Week 9: Logic & Logical Fallacies
This week you’ll learn how to evaluate an argument, from recognizing the claim and support, to analyzing its logic. You’ll also learn about logical fallacies — statements that sound logical at first, but on closer examination, turn out to be false. These are important skills for reading, thinking, and understanding our world.
As you learned last week, an informal argument — not the kind that you get into with someone over a parking spot — is a claim that is supported by facts, statistics, expert opinions, good reasons, personal experience, examples, or common knowledge, among other things, and is intended to persuade you. We are bombarded constantly with arguments to buy something, to vote for someone or something, to get an education, quit smoking, lose weight, eat organic, meditate, you name it. With all of the clever manipulation of language, and the use of rhetorical devices, it can be hard to sort out which ideas should be trusted, and which we should dismiss. A good way to sort through an argument is to look at its logic.
First things first; after you have determined what is the writer’s claim, look at his support. We all think we are most convinced by facts and statistics, maybe expert opinions, but professionals know that we are most swayed by our emotions. An important way to judge the truth of an argument is to look carefully at how the author is supporting his claim. What kind of support is he using? Is it valid? Does it really relate to the claim? If he is using facts, can they be verified? Do they logically support the claim? How does the writer use language and appeals to generate an emotional response? Next, ask what the writer has left out? Did he ignore facts and information that would weaken or perhaps destroy his argument?
Read the passage below, and then type an analysis in which you include:
- Claim (full sentence)
- Each point of support in numbered list
- Label each with the type of support it is; that is, facts, statistics, and so forth.
A Pointless War
Was the Vietnam War worth the costs? What did it achieve? It did not stop communism from taking over Southeast Asia, which was given as the whole reason for fighting. Remember those who said that we had to stop communism in Vietnam, or the rest of Asia would soon fall like dominoes. After all, they said that China was already communist, along with half of Korea, and of course the Soviet Union. Before we knew it, the world order would be communist! And yet, communism has yet to destroy Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, or even China. In the end, wars like this are not worth their enormous costs.
In terms of American lives, it is ranked fourth in casualties just below the Civil War and the two World Wars. Over 2,594,000 personnel served in Vietnam. Of those 58,220 Americans died, 153,303 were wounded and 1,643 are listed as missing. That does not take into account the over one million casualties among the Vietnamese. This level of suffering should serve as a warning not to meddle in other country’s business. We can take care of America, or we can try to “fix” everyone else’s problems, but we can’t do both well.
Of course, Robert NacNamara, then Secretary of Defense, used body counts as “data points” to evaluate the war’s progress and inform our strategies. We all know how that turned out. Because he was Richard (Tricky Dick) Nixon’s choice for the position, we should have known the strategies wouldn’t work. As things spun out of control, it became obvious that the situation was far more complex than just measuring deaths. In terms of the social and political price that America paid, it severely damaged public trust. First, came the anti-war movements, which polarized the nation. Then came the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal, which created a deep distrust of government. Many people say we have never really recovered that trust.
Finally, the war shook America’s confidence in the country’s superiority as the world defender of freedom. Americans shied away from any form of conflict for fear of “another Vietnam.” It was not until 1991 and the swift victory over Iraq in the Gulf War that people began to forget the shameful images of fall of Saigon. We must never again rush into a pointless war; next time we could end up annihilating the entire human race with nuclear weapons. For the sake of our lives, and those of our children, we all need to join those who currently campaign to stay out of foreign wars.
Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that are based on poor or faulty logic. They are statements that SOUND true, but on further examination turn out to be false. Sometimes, writers purposefully use logical fallacies to make an argument seem more persuasive or valid than it really is. In fact, the examples of fallacies on the following pages might be examples you have heard or read. While using fallacies might work in some situations, the chances are that an educated audience will recognize the fallacy. Follow the link below, and then read through the explanations of the eight fallacies given: Straw Man, False Dilemma (Either/Or), Hasty or Over Generalization, Appeal to Fear, Ad Hominem, Slippery Slope, Bandwagon, and Guilt by Association.
Read again A Pointless War passage above. This time, look for logical fallacies. Type a numbered list of the fallacies, including part of the sentence and the name of the fallacy. Next, respond to the passage. Do you think the writer’s argument is weak or strong? Why/why not? Explain your reasoning.