by continuous repetition.
(This fallacy is the basis of the Adolph Hitler theory, that if you repeat a lie loud enough, long enough and often enough people will believe it. A theory proven by history.)
"Of course the environment is in danger and it is getting warmer. There is not a single source that does not say so." One hears almost nothing else, it is true. That it is only an oft repeated lie, is also true. Nevertheless, it is widely believed.
"Guns kill, we must ban all guns! Guns kill, we must ban all guns! Guns kill, we must ban all guns! Guns kill, we must ban all guns! Guns kill, we must ban all guns! ... ad nauseam." So, naturally, the gullible public believes, "Guns kill, we must ban all guns," because, that's all they hear.
- Beard fallacy - Discounting an argument or evidence on the basis that small or minor differences are not significant, or debating about degree, number, or severity of something that must be reached before it can be identified as that thing.
"I'm not really bald. I still have hair." Four hairs, to be exact.
"I'm not stealing, I'm sampling. One grape isn't stealing. Stealing would be taking the whole bunch." This is possibly the most common rationalization by which dishonest people convince themselves they are moral.
"What harm can one ... (drink, fling, night out, piece of candy, more [of anything]) do?" Frequently, one does no harm at all, but frequently one is the first of many, and every one is only one.
"A mere three percent is far from an oppressive tax." All taxes are oppressive; and just what percentage of taxes is the three percent being added to?
"Requiring people to have a license (ID card, government issued number) to drive (own a gun, open a bank account) are not really limits on individual freedom." Then what, exactly, is a limit on individual freedom?
- Begging the question fallacy - Advancing an argument on the basis of statements which are assumed but need themselves to be proved, or assuming the conclusion or part of the conclusion in the premises of an argument. (Sometimes called circular reasoning.)
"By universe we mean everything. Everything has a cause. Therefore, the universe, has a cause." This very subtle argument includes both begging the question (must everything have a cause?) and equivocation, because the meaning of "everything" is shifted from, "all that is, as it is" (in "by universe we mean everything") to, "every single thing," (in "everything has a cause"); in other words, it includes, as a member of the collection, every single thing that has a cause, the collection, itself, as a thing that needs a cause.
"A recent panel of experts in the field of personal relationships discussed the question of what one should and should not say in a social context. They concluded that telling the truth sometimes hurts. To avoid hurt, therefore, it is sometimes better to tell a lie. The behaviorists on the panel pointed out that feelings are really an illusion, that pain is only a reaction, and, therefore, to say someone hurts, is itself a lie. The post modernists on the panel emphasized the fact that truth is relative, and one man's lie is another man's truth. In the words of one panelist, 'we concluded it is probably better not to say anything because, whatever you say, it is going to be wrong. On the other hand, if everything you say is going to be wrong anyway, why not say it, if you feel like it? Everyone else does.'" This is a typical and lovely bouquet of fallacies, including ad misericordiam, Ignoratio elenchi, Ad verecundiam, Plurium interrogationum, Pragmatism, and begging the question.
- Black-and-white fallacy - (See Greyness fallacy) Making sharp distinctions between entities, events, or ideas on the basis of non-essential differences, treating some point between to extremes as one of the extremes, or treating a number of classes as though there were only two. (This final form usually sets off one class from all the rest which it treats as a single class, (e.g. as in greyness fallacy), thus setting up a false alternative.)
"Anyone who does not like opera, does not like music." As though there were only two classes, opera, the only real music, and everything else which goes by the name, but is really ersatz music.7
"You are either a Republican or a socialist," and "You are either a Democrat or a fascist." In spite of the fact that many people make these arguments, and some even believe them, they are nevertheless, fallacies.
"There are only two classes of people, teetotallers and alcoholics." Common argument of those who never heard of moderation.
(Note: In fact, everything is black-and-white, and all "greyness" is a mixture of the two. Both this fallacy and the greyness fallacy result from a failure to analyze complexities into their black and white components or intentionally blurring distinctions and mixing black and white to produce a grey fog.)
- Complex hypothesis fallacy - (violating the principle of Occam's Razor8) An argument defending an overly complex explanation or an additional hypothesis for something which can be or is already explained more simply.
"Well the accident was caused buy that guy in the sports car not stopping for the red light. He just plowed into the back of my car. But, the real reason it happened is because I am a Sagittarian, and today my planet Jupiter is blocked by Mars, so I was bound to have something bad happen." Two completely different causes for the same event. How is it possible to determine which is the true cause? Let's see, if there were no cars, there could be no car accidents. If there were no Jupiter or Mars, there could still be car accidents. It's tough to decide, though.
"Somebody must have done something to break it. It always worked before." It always worked before is itself a fallacy, because it is true of everything that breaks or wears out. Everything always works until it stops working, and noting the fact is irrelevant. In this case, the addition of the hypothesis, "somebody must have broken it," is unwarranted when there is no reason to doubt the simple explanation the mechanism wore out or broke on its own.
- Complex question fallacy - (Loaded question). Asking questions for which either a yes or no answer will incriminate the respondent. The desired answer is tacitly assumed in the question. Asking questions that imply or suggest attitudes or assumptions, often asked in a way that elicits agreement with its implications.
"Have you discontinued the use of drugs?" Either yes or no admits the use of drugs.
"When are you going to give up that impractical political ideology about personal individual liberty and join the party to accomplish something real?" To answer this question either in the positive, "I'm considering joining the party," or the negative, "I'll never join that party," implies agreement with the premise that "personal individual liberty" is an impractical political ideology.
- Composition fallacy - Attributing qualities or characteristics of parts of a whole to the whole itself, or attributing qualities or characteristics of some parts of a whole to all parts. (This is the converse of the Division fallacy.)
"America enjoys the greatest prosperity of any country in the world." No matter how much prosperity how many Americans enjoy, America is not an entity that can, "enjoy," anything. (This is also an example of the Hypostatization fallacy).
"Americans enjoys the greatest prosperity of any citizens of any country in the world." For most Americans this is true, even for the poorest of them, but it is a fallacy to say each and every American is more prosperous than the average citizen of England, for example. While this example is not a serious fallacy, since most people understand what is intended, it illustrates the nature of the fallacy.
(Note: This is one of the fallacies at the heart of all collectivist and statist social theory. Only individuals have "purposes," "values," "importance." None of these attributes can be extended "collectively" to societies or states. The value of societies or states can only be determined by their value to each individual as an individual. If a society consists of 100 people, and 99 are employed, and one is not, you do not have 99% employment, you have 100% employment for 99 citizens, and 0% employment for one of them. To have 99% employment, every citizen would have to be employed 99% of the time.)
- Consensus gentium fallacy - (see Democratic fallacy) Arguing that an idea is true on the basis that the majority of people believe it or that it has been universally held by all men, in all places, at all times.
Example: "God exists because all cultures always have some concept of God."9 Since, at one time, all cultures and most people believed the world was flat and earth was the center of the universe, those concepts must have been true and some colossal event must have, in the meantime, turned the earth into a sphere, and downgraded her to a retrograde planet in a backwater galaxy.
(Note: In general, Consensus gentium considers only what most people believe or have always believed and is narrower in scope than the democratic fallacy which takes any majority belief, desire, or opinion, as a legitimate evidence of what is true.)
- Contrary-to-facts hypothesis fallacy - (Speculative or "what if" fallacy) Arguing by means of a hypothesis contrary to a fact, that some phenomenon or virtue dependent on the fact, would or would not exist without it.
"What if Marconi had not invented the radio? Wireless communication would be impossible and the world would be a jungle of telephone and telegraph wires." Marconi was not the first to design a working wireless radio, nor the last. He was the first to get the invention patented. (There is no intention, here, to minimize the genius or importance of Marconi or the honor he deserves.)
"Had Florence Nightingale not formed the Red Cross, millions of disaster victims would not be taken care of today." Actually, they might be taken care of better and more efficiently, and certainly less expensively. Who knows what good things might have happened if there had never been a Red Cross?
- Converse accident fallacy - (See Accident fallacy) Applying as a general rule or principle, qualities or characteristics of some particulars which are unusual or exceptional.
Example: "Some people have found that standing on their heads thirty minutes a day helps them to be more alert and to think more clearly. Obviously, standing on one's head thirty minutes a day is something we all must learn to practice."
- Correlation fallacy - (See Non causa pro causa fallacy) Asserting a causal connection between things because there is a statistical correlation between them.
Example: "Studies have determined that there is a link between consuming protein and the incidence of cancer. In all studies so far, all cancer patients have a history of consuming protein. It is also known that those who do not consume protein do not get cancer." This is true, because human beings cannot live without protein, so those who do not consume protein do not get cancer, because they are dead.
Equally "valid studies," are the basis for the vilification of cigarettes (cause cancer), the condemnation of high protein and fat diets (cause heart disease and stroke), and the forbidding of a host of chemicals and substances (dangerous to people or environment) all examples of how effective the correlation fallacy is.
- Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy - (See Non causa pro causa fallacy) (With this, therefore because of this) Asserting that one thing is the cause of another because that thing is always accompanied by its presumed cause.
Example: "Every time there is a (Republican, Democrat) as president, the economy (improves, gets worse)."
- Democratic fallacy - (see Consensus gentium fallacy) attempts to prove something is true (or right) based on the number of people who agree with, desire, or choose it.
To take a census and conclude more people prefer product A to product B is not a fallacy. To further conclude, because more people prefer product A to product B, A is the objectively superior product, is a fallacy. (If inferiority or superiority of "salability" however, is being considered, the "superiority" conclusion based on consensus would be valid.)9
Example: "Polls show that the president has an 83% approval rating, so we know he is doing the right thing." If most people approve of what anyone is doing, it is almost certain they are doing the wrong thing.
- Disjunctive syllogism fallacy - (See alternative syllogism (opposite) and false alternative (similar) fallacies.) Arguing that one of two mutually exclusive characteristics of a thing must be true, when the actual existence or reality of the thing is not established.
In classical logic, "A is either B or C but not both" (alternatively, "A is either B and not C or C and not B"), means if A, then it is either B or C, but not both. But neither B or C can be established as facts independently of A. First you must have A.
Waiter: "...and would you like soup with that?"
You: "No, thank you."
Waiter: The menu says the meal comes with soup or salad. What dressing would you like on your salad?"
You: "I do not care for any salad, thank you."
Waiter: So, you've changed your mind. Do you want the minestrone or the chowder?"
You: "Well neither, actually, thank you just the same."
Waiter: "I'm sorry sir, the menu says the meal comes with soup or salad. Would you like for me to choose for you?"
You: "Oh yes, please do."
After all, you don't have to eat it. Probably, but you might want to check the fine print on the menu.
"If you don't make plans for your children's education today, they will end up among the uneducated, competing with those college graduates whose parents planned ahead." As though, the only way anyone goes to college is if the parents foot the bill, or the only way to be educated is by going to college. In fact, going to college and getting an education are not equivalent, they are not even similar.
- Division fallacy - Attributing qualities or characteristics of the whole to some or all of the parts of the whole. (This is the converse of the Composition fallacy.)
Example: "North Korea is a communist country, therefore, everyone in North Korea is a communist," or, "Kim Jang Kwan, must be a communist because he lives in North Korea."
- Equivocation fallacy - An argument in which a word, phrase, or statement is used with one meaning (or sense) in one part of the argument and with different meaning in another part of the argument.
"This is supposed to be a free country, but nothing is free, in fact nothing is even cheap. Far from being free, this is the most expensive country in the world." New Hampshire's motto, "Live free or die," does not mean everyone is supposed to be on welfare.
"All things governed by laws, are subject to the laws of some lawmaker. The natural world is governed by laws, therefore it is subject to the laws of some lawmaker." The confusion is between things decided and things discovered.
"Your views are either from right thinking, or they are from the left," or "If you do not drive on the right side of the road, you drive on the wrong side, as they do in England." In both these cases, it is not the same word that is used equivocally, but a word's antonym.
- False analogy fallacy - (False metaphor) Using a rhetorical device as an illustration or example of a quality, or aspect of something which does not have those characteristics.
"The company depends on every employee doing their job. Like a chain, it is only as strong as the weakest link. Each of you is a link in that chain. Don't be the weakest link."10 This typical corporate rah rah rah, includes the ubiquitous "weakest link" cliché, an analogy which is almost never true. Any company, the fate of which depended on any single employee, would not be in business very long. The chain or weakest link analogy implies that every employee is indispensible, and if only one employee fails, the company fails. Utterly absurd.
"No man is an island." But of course that is exactly what every man is. This analogy is almost always used to put over some collectivist or socialist view or agenda.
The concept of falsifiability is a greatly misunderstood but legitimate part of the scientific method (a rigorous application of reason to evidence). Consider this statement made as an objection to falsifiability, "Falsifiability can be a valuable intellectual tool: it can help you to disprove ideas which are incorrect. But it does not enable you to prove ideas which are correct." In fact, that is exactly what "falsifiability" does do, and without it, no scientific hypothesis can be proven.
- Falsifiability fallacy fallacy Lately we have seen the notion of falsifiability represented as a fallacy. This is itself, a fallacy.
In science, a proposed hypothesis is not considered valid if there is no experiment that can be performed that would, if the hypothesis is incorrect, fail. If such an experiment can be performed, and it "fails to fail," it is proof (or at least very good evidence) the hypothesis is correct.
No doubt the prejudice against this very useful objective method lies in the name, "falsifiability." It does not mean the scientist must attempt to prove a hypothesis false, but the very opposite. "Falsifiability," is the method by which a hypothesis may be proven true. It also does not mean that a hypothesis must be assumed correct until it is falsified.
The idea of falsifiability protects the field of science from being obliged to entertain as, "possible," any wild hypothesis on no other basis than it cannot be disproved. If a hypothesis is correct, there will always be a test or experiment that it would fail, if it is incorrect, which when performed proves the hypothesis correct by not failing (or incorrect by failing).
If no test can be devised for testing a hypothesis, it means the hypothesis has no consequence, that nothing happens or doesn't happen because of it and nothing depends on it being right. If this were not true, whatever depended on the hypothesis could be tested. There is absolutely no reason to entertain a notion that has neither purpose or consequence.
"But why not perform experiments to verify rather than falsify?" In fact, all experiments performed to test a hypothesis are attempts to verify it. If such a test could "pass" even if the hypothesis were incorrect, passing the test would prove nothing. Passing a test is only, "proof," if passing is only possible when the hypothesis is true, which means the test must fail (the hypothesis will be falsified) when the hypothesis is untrue. A test which cannot falsify a hypothesis, if it is incorrect, cannot prove it, if it is correct.
To say a hypothesis is not falsifiable means that it cannot be proved (or disproved), and, therefore, is unacceptable as a scientific theory.
It is very unfortunate that this concept is misunderstood by many who are otherwise quite rational and objective. The principle not only applies to science, but almost all complex or abstract concepts. The attempt to verify any conjecture by means of a method that cannot discriminate between those conjectures which are true and those which are false can never discover the truth. Only a method which distinctly demonstrates a conjecture is false, if it is, can verify those conjectures that are true.
The concept of falsifiability sweeps away mountains of irrational rubbish masquerading as science, philosophy, ideology, and religion. One question that must be asked about any doubtful proposition or conjecture is, "how can this be disproved if it is false?" If there is no way to test if the proposition is false, there are no rational grounds whatsoever for assuming the proposition to be true.
- Floating abstraction fallacy - A concept that is disconnected from reality.
Even our most abstract concepts are connected with reality if the chain of rational abstraction and integration by which the concept is derived can be traced back to those first facts of immediate conscious perception and the axioms of existence on which it is based. If that logical connection to reality cannot be made, however plausible or "substantial" a concept seems, it is floating abstraction.
Floating abstractions are always synthetic constructs consisting of qualities and characteristics abstracted from legitimate concepts and artificially integrated into an imaginary or invented concepts; just as winged is a quality of the legitimate concept birds, and elephant is a legitimate concept for that large mammal, but winged elephant is a chimera existing only in the hallucinations of the dipsomaniac.
Example: "There are demons in the world, which many have seen, but, strangely, they only appear to those who believe in them." Not so strange, actually.
(Note: Ayn Rand originally identified the three fallacies, Stolen concept,
Floating abstraction, and
- Formally correct fallacy - (According to the rules, fallacy) Asserts that an action or statement is right or true because it conforms to formal or official rules, laws, standards, protocols, or procedures, when the specific case being argued is an exception or not specifically covered.
"It's not my fault the car is smashed up. I saw the truck coming, but I had a green light." How many people are disappointed to discover a green light is not a substitute for good judgement.
"I'd give you a larger raise, Elmer, if I could, but company policy sets the limits and I cannot go against company policy." Fortunately, company policy does not preclude Elmer from seeking employment where, "company policy" (or managers intelligent enough to ignore it) ensure employees are payed according to their performance, not according to some arbitrary "rules".
- Frozen abstraction fallacy - Substituting some one particular concrete for the wider abstract class to which it belongs or substituting a single unit or subset of units for the entire set of units belonging to a concept.
"Ethics teaches us there is something more important than our own selfish interests, and that we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for more important universal values, like the good of mankind." It is altruism, not ethics, that teaches "self-sacrifice." There are many ethical theories, including instrumentalism, hedonism, stoicism, and, egoism, for example. Altruism is only one of many wrong theories of ethics, but widely substituted for ethics itself.
"The 'No Child Left Behind,' program will ensure no American child fails get the education they have a right to." Since the "program," only applies to government schools, it equates "education by the state" with education. Fortunately, those not "educated," (since they go to private school or are home schooled), while they will be "left behind," will, nevertheless, be much better equipped to live their lives happily and successfully.
(Note: Ayn Rand originally identified the three fallacies, Stolen concept,
Floating abstraction, and
- Gambler's fallacy - Asserting that a normally random event, because it has recently followed a pattern, it is due or about to break that pattern.
"This penny has fallen heads the last ten times. It is certain to fall tails this time." If a penny falls heads every time, it may be a "bad penny." That is, it may be "loaded." (This is the meaning of the play-on-words expression, "like a bad penny, he keeps turning up.")
"There has not been an airline fatality for the entire year, therefore, a major airline disaster is imminent." Ironically, this actually happened. There was not a single airline fatality for the entire year of 2002, but a major airline crash, killing 21 people, happened on the eighth day of 2003. Nevertheless, this is still a fallacy, and these events mere coincidence, since the fatal accident was really the first fatal commercial airlines crash in 14 months.
- Genetic fallacy - Identifying something as being the same, in nature, as its origin or cause, or that its nature or character is determined by its origin or cause, or impugning something on the basis of its origin or cause.
"She's no good. All that kind are no good. We know where she came from." Of course, this kind of argument is almost never heard, but if it were, it would be fallacious.
"The reason he is a thief is because he ... (came from a broken home, was abused as a child, lived in a tough neighborhood, was poor, was a spoiled rich kid)," but, it might have said, "the reason he is a good teacher is because he knows what life is like; he ...(same list.)" Try this, "The reason he is ...(take your choice), is because that is what he chose to be.
- Greyness fallacy - (See Black-and-white fallacy) The fallacy results when disparate, incongruent, or incommensurate, entities, situations, or examples are indiscriminately mixed and treated as though there were no essential differences between them. This fallacy always results in vagueness (greyness) which is used to support almost anything, but fails to support any true conclusion.
"All wars cause harm." (True, by definition.) "Everyone who participates in war is evil because they intend to do harm." Disregards differences in participants [some may be are doctors tending to the wounded] or to whom or what they intend to do harm [such as cruel aggressors who will destroy and kill everyone if not stopped.]
"There is value in all art." What kind of art? What kind of value?
"We only carry the best products." But, they have shoes which sell for twenty dollars, eighty dollars, and two hundred dollars. Can they really all be the best?
"Everyone is important." A meaningless expression attributing an undefined quality to an indiscriminate collection without regard to significant differences in individuals (character, morality, ability) or the nature of the importance (in what way? to whom? for what?).
- Hasty generalization fallacy - A conclusion or generalization inferred from limited information, inadequate evidence, or a limited sampling.
"How do you know Mr. Adams shot the landlord."
"He has a gun and I always thought he would shoot somebody some day." Somewhat limited information, but probably good enough for the police to make an arrest.
"This is the hottest summer in 27 years which proves global warming is a fact." "This is the coldest winter in 27 years which proves global cooling is a fact." There is some kind of evidence for anything you want to believe if you are not too interested in the truth.
"I called our usual vendors and both quoted the same price for the part, so that's the best price we can get." Seems like a larger sampling might have produced different results and this company should be looking for a new buyer.
- Hypostatization fallacy - ( See Reification.) Attributing actual existence or qualities of actual existents to something that is only a name, a relationship, or abstraction; or attributing qualities of one kind of existents to a different kind of existents, (e.g. personification). (Also described as attributing concreteness to the abstract.)
The hypostatization fallacy is very subtle and easily misunderstood. The description of hypostatization applies to rhetorical devices, as well, such as metaphor and personification, which are not fallacies at all, but important and useful tools of language in literature and poetry. The distinction between treating abstractions as material existents rhetorically or using them in arguments that result in false conclusions, is often difficult to detect, or even to describe, especially when the fallacious use is intentional.
Hypostatization (together with the closely related fallacy of reification) may be the most common of all fallacies. Whole systems of philosophy, politics, religion, science, and social theories are built on or supported by this fallacy.11
"Nature's purposes are always pure, therefore we should always accede to her." Nature has no purposes.
"The only just laws are those that relieve a society's suffering." Laws do not "relieve" anything, and "societies," do not suffer.
"Industry is a danger to both nature and society." Here are three hypostatized abstractions, industry, nature, and society. Industry is not a "thing" that does anything, and neither nature or society are things to which anything is done. Some industries might do something that is harmful to some natural things or some persons in some society, but treating any of these as entities, even collective entities, is fallacious.
"What are personal considerations in the face of the needs of society, the fate of the nation, the preservation of culture?" Since, society has no needs, nations do not have fates, and there is no such thing as culture to preserve, personal considerations are all that are left.
"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country." -(John F. Kennedy) Obviously rhetorical, and therefore, all the more subtle. Behind the rhetoric is the insidious concept that citizens exist for the sake of a country (state or government), the opposite of the intention of the American Constitutional, that government exists for the sake of the citizens.
The pathetic fallacy is a subset of this fallacy.
- Ignoratio elenchi fallacy - (irrelevant conclusion) An argument that is irrelevant; that argues for something other than that which is to be proved and thereby in no way refutes (or supports) the points at issue.
Ignoratio elenchi is sometimes considered the general category of all "irrelevant" argument fallacies, including Ad baculum, Ad hominem, Ad misericordiam, Ad populum, Ad verecundiam, and Consensus gentium.
Example: Lawyer defending a client who killed three people in the process of robbing a liquor store: "She was abused from the time she was four. From the age of thirteen she had to support herself. She has never known anything but the streets, and crime, and violence." So what?
- Impossible conditions fallacy -
Arguing that some condition (the state of mankind, the world, the government, or the economy, for example) must be changed before proposed solutions to a problem can be considered, especially when such change is practically impossible.
Example: "We cannot possibly consider reducing property taxes until the problems of poverty and homelessness in our city have been solved." Unless you have unlimited funds for property taxes, a move to another city is recommended, since these "problems" will never be "solved."
- Inconsistency fallacy - Arguing from inconsistent statements, or to conclusions that are inconsistent with the premises. (See Tu quoque fallacy)
"You can't sue me for the damage to the car for three reasons: First, I never borrowed the car, second, it was already damaged, and third, it was in perfect condition when I returned it." This may seem funny, but when a politician makes the same kind of argument:
"My opponents accusations that our policies have damaged the economy are entirely false. The economy has never been stronger. Our aid packages are providing decent food, shelter, clothing, and medical care for more people than ever before. Our new total employment bill will provide jobs for every citizen who has lost a job over the last four years." But if the economy has never been stronger, why ... oh never mind.
- Irrelevant purpose fallacy - Arguing against something on the basis it has failed to fulfill its purpose, when the supposed failed purpose was never the intended one.
Example: "The fact that there is still great disparity in wages and wealth in United States is proof the American form of government is a failure." The purpose of the American form of government is to secure individual freedom. Egalitarianism is the object of socialism, not a Constitutional republic, at least not this one.
- "Is" to "ought" fallacy - Arguing from premises that have only descriptive statements (is) to a conclusion that contains an ought, or a should.
Note: We have included Hume's "is" to "ought" fallacy, to show what is wrong with it, but have not included Moore's related naturalistic fallacy, which is hopelessly confused.
This supposed fallacy was originally identified by Hume. Like most of Hume's philosophy, the definition is self-contradictory. Assumed in logic is the "ought" that one should reason correctly.
Using logic ensures [is the discipline that defines the rules of] correct reason.|
Correct reason is required to understand truth.
\Logic ought to be used to understand truth.
We ought to be very wary of this supposed fallacy, because, in fact, all teleological concepts (purpose, ends, meaning, etc.) are determined by the nature of those things to which purpose and ends pertain, therefore, what is does determine what ought to be.12
What is not correct is the false assumption that whatever is also ought to be, simply because it is. The fact that ignorance, sickness, and death are does not mean they ought to be. If this fallacy were understood in this way, it would useful, but as it is usually defined, it is itself fallacious. The following example illustrates a correct use of this fallacy.
Example: "Everyone ought to pay their taxes. It is the law." The is does not determine the ought in a moral sense. Generally you ought to pay your taxes, because it is less troublesome, so long as you pay as little as possible.
- Limited or false alternatives fallacy - (See Black-and-white and Disjunctive syllogism fallacies.) Defining alternatives as the only possible choices when other choices are possible, or defining alternatives as though they are mutually exclusive when they are not.
Example: "If we do not pass these laws, the environment will be destroyed." There is always another way. Of course, the environment may be destroyed even if the laws are passed. It is presumptuous to believe any government regulations could either save or destroy the environment.
- Lip service fallacy - Verbal agreement unsupported in action or true conviction. (Hypocrisy, itself is not a fallacy, except when it is used to influence the course of an argument.)
"I'm shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here...." (Casablanca) The "argument" would be, 'I have to close this place because it is harboring an illegal activity,' while he gladly receives his share of the loot from it.
"Remember, 'money is a root of all evil,' and unless you use it the way God says to use it, it will be a source of evil in your life. Consider that when you make out your gift check to the Old Time Religion Hour." This 'evil' money, why is it bad for the people who earn it, but good for the Old Time Religion Hour?"
- Misleading context fallacy -
Omitting, switching, or misrepresenting the context of a word, phrase, or proposition, which distorts, changes, or evades the meaning of an argument in an unintended or deceptive way.
The meaning and intent of words, phrases, even whole arguments are usually determined by the conceptual framework or context within which they are stated. Arguments that shift, drop, ignore, or imply (without intending) a context are both deceptive and fallacious.
While context confusion is usually associated with the meaning of words and statements, the larger aspect of this fallacy is the fact the everything has a context, and any discussion or assertion that does not recognize, identify, or allow for every pertinent aspects of that context is deceiving.
The most common version of this fallacy simply drops all context, treating every situation, action, or policy as though whatever is currently being discussed exists in a vacuum, without consequence, cost, or relationship to anything else, especially anything in the future. It is the reason almost all government policies and actions are disastrous.
"My grandmother is great. She loves to rock." We suspect grandmother rocks in a way somewhat different from the way this young person has in mind.
These quips about light:13 "when light does light it is very light, but no longer light." or "there is nothing lighter than light," refer to rest mass of a photon being zero. Even within the context, they may seem confusing.
"This bill is necessary to protect the jobs of 150,000 American steel workers which are threatened by the rising tide of steel imports. More than 10,000 jobs have already been lost. The tariffs and quotas in this bill will ensure no more jobs are lost." But, since 1980, employed steelworkers dropped 60%, from 80%,000 to 160,000, not because of import competition, but improved productivity. To produce a ton of steel required 10 hous of labor in 1980; today it is less than four. Tariffs and quotas will increase the price of steel, affecting every industry that uses steel with millions of employees (fabricators - 1,300,300+, machines and tools - 1,800,00+, electronic equipment - 1,80%,000+, cars and trucks - 1,700,000+, instruments and controls - 800,000+)14, affecting their wages or employment. The price of all steel products will also increase, affecting the price of products, sales, more jobs, and eventually the demand for steel itself. This is some of the context that is dropped.
- Misuse of averages fallacy - Arguing that a situation or condition is good or acceptable on the basis that the mean or average value of all cases is within acceptable limits.
"He has one foot in boiling water and the other on dry ice, so on average he is comfortable." In this case it is the subjective judgement of the one actually feeling the conditions that must be consulted to determine whether he is actually comfortable or not. Politicians and sociologist frequently talk about people's personal welfare as though it were subject to national averages or a sum of experiences.
"There is no excuse for your son being bored. Our program determines the average I.Q. of each class and provides activities and projects to challenge the interests and abilities of every child in that class." Every average child, that is, and if the child happens to be exceptional, that is too bad, because she is not supposed to be. Only average is good. Exceptional means troublesome.
- Non causa pro causa fallacy - (There is no cause of the sort which has been given as the cause.) Asserting something is the cause of an effect when there is no true evidence it is the cause or asserting something is false because it implies something else that is false.
The Post hoc, ergo propter hoc,
Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc, and
Correlation fallacies are all versions of Non causa pro causa fallacy.
"He prayed for rain and I prayed for draught. It didn't rain, so my prayers were answered, and his weren't." Assumes you know what he really prayed for, or, maybe it was going to rain anyway.
"Nine out of ten people who use Sam's Snail Salve on their cuts and scrapes are completely healed." Nine out of ten people who do not use Sam's Snail Salve on their cuts and scrapes are completely healed too.
"Saying people are safer with guns then without them is like saying if there are guns in the house, no one will ever be shot in the house." Subtley implies guns are the "cause" of shootings.
- Non-sequitur fallacy - (Does not follow) An argument in which the conclusion has no apparent connection to the reasons or premises.
“You don’t love me or you’d buy me that bicycle.” The childish argument seems silly, but adults make similar arguments. There is obviously no "logical" connection between a parents love and the fulfilling of a child's whims.
"If you loved this country you would defend it's president." Of course, the fact they love the country might be the very reason they castigate the president, but in fact, confusing love of country and allegiance to those who presume to speak for it is a just another fallacy.
- No true Scotsman fallacy - An argument based on the assertion that individuals of a certain category only truly belong to that category if they exhibit certain specific qualities or behavior.
(Note: The power of this fallacy lies in the fact that the argument itself is sometimes true. No completely honest man ever steals, because, stealing is dishonest. The argument is fallacious, however, when the quality or characteristic insisted on is not essential to members of the the category.)
The classic example:
First Scotsman: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
Second Scotsman: "My friend Angus likes sugar with his porridge."
First Scotsman: "Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
- Pathetic fallacy - Incorrectly projecting or attributing human emotions, feelings, intentions, thoughts, traits to events or objects or phenomena which do not have such qualities. (Also called personification or anthropomorphism, it as wonderfully useful rhetorical device in literature; it is a disaster in logic.)
See Hypostatization fallacy of which this fallacy is a subset, for examples.
- Persimplex responsum fallacy - (See Plurium interrogationum fallacy) (Very simple answer) Providing a single and simple answer to a question which requires a series of answers or requires answers to other questions before the original question can be answered.
Example: "The solution to the unemployment problem is for the federal government to provide financing to more small businesses that hire unskilled and unprofessional help." This is an example of the fundamental "simple answer" government gives to all questions, "spend more money." No attempt is made to answer the question of why unemployment is rampant or how much previous government programs to solve the problem have actually exacerbated it.
- Plurium interrogationum fallacy - (See Persimplex responsum fallacy) (Many questions) Demanding a single and simple answer to a question which requires a series of answers or requires answers to other questions before the original question can be answered.
Example: "How do we solve the unemployment problem?" Well, what is the unemployment problem? Who is it a problem for? Who should solve the problem. What caused it?
- Post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy - (See Non causa pro causa fallacy) (After this therefore because of this.) Asserting that one thing is the cause of another thing because it precedes it in time.
Example: "I'm not going to wash the car anymore because it rains every time I do." Although it has not been proven, the conviction that washing cars makes it rain is difficult to deny.
- Pragmatic fallacy - Asserting something is true or perforable because it has practical effects upon people, making them happier, more cooperative, moral, faithful, dependable, or stable.
Example: "Public education is necessary because it produces useful, cooperative citizens who are more likely to do productive work, be honest, and remain loyal to their country." This is the argument for government youth training camps called public schools. It is a fallacy.
- Prejudice fallacy - Using premises in an argument which are biased or preconceived ideas based only on tradition, cultural views, feelings and emotions, or unquestioned conformance to ideologies, doctrines, or institutional (company, government, fraternity) teachings and policies.
"It is wrong to eat pork (Koran, OT), beef (Hindu teaching) or beans (Pythagoras)." If someone should banish from their diet everything any religion, ideology, or popular food fad banned, they would starve to death in three days.
"How would he know what's right or wrong. He's an ... (atheist, Muslim, communist, republican, Jew, Mexican, car dealer)." Fortunately, this kind of prejudice is unknown.
"The teacher explained to Melissa, the reason it is wrong to wear the tee shirt with a picture of a pistol and the logo, 'Fight Rape and Abuse of Women,' is because it is against school policy." But the question was, why does the school committee believe it is wrong, in other words, why is it against school policy? The answer, of course, is because it is against school policy.
- Proving a premise from a conclusion fallacy - This odd but very common fallacy presumes to prove an argument must be correct, since the conclusion is true, but the truth of the conclusion is known on grounds other than the argument itself.
"All beliefs are learned from parents; everyone has beliefs; therefore, everyone has parents." It is true everyone has parents but it cannot be known to be true from either of the premises, the first of which is false and the second true in only a limited sense.
"Eighty years ago there was no television. When there is no television, there is less crime. Therefore, eighty years ago there was less crime." The argument is "valid" and the conclusion is true. It is implied, therefore, that the minor premise, "where there is no television, there is less crime," is true. This may or may not be the case, but nothing in this argument proves it either way.
- Red herring fallacy - Deflecting a criticism or ignoring a problem with one's argument by redirecting attention to another subject.
Example: "You are recommending the extension of the hunting season. Don't you own a chain of hunting lodges you rent out every hunting season?" Someone owns hunting lodges and will probably for extending the hunting season for that reason. Why anyone wants the hunting season extended, however, is irrelevant to whether or not it ought to be extended.
- Reification fallacy - ( See Hypostatization.) (Also concretism.) Treating abstractions as actual existing entities or regarding them as causally efficacious and ontologically prior and superior to their referents. Similar to hypostatization, except the kinds of abstractions involved are usually philosophical or ideological, such as "universals,"15 "existence," "good," and "justice."
Example: "Good and evil are the two forces ruling the universe." But, good and evil are qualities, not forces.
- Relativism fallacy - Denying that any objective truth can be established for some category of concepts, it is asserted the truthfulness of any propositions within that category of concepts is totally relative and dependent on the subjective views of each individual or group.
Example: "Moral values can never be discovered by reason. Moral values are not objective, they are entirely relative and allowances must be made for the differences in moral values of each culture." How is it determined "allowances must be made" for differences in moral values, since objective reason is rejected? "Must" sounds an awful lot like a moral imperative.
(A similar example is also used for the stolen concept fallacy which explains how the relativism fallacy is pulled off.)
- Shifting the burden of proof - Arguing in defense of a proposition by demanding a contrary proposition be proved rather than presenting arguments in defense of the original proposition.
Example: "It is obvious the accused is guilty. She has no alibi for the night of the crime." The burden of proof is always on the accuser, not the accused. What is the evidence that the accused might have committed the crime? Only if there is such evidence does she even need an alibi.
- Slanting fallacy - Deliberately including and emphasizing points in favor of an argument while omitting and glossing over points against an argument, to hide or evade important and relevant information.
"Three demonstrators were injured by police." Not mentioned is the fact the three demonstrators were in the process of beating a woman and turned on the policeman who came to her rescue.
"Mayor Mike pointed out that crime statistics for the city had declined during the last three years of his administration." Not mentioned is the fact crime statistics formerly based on arrests, are now based on convictions.
- Slippery slope fallacy - (Domino theory) Asserting that certain events, actions, or policies must initiate an inevitable series of more-or-less well defined events where there is no physical or logical necessity for such events to occur.
"If we legalize marijuana, we will have to legalize crack, then heroin until we have a nation full of drug addicts on welfare. We must not legalize marijuana."
- Special pleading fallacy - Accepting (or rejecting) an idea or criticism when applied to an opponent's argument but rejecting (accepting) it when applied to one's own argument.
Example: "You're just opposed to this bill that will help the needy because you don't have any needs. Of course you don't need help, you're ... (rich, educated, advantaged, healthy, intelligent, one of the elite)." Only those selected by the arguer deserve consideration or sympathy. He can argue his point based "people's needs," but you may not.
- Stolen concept fallacy - (Smuggled concept) Using a concept to support an argument while denying a concept which the supporting concept logically depends on.
(Note: This fallacy is called a "stolen" or "smuggled" concept, because an asserted concept includes in its meaning an unnamed concept (so is smuggled in), which is directly, or by implication, denied by the argument. The fallacy is put over by ignoring or evading recognition of the smuggled concept.)
"It is impossible to know with certainty, any philosophical proposition." But this is a philosophical proposition which is presumed to be known with certainty, so the possibility of knowing with certainly is "smuggled in."
"Moral values can never be discovered by reason. Moral values are not objective, they are entirely relative, and every individual must discover for themselves what their moral values are." But, if moral values are not objective and cannot be discovered by reason, what method does each individual use to discover their moral values, and how will they know them when they have been discovered? Even in the grossest versions of subjectivism, such as this example, the fact that reason is the only faculty humans have for discovering and identifying truth cannot be evaded.
(A similar example is used for the relativism fallacy. It is the stolen concept fallacy that allows the relativism fallacy to be pulled off.)
"How do you know you are not a butterfly dreaming you are a man?" It is mind boggling that those who call themselves philosophers are taken in by this kind of sophistry. It is an example of conceptual grand theft. If a question means anything, one must know what the words the question is comprised of mean. It is assumed (smuggled in) one knows what a man is, what a butterfly is, what a dream is, and what knowing is. If all of these are known, there is no question; if any of these are not known, the question has no meaning.
(Note: Ayn Rand originally identified the three fallacies, Stolen concept,
Floating abstraction, and
(See Nathaniel Branden's article on the Stolen Concept.)
- Straw man fallacy - Presenting an opponent's position in a weak, misrepresented, or totally false way, which is absurd or easily refuted.
Example: "Individualists believe whatever an individual wants is right and the desires and welfare of others is none of their concern; so, to individualists, there is nothing an individual does for their own benefit, no matter how much it harms others, that is wrong." The view presented is not individualism, but subjectivism. This fallacy is the usual argument against rational egoism, a first principle of which rejects "harm" to others as immoral.
- Subjectivism fallacy - Asserting a proposition as true simply because one wishes or believes it to be true or possible.
Subjectivism is anything a conviction or assertion of truth is based on other then objective evidence or reasoning from objective evidence. Alternatives to reason include feelings, desires, "faith," "superstition," habit, and impressions, for example, as well as most of the fallacies described in this article.
"America is not a democracy, it is a constitutional republic. All other forms of government are "ruled by men." A constitutional republic is based on the principle of rule by law, not by men." Certainly the intention and wish of the founders of the American system was to establish this principle by means of the Constitution. The disturbing fact is, all government is "rule by men."
The functions of any government can only be carried out by human beings. No law does anything. If laws are enforced, it is people who must enforce them. If laws are conformed to, it is people who must conform to them. No piece of paper and no law ever did nor can compel anyone to do anything. To believe that a constitution, or any written laws, will prevent those who hold political power from violating or simply ignoring what is written, is gross subjectivism. Even a casual acquaintance with past and recent history of the American government ought dissuade anyone from this delusion.
- Tu quoque fallacy - (You also.) Impugning an argument by presenting evidence that a person's actions or former beliefs and views, are not consistent with their argument.
"You say you are opposed to animal cruelty but you eat meat and wear leather clothing." Life is tough. We neither can nor ought to eliminate from it everything that is unpleasant. We cannot deny facts, or ignore them, no matter how much we dislike or are opposed to them.
"You preach non-agression, then spank your children." Non-agression pertains to the relationship between civilized adults, the relationship between adults and children is between civilized adults and uncivilized heathens.
"You used to be a socialist, but now you are arguing for individual freedom and laissez faire capitalism. How can your arguments be right if you keep changing them?" If you correct a mistake or learn anything new, this is the argument that will be used against you.
There are very subtle forms of this fallacy. Within the course of an argument, such questions as, "How would you like it if ...?" or "You mean you never did ...?" are attempts to impugn an argument by implying if the arguer personally does not like something related to what they are arguing for it, cannot be true, or, if the arguer ever did the thing they are now arguing against, their argument is invalid. This version combines ad hominem with tu quoque to imply, for example, if a drug addict argues that taking drugs is wrong, the argument is invalid because it is a drug addict, after all, that is making it.
This fallacy is sometime confused with the Two wrongs make a right fallacy.
- Two wrongs make a right fallacy - (Revenge fallacy) Arguing that inflicting harm on an agent (person, institution, country) which is equal or similar to harm the agent itself inflicted, cancels or corrects that harm or is in some way beneficial.
(Note: This fallacy is not about either the deterrence of harm or defense against aggression by the use of force or threat of harm.)
"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Exactly how putting out the eye of someone who has put out the eye of someone else improves the situation of the one who lost an eye, or anyone else, is never explained. This and similar views are clearly sanctioned revenge, sanctimoniously euphemized as "retribution."
"This man's actions have caused the death of eleven people. He clearly deserves to die." If he murdered eleven people, one wonders how he lived long enough to do it. He should have been eliminated from civilized society after the first murder. Often, these kinds of arguments are not about murderers, however, but those whose actions may or may not have actually caused other's deaths. (If you sell cigarettes or guns, beware.) Even if one's actions do result in other's deaths, if that was not the intention, and was unforeseeable, another death is certainly not going to make anything better.
Unfortunately, this fallacy lies at the heart of most criminal justice theory and practice.16
This fallacy is sometimes confused with the tu quoque fallacy
- Unqualified source fallacy - Using as support in an argument a source of authority that is not qualified to provide evidence.
Example: (Astrology comes to mind.)
- Untestability fallacy - (See Falsifiability fallacy fallacy)
(Also argument to the future) Argument based on assertions which cannot or cannot now be tested or verified by reason or evidence.
"You'll understand when you have children of you own." Those of us with children frequently yield to the temptation to use this spurious argument and, just as usually, are uncomfortably aware it "proves" nothing.
"There is no way to prove there is a hell, but there is no way to prove there is not a hell. It is safer to believe there is a hell, and to avoid it; because, one day we will know there is a hell, but then it will be too late to avoid it."
This argument can be used for anything, and has been:
"There is no way to prove if you eat tomatoes you will die, but there is no way to prove you won't. It is safer to believe tomatoes are poisonous and avoid them, because, if you eat them and they are poisonous, it will be too late and you will die."
This is a wonderfully useful argument. It is one of the favorites of environmentalists, for example. To use it yourself, just substitute the item you wish to "prove" ought to be avoided or embraced, such as, sugar, fat, protein, not eating protein, drugs (the one you hate or love the most), or just about anything else, then pick some unpreventable or undiscoverable disaster or benefit as the "reason" for the argument.
- Wicked alternative - Attempting to support one proposition by denouncing another which is not opposite of the first.
Example: "We support these new tougher regulations controlling drugs. We are against doctors turning patients into drug addicts." Well of course, since it is well known most doctors are just champing at the bit waiting for an opportunity to turn all their patients into drug addicts.
1. Actually we do not answer the question, "what is truth," in the larger sense, only how it relates to logic. For the whole answer to the question, see Reality and Truth in the Introduction to Autonomy.
2. "Yelling, "fire!" in a crowded theatre," is used fallaciously as an example to prove freedom of speech must, under some circumstances, be curbed. The assumption is, yelling, "fire!" in a crowded place causes harm to others. In fact, yelling, "fire!" can never cause anyone any harm. If harm is caused following someone yelling, "fire," or anything else, it is not what is yelled that causes the harm, but any or all of the following: people's panic and irrational behavior, the building's lack of sufficient exits, or people ignoring the warning (if there really is a fire).
3. If an argument is about what Kant wrote, the authority for that is Kant's own writing. On the other hand, if an argument is about some point of philosophy, the last one you want to use as an authority is Kant.
Very often, the appeal to authority is a mistake, even when the issue is a correct one, because the "authority" is one only accepted by some people or a particular party or group. This is the mistake Christians make when they argue about social or political issues and quote the Bible as their authority, especially to those who both disagree with them and are not Christians.
4. Language rules are not arbitrary. The primary purpose of language rules are to insure clear, unambiguous, thought and communication of ideas. (You must first think ideas before you can communicate them.) The rules of grammar and syntax actually enforce the principles of logic and much poor thinking is a result of a poor understanding of those rules. In our day, the rules of language are greatly neglected, educators are failing to teach them, and almost no one can think clearly.
5. The second law of thermodynamics states that within a closed system entropy increases or is conserved. An increase in entropy is inversely proportional to a decrease in energy available to do work. In plain English, available energy always decreases. In practical terms, everything grows older, wears out, and decays until some work is done to rejuvenate them, make repairs, or clean them up.
6. The best example is Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a totally undocumented and unscientific attack on DDT which won its argument entirely on the basis of its lurid descriptions of imagined but totally unsubstantiated threats to wildlife and the environment.
7. If the word "opera" were replaced with the phrase, "classical music," I would have total sympathy with this view. It is very difficult to admit it is a fallacy, but, alas, it is.
8. Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate (plurality should not be posited without necessity)
---William of Ockham (ca. 1285-1349)
This principle is called Occam's Razor. It means, from a set of possible models or hypotheses which explain a given phenomenon, the simplest one is the preferable one, and where a phenomenon is already adequately explained, no additional explanations ought to be added.
It is also called the principle of parsimony or one should always choose the simplest explanation and the one requiring the fewest unsupported assumptions for any phenomenon.
Occam's Razor does not pertain to the nature of the world itself, but to the nature or our understanding of it, that is, to the concepts and theories by which we comprehend and explain it.
9. The truth or falseness of any idea can never be determined on the basis of how many people hold or agree with it. The exception, of course, is when the idea in question is about how many people agree with or hold a particular view. Variations of the democratic and consensus gentium fallacies are frequent contributors to fallacious interpretations of statistical data.
10. Somebody has to be the weakest link.
11. The interesting discussion, "The Pitfalls of Hypostatization," from the online version of Ludwig von Mises' The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, provides some insight into how this subtle fallacy operates. (We do not recommend von Mises theories, who himself was deluded by the fallacy of reification in the notion of "a priori categories.")
12. "There is no such thing as an intrinsic value. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Things are good or bad only in relationship to some purpose or end, that is, only in relationship to beings capable of having purposes and ends." --from The Autonomist's Notebook, "Values"
Without values there is no "ought." Ought defines the kind of action that is required to achieve ends of a specific kind. Values define what those ends are, morality defines the principles, that is, the "oughts" by which those ends may be achieved.
Moral values are those principles that define what is good for human beings. What is good for any creature is determined by that creature's nature and the requirements of that nature. What is good for human beings is determined by their nature (rational-volitional) and the requirements of it (knowledge, individual liberty to choose, and productive effort).
13. The word light means variously, a device for providing illumination ("turn on that light"), the visual effect of illumination ("notice the interplay of light and dark in that painting"), public awareness ("the scandal was brought to light"), a mentally enlightening experience (the light finally dawned on him), a particular perspective ("we saw it in a different light"), a kind of signal or message ("the traffic light indicated caution), an illuminated area ("move it to the light where I can see it"), a person regarded fondly ("you are the light of my life"), physical [electromagnetic] radiation ("the prism divided the light into a rainbow"), sufficient illumination ("they came home when it was no longer light enough to play"), spiritual revelation ("this knowledge is only by the light of the Spirit"), a device for starting a fire ("do you have a light?"), brightness and animation of countenance (the light of her smile brightens the room), start combustion ("light the fire now"), settle or come to rest ("will you please light"), get off an animal ("from her camel, Fatima did light"), being full of illumination ("the windows make this room light all day"), low intensity color ("this is a very light blue"), easily disturbed ("he is a very light sleeper"), demanding little effort ("the work is very light"), low calorie or easy to digest ("he only eats very light meals"), little physical weight or density ("the package was very light"), designed for simpler and easier tasks ("she preferred a light truck"), not psychologically burdened ("he enjoyed a light and merry heart"), not severe or of great degree ("the judge recommended a light sentence"), softly or gently (her piano playing displayed a very light touch), graceful or nimble ("the dance movement was lovely, light, and languid"), tender and flaky ("her pie crust is always light and crisp"), unserious and entertaining ("the poetry was all humorous light verse"), less serious or grandiose ("light opera is still good opera"), of little importance or significance, trivial ("we quickly dispensed with the light matters"), vowels or syllables pronounced with little or no stress ("a syllable that ends in a short vowel is a light syllable"), thin and insubstantial ("wear light clothing"), weak or fainting ("she felt light headed").
14. All statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
15. If, as the Realists claim, universals (such as red) have ontological existence, and every instance of a universal (a red thing) is an instantiation of the universal, and, since the universal quality exists itself has the quality exists, is the universal exist an instantiation of itself or another, identical, universal? Not only does reification lead to fallacies, it leads to absurdities. This particular absurdity is still taught and defended.
16. "When a wild creature, a common product of the government's welfare and public education system, enters some decent working mans's home, rapes and murders his wife and daughters, steals his goods, and destroys his home, if, by some extraordinary circumstance, the rapist is then caught, he is put in prison, where he is fed, sheltered, and clothed for the rest of his life with money extorted from the victim. That is called government justice." --from "The Autonomist's Notebook"